The holidays are officially here, which means people are doing what I do almost daily - baking!
This time of year, kitchens are filled with wonderful aromas of delicious goodies being baked for holiday parties, family get-togethers, and cookie decorating extravaganzas. Traditions are passed down through food in many families as memories are made, and past years are reminisced around the dining room table.
However, there is a not-so-great side to this warm, fuzzy, picturesque scene.
Many of the desserts and treats made this time of year are filled with refined sugars, artificial dyes & flavors, and other unhealthy ingredients.
This increased intake of these sugar-saturated and processed foods, coupled with lower hydration and exposure to sunlight (vitamin D), and the increased stress and crowds the holidays bring, all combine to create a recipe for a severely LOWERED immune system!
When taking a stroll down the baking section at the supermarket, I was horrified at some of this so-called “food”, when some of the ingredients share properties with ANTIFREEZE and PLASTIC! The detrimental affects they have on our health, side effects they cause, and diseases they lead to, are why we should be on the lookout for these toxic ingredients and AVOID them at all costs!
Here's some to be aware of:
1. Artificial and Refined Sweeteners
Artificial Sweeteners (Splenda, Aspartame, Equal, Saccharin, Sweet’N'Low) affect the nervous system with potential side effects such as headaches, dizziness, poor concentration, and convulsions. The components of these neurotoxic and carcinogenic sweeteners also lead to a wide variety of ailments and diseases. Refined sugars that come from either sugar beets or sugar cane (granulated white sugar, evaporated cane juice, confectioner’s or powdered sugar, turbinado sugar, demerara sugar, light and dark brown sugar), they provide only empty calories lacking in nutrients and minerals, raise blood sugar levels, and contribute to illness, weight gain, and even affect emotions and mood. High Fructose Corn Syrup is also highly refined, the most used sweetener, and leads to the diabetes and obesity epidemics, and heart disease.
2. Artificial Dyes
These colorings (blue #1 and #2, red #40, yellow #6) may contribute to allergies, sinus congestion, hyperactivity in children, and worsens symptoms of ADD/ADHD.
3. Refined and Hydrogenated Oils
Trans fat is used to enhance and extend the shelf life of food products and is among the most dangerous substances that you can consume. Found in deep-fried fast foods and certain processed foods made with margarine or partially hydrogenated vegetable oils, trans fats are formed by a process called hydrogenation. Numerous studies show that trans fat increases LDL
cholesterol levels while decreasing HDL (“good”) cholesterol, increases the risk of heart attacks, heart disease and strokes, and contributes to increased inflammation, diabetes and other health problems.
MSG is an excitotoxin, which overexcites cells to the point of damage or death. Polysorbates (60, 65, 80) are immune suppressants. BHA/BHT lead to liver and kidney problems. Sodium Benzoate is a carcinogen and can cause allergic reactions. Propylene Glycol is a component of anti-freeze and is toxic to the kidneys and liver as well as the neurological and cardiovascular systems. These toxins build up in the bloodstream and tissues over time, which can cause more long-term health problems.
Isn’t that SCARY? To think some of those ingredients are lurking in your FOOD?
Thankfully, there are natural and wonderful alternatives that are better for your health, and I think taste better too!
I’ve been working in baking and pastry arts for over a decade, so I’ve had a lot of time to experiment with different ingredients, find the perfect combinations, and now create all my own recipes using natural, healthy sweeteners, flavorings, and plant-based fats.
Here are a few of my favorite substitutes in baking when needing to “healthify” a recipe:
Healthy Sweetener Alternatives
Natural, unrefined sweeteners are excellent alternatives to the more common refined and artificial ones you’ll see on store shelves. This is probably the most important thing to swap out in your recipe, especially this time of year, to keep your immune system in top notch shape! 100% pure maple syrup contains small amounts of potassium, calcium, zinc, and magnesium; it also contains antioxidants. Raw, local honey (unheated and unfiltered) retains its natural enzymes, antioxidants, minerals, and some vitamins. Research also shows it has antimicrobial properties to fight off germs!
For these liquid sweeteners, it’s best to use 25% less in your recipe and cut the other liquid back by the same amount. So, for instance, if your recipe calls for 1 cup of sugar and 1 cup of milk, simply swap the sugar for ¾ cup of honey or maple syrup, and then reduce the milk to about ¾ cup also.
Coconut sugar is probably my favorite sweetener to use in place of regular sugar, because not only does it taste amazing in baked goods, but it measures just like sugar (cup-for-cup) which makes it a simple swap. Coconut sugar is also packed with polyphenols, iron, zinc, calcium, and other phytonutrients.
