By Dr. Mercola
If you’re like many, the thought of baked goods hot out of the oven may represent some of your warmest memories. The aroma of chocolate chip cookies or cinnamon rolls baking may fill you with excitement—or send you running for cover, in fear of their repercussions on your health and fitness goals.
But before you head for the hills, realize that there have never been more options for healthy baking swaps than there are today.
Unfortunately, there is also a great deal of misinformation about what constitutes a healthy ingredient substitution. For example, one of baking’s major assets, butter, has been unfairly eschewed for decades.
An enormous amount of effort has been put into developing “better butter substitutes”—needlessly! Fortunately, butter is making a comeback now that more folks are learning that many saturated fats are actually good for you.
On the other hand, refined sugar and wheat flour should be banished from your pantry and replaced with healthier alternatives.
It really IS possible to fill your home with the mouth-watering aroma of baked goods—without sabotaging your health. Read on, as I will be sharing my favorite baking secrets for delicious, guilt-free baked goods.
Tip #1: Use Butter to Replace Margarine, Shortening, and Refined Vegetable Oils
The era of butter bashing may finally be coming to an end. Butter consumption in the US has hit a 40-year high, really taking off over the past five years. This is largely a result of the shift in consumer preferences away from processed foods.
Between 1920 and 1960, Americans’ butter consumption declined by more than 75 percent, yet heart disease went from a relatively unknown condition to the number one killer.
After decades of believing the myth that butter clogs arteries, people are now beginning to realize that partially hydrogenated vegetable oils, margarine, and shortening are the real enemies, along with sugar and refined grains.
Instead of the conventional recommendation to replace butter with margarine, you should be replacing margarine with butter! Butter, especially raw butter from grass-fed cows, is rich in beneficial nutrients including vitamins, trace minerals, CLA, and beneficial fats.
However, butter produced from the milk of cows raised in confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs) is nutritionally inferior as the cows are fed almost entirely genetically engineered (GE) grain. Some are also fattened up with additional sugar from GE sugar beets and cottonseed. So, use butter, but be choosey about what butter you select.
Tip #2: Use Coconut Oil to Replace Unhealthy Fats
Another saturated fat that is extremely nutritious and works well for baking is coconut oil, which you can substitute measure for measure in place of margarine, shortening or other oils. Try it in pie crust or in dark chocolate chunk cookies! As explained in Time:1
“Shortening and coconut oil look similar in that both are generally white and solid at room temperature. The difference is shortening is solid because a liquid oil was hydrogenated to make it solid—a man-made process that’s far from natural.
Partial hydrogenation creates trans fat, the nutritional villain that’s been linked to a host of health problems, from heart disease and type 2 diabetes to fertility challenges.
Fully hydrogenated oil (aka interesterified oil), while technically trans fat free, may be even worse for your health. A Brandeis University study2 found that subjects who consumed products made with interesterified oil experienced a decrease in their ‘good’ HDL cholesterol a significant rise in blood sugar—about a 20 percent spike in just four weeks.”
Coconut oil has none of these risks but boasts a large number of health benefits for your heart, brain, skin, immune system, and thyroid, among others. It’s rich in lauric acid, which your body converts to monolaurin, and this special agent has antiviral, antibacterial, and antiprotozoal properties.
Coconut oil is also rich in capric acid, which further protects you from infections. Using coconut oil in your baked goods may even benefit your waistline due to its medium chain fatty acids (MCFAs), known to stimulate metabolism.
Tip #3: Replace Wheat Flour with Coconut Flour
You can turn your standard baked goods into delicious gluten-free treats by replacing the wheat flour with coconut flour. Coconut flour is 14 percent coconut oil and a whopping 58 percent dietary fiber, which is the highest of any flour. For comparison, wheat bran is only 27 percent fiber. Coconut flour is very low in digestible carbohydrates—even lower than some vegetables.
One word of caution when baking with coconut flour: baked goods will just fall apart if you substitute it 100 percent for regular flour. However, if you apply the following trick, you can avert this culinary blunder.
