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Healthier baking this holiday season

It’s that time of year when we dust off grandma’s favorite recipes to create home-cooked meals and treats to nourish our souls through the holiday season.

Many dread this time of year because of the amount of sugar surrounding us, but it doesn’t have to be all bad. If you understand a few basics of healthy baking, you can take your favorite recipes, make a few healthy adjustments, and enjoy them without losing any texture or flavor.

The problem with the delicious, fresh, homemade baked goods such as cookies, breads, cakes or pies is that they can cause blood sugar spikes, increase your body’s inflammation, decrease your immunity and tend to not be friends to your waistline, either.

I’m here to tell you that delicious baked treats can be a part of a sustainable healthy eating plan. Let’s discover today how we can “have our cake and eat it too.”

So, what does healthier baking look like?

First, healthier baking uses less refined sugar.

As a rule, you can reduce sugar in each recipe by about half without a noticeable difference. An even healthier option is to use ½ cup of coconut sugar. This processed sugar results in a lower blood-sugar spike than other options because of the inulin fiber it contains. Reducing the amount of sugar in the recipe creates a product that is not as sweet, but still delicious.

Other healthy sweetener options include raw local honey or pure maple syrup. If the recipe calls for 1 cup of sugar, use 1/3 cup of honey or pure maple syrup. Because it’s a liquid, you’ll need to reduce any additional liquid ingredients in the recipe by 2 tablespoons when using maple syrup.

Next, healthier baking uses quality oils (and less of them).

Yes, using butter in a recipe is healthy unless you are at risk for heart disease or stroke. Coconut oil can be a 1-to-1 replacement for butter. Also, you can use half butter (you need it for texture) and half heart healthy oil such as avocado oil or olive oil. If you want to completely remove the oil, you can use ½ cup of applesauce, smashed banana or other fruit purees that are great substitutes for 1 cup of oil.

Finally, healthier baking uses high quality wheat or gluten-free flours.

The gluten protein structure in flour is what gives your baked good the desirable texture. Using an unbleached, whole-grain wheat flour (or wheat-flour substitute) is the key to lowering the inflammatory response in your baked goods. Substitutes for wheat flour include spelt flour, amaranth flour, oat flour, quinoa flour, coconut flours and nut flours. If endless experiments are not your cup of tea, look for a premade alternative flour mixture such as Bob’s Red Mill one-to-one gluten-free flour.

The holiday season is here! Don’t be intimidated by your favorite holiday recipes, just use these tips and suggestions to create healthier versions of your favorite baked treats. Remember to keep them out of plain sight and focus on enjoying healthy portions of your goodies. Here’s to a season filled with healthier and happier baking experiences.

Fran Sutherlin, RD, MS, is a local registered dietitian, specializing in using digestive wellness to prevent or manage chronic disease. She has a master’s degree in nutrition, is a personal health coach, speaker, and owner of Sustainable Nutrition. She can be reached at 444-2122 or fran@fransutherlin.com.