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No joke: Healthier can be delicious

I still remember the smell walking into my grandmother’s kitchen.

She always had food on the stove, freshly baked sweets in the oven ... and, oh yes, always fresh tortillas straight off the cast iron pan. Do you have any memories like this?

While we are all encouraged and ordered to stay at home, it is a perfect opportunity to learn how to bake healthier. The limited flour and eggs on the grocery store shelves during this pandemic are a sign that many La Plata County families are baking more to pass the time.

Baking at home offers many advantages. You can pass the time while helping control this pandemic, you can entertain kids easily and affordably, and let’s face it ... fresh-baked goodies are food for our soul. This may be just what you need to lift your spirits (while still being conscious of emotional eating).

The problem with 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 are not friends to your waistline.

I’m here to tell you that baked treats can be a part of a sustainable healthy eating plan.

So, what does healthier baking look like?

Healthier baking uses less refined sugar.As a rule, you can reduce sugar in each recipe by about half without a noticeable difference. A healthier option is to use 1/2 cup of coconut sugar, a processed sugar that contains inulin fiber, which causes a lower blood-sugar spike after eating the sweet treat.

Even healthier 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 maple syrup. If using syrup, you need to reduce the liquid in the recipe by 2 tablespoons because it is a liquid.

Healthier baking limits the amount of and uses higher-quality oils.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, 1/2 cup of applesauce, smashed banana or other fruit puree is a great substitute for 1 cup of oil.

Healthier baking uses quality wheat or gluten-free flours.Flour gives your baked good a 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.

Let us make the best of the safer-at-home-orders and enjoy healthier baking with the family. Use these tips and suggestions to create healthier baked treats. Do not forget to keep them out of plain sight and focus on enjoying healthy portions of your goodies.

Here’s to happy baking!

Fran Sutherlin is a registered dietitian, health coach, speaker and owner of Sustainable Nutrition, which has offices in Durango and Bayfield and offers virtual-coaching options. She can be reached at 444-2122 or fran@fransutherlin.com.