Erythritol is a great way to supplement sugar in your baking, and is a “sugar alcohol” that is safe for diabetics. It has zero effect on glycemic index, so will not raise blood sugar, and will not promote tooth decay. Sugar alcohols occur naturally in plants. Some of them are extracted directly from plants, but they are mostly manufactured from fruits and vegetables. Erythritol CAN be absorbed in the small intestine - whereas, other sugar alcohols (xylitol, sorbitol, maltitol), can NOT completely absorbed by the small intestine, so ingestion results in cramping and bloating. Erythritol is only 65% as sweet as sugar, so use 1/3 more in baking to achieve desired sweetness.
Stevia is another sweetener that has no calories, no effect on blood sugar levels, and is derived from the Stevia rebaudiana herb. It is 200 times sweeter than sugar in the same concentration, so baking with it can be tricky. Substitute 1/3 to 1/2 teaspoon of undiluted stevia powder or 1 teaspoon of a liquid stevia extract for 1 cup sugar. Choose the amount based on how sweet you wish your baked good to be. Then, you must replace the lost bulk of the sugar. For each 1 cup of sugar substituted, use 1/3 cup of a bulking agent. Potential healthy bulking agents include: egg whites, apple sauce, fruit puree or yogurt. Stevia-baked goods also do not caramelize, or brown, so that is not a good indicator that your baked good is done, use a toothpick to test it!
Healthy Margarine or Vegetable Shortening Options
Unrefined, virgin coconut oil is so incredibly good for you, I could write an entire article just about it! Reducing inflammation, improving cholesterol levels, reducing body fat, supporting healthy thyroid function, keeping hair, skin, and nails healthy, and promoting anti-microbial and antioxidant activity at a cellular level are just a FEW of the amazing benefits of coconut oil. Coconut oil gives a delicious soft texture to baked goods such as cakes, muffins, quick breads, and can be substituted cup-for-cup in place of other oils, butter, or margarine. For cookies and pie crusts, I love using expeller-pressed (sustainable!) organic palm shortening. It is non-
hydrogenated, contains NO trans fats, and yields a delicate crumb in baked goods without all the health risks of that stuff at the store!
Healthy Milk or Cream Options
Coconut milk is full of health benefits, and is a good option for anyone allergic to dairy, grains, nuts, or soy, plus it’s great for vegans, or anyone following a plant-based diet. To make a dairy-free (and sugar-free!) whipped cream topping: 1 can of full fat coconut milk, chilled. Then add stevia and vanilla to taste. In a chilled metal bowl and chilled beaters, whip coconut cream (the fat scooped off top of can) until light and fluffy, about 1-2 minutes.
Healthy Flavorings and Extracts
Young Living’s Vitality Essential Oils! Ones like peppermint, orange, lemon, lime, cardamom, cinnamon bark, clove, ginger, and nutmeg are just a few of my favorite for baking, and are part of Young Living’s dietary/supplement line of essential oils (snag some here).
Dried spices can expire, losing the potency of their flavor, and can have additives and fillers in them! Baking extracts are not always 100% pure, and of course artificial or imitation flavorings are filled with harmful ingredients. Young Living’s Essential Oils are completely clean, unadulterated, PLANTS. When you get a bottle of Peppermint Vitality Essential Oil, the only thing in that bottle is peppermint. In fact, Young Living’s Peppermint EO smells more like the actual peppermint plant than other brands I’ve tried, some smells sweeter like candy canes (which is a red flag that the oil is not JUST peppermint!) Baking with essential oils is a learning curve since they are so much more potent than extracts and spices, so it’s best to start out with 1-2 drops in your recipe, and adjust by taste and preference.
With these simple substitutions, your holiday baking will not only be delicious, but supportive to you and your loved one’s bodies! Natural ingredients like these will benefit your health, keep you living above the wellness line, AND enjoying this festive time of year with some heavenly goodies!
"Let food by thy medicine, and medicine be thy food."
For clean eating recipes, natural living, and a mixture of business and family life, visit Sabrina’s blog and Facebook:
Sabrina is the CEO/executive pastry chef of Ambrosia Natural Bakery specializing in food allergy-friendly, gluten-free, paleo, and vegan baking. She has 12 years of pastry experience, with a background in nursing and nutritional science.
Copyright 2017 © Sabrina Kate, All rights reserved.
Guest post written by Sabrina Kate for HealthierHannah.com.