You can use 100 percent coconut flour IF you add eggs. The secret is to add one egg per ounce of coconut flour, on average. Why eggs? Coconut flour has no gluten, and the eggs take its place by helping your ingredients stick together.
Other gluten-free alternatives to wheat flour that you might want to experiment with are amaranth and quinoa flour, both rich in protein, fiber, and other nutrients. Amaranth is very dense, so you might want to combine it with other flours. Quinoa is particularly rich in two flavonoids, quercetin and kaempferol, which have antioxidant properties. Quinoa is also being studied for its anti-inflammatory compounds.3
Tip #4: Replace Refined Sugar with Pureed Fruits and Vegetables
One of the best things about making your own baked goods is having control over the amount of sugar they contain. Excess sugar is a primary factor in countless chronic diseases, including type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and Alzheimer’s disease. In one study,4 mice were fed a diet containing 25 percent sugar—the equivalent of three cans of soda daily—were twice as likely to die as mice fed a similar diet without sugar. Added sugars hide in 74 percent of processed foods under more than 60 different names, even in so-called “health foods.”
A recent Time article5 suggests replacing up to 50 percent of the sugar in your recipe with pureed fruit, such as bananas, mangoes, papayas, or dried dates pureed with water. In addition to being bundled with fiber, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, the naturally occurring sugar in fruit is much less concentrated.
For example, a quarter cup (four tablespoons) of mashed banana contains less than seven grams of sugar, compared to 12 grams in just one tablespoon of table sugar. They recommend substituting one-quarter cup of pureed fruit for one half cup of sugar, as a rule of thumb. Fruit has higher water content, so you’ll also need to reduce the liquid in your recipe, typically by a quarter cup.
You aren’t limited to just fruits—sugar-rich vegetables can also be used. For example, beets add sweetness, nutrition, and flavor complexity to baked goods, especially those containing chocolate. Beets have been shown to lower blood pressure, support detoxification, and fight cancer.
Organic Authority6 has an excellent article about using veggie and fruit purees to make healthier baked goods, including avocados, beets, and squash. Pastry chef Marissa Churchill, and author of Sweet & Skinny, suggests adding two-thirds of a cup of finely grated raw beets to brownie batter and reducing the sugar by a quarter cup.7 The Baking Bird has a recipe for Chocolate Beet Loaf Cake8 that looks intriguing—just remember to make the appropriate substitutions.
If you find that fruit purees don’t make your baked goods sweet enough, you can add a small amount of one of the natural alternative sweeteners, such as stevia, Luo Han Guo, or xylitol. Another alternative is pure glucose (dextrose), which is less damaging to your body than table sugar, which is 50 percent fructose. Chances are, the more you avoid excess sugar, the more your sweet tooth will adapt so that your baked goods will taste sweet enough with only fruit purees. Under NO circumstances do I recommend adding artificial sweeteners, which are even WORSE for your health than refined sugar.
Tip #5: Replace Conventional Chocolate Chips with Dark Chocolate
Chocolate lovers rejoice—chocolate can be a health food! The key is that your chocolate should be low sugar and as close to it’s raw state as possible. This means high quality (ideally raw) organic dark chocolate with minimal processing and adulteration. Mounting scientific research has linked chocolate consumption with more than 40 distinct health benefits. Cocoa powder is rich in minerals and antioxidants, and the latest studies have discovered anti-inflammatory properties.
New research has shown that your gut bacteria, including Bifidobacterium and lactic acid bacteria, break down and ferment components of dark chocolate, turning them into anti-inflammatory compounds that benefit your health. Most of the research about chocolate’s benefits has been done with 70 percent dark. Try chopping up a dark chocolate bar or use organic dark semi-sweet or bittersweet chocolate chips in your baking recipes. Popsugar has a recipe for Vegan Brownies with Spinach.9 By making the substitutions I’ve suggested, you’ll end up with a decadent, mouth-watering and healthy brownie that no one will believe contains spinach!
If you love desserts or an occasional “continental” breakfast, the healthy substitutions suggested above will warm your heart, while at the same time protecting it. By preparing these recipes in your own kitchen, you have complete control over what goes into your food, which is a major step toward taking control of your health.