Swap in Some Healthy

{by Rebecca Florio}

When I first became more health-conscious and making changes to my diet, I assumed that my dessert days were over. It is a common belief that eating healthy means, “dieting” and that means cutting out sweets.

How un-fun. I quickly discovered that restriction is unhealthy and wellness means giving what body not only what it needs but also what it wants. True healthy changes will only last if they are balanced and can be incorporated into a realistic lifestyle.
For me, that means I needed to find a way to incorporate treats and sweets back into my life. And what I learned was that there are infinite ways to give favorite desserts a healthy makeover — making nutritious swaps without losing any of the deliciousness.
Baking is now one of my favorite things to do. If you happen to stop by on one of my (rare) free afternoons, you’ll most likely find me in the kitchen surrounded by pans and bowls. But instead of margarine and white flour streaked across my apron, you’ll most likely find these ingredients:
~ Instead of sugar…use agave nectar. Refined sugar provides empty calories, contributes to tooth decay and cavities, and spikes insulin levels in your blood. In other words, the only thing going for it is it’s sweet taste. But you can have your cake and feel good about eating it too if you swap out 1 cup of processed stuff for ⅔ c. agave nectar. Agave is very low on the glycemic index which means it will not spike your blood sugar which spikes your hunger.
    Honey and Maple syrup are delicious plant-based sweeteners that add rich flavor to baked goods. Honey is full of vitamins, minerals, and beneficial enzymes and antioxidants that actually help combat harmful bacteria in your body! Replace 1 c. sugar with ⅔ c. liquid sweetener.
    Stevia. When I first tried healthy baking, I used a lot of Splenda to sub out sugar’s calories. Then I learned that Splenda is hardly a real food — in fact, it contains many “hidden” chemicals and artificial substances. If you are looking for a calorie-free sugar substitute, try the plant-based liquid or powdered stevia.
~ Instead of butter…use olive oil, rich in unsaturated fats which don’t  clog your arteries and do help fight bad cholesterol in your blood. For baking, choose a lighter olive oil or experiment with grapseed oil or coconut oil.
    Applesauce, pumpkin and plain low-fat yogurt are excellent 1:1 ratio substitutes for butter or oil. I have used both in muffins, breads, cakes, and cookies and been very pleased with the rich and moist results. You won’t miss the fat!
     Peanut butter is high in fat, but like olive oil, it’s got all the good kinds plus tons of healthy proteins! If you are looking to add some energizing nutrients to your diet, sneak some nut butter into your cookies.
~ Instead of egg…make a flax egg! Mix 1T. ground flax seed with 3T water, let the mixture thicken for a few minutes, and voila! You have a faux “egg” out of a nutritional powerhouse. Flaxseeds contain essential omega-3 fatty acids which strengthen bones and protect against heart disease and cancers.
    Mashed Banana is a superfood that can replace sugar, oil, or egg in most baking recipes. I love sneaking a serving of fruit into my desserts!
Instead of white flour…use whole wheat pastry flour which still has all the nutrition of whole grains intact. Whole grains are excellent providers of fiber and as well as antioxidants which protect against the cellular damage that promotes heart disease. But all of these health benefits are stripped away in the refining process of making white flour. Some people shy away from whole wheat flour in baking because it tends to be heavy and dense, which is why I use whole wheat pastry flour.  
    There are so many whole grain flours to experiment with: buckwheat, oat, rice, millet flour.  Look beyond your standard all-purpose and you will be surprised by the variety of flavors (and nutrition!) you will find!

 Looking for a place to start baking nutritiously? Try a few of my favorite yummy treats:

One of my favorite parts of healthy baking is sharing the results with others. Most of the time, people are shocked to learn that those chocolate chip cookies were made with flax, almond flour, and wheat germ — that is, if I tell them. Sometimes, it’s fun to just watch them “mmm” and “aaah” and smile sneakily to myself.