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Substitutions can make baking more healthful

  • Washington Post
  • Published Monday, Dec. 24, 2012, at 7:39 p.m.

Spiced Apple Cake

16 servings

Health education specialist Elaine Gordon reviewed many standard spiced apple cake recipes and came up with this healthful version, which also happens to be vegan and gluten-free.

3 Granny Smith apples, peeled and cored

2 tablespoons ground flaxseed

1/2 cup plus 4 tablespoons unsweetened almond milk

1/2 cup light agave syrup

1/2 cup canola oil

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

1 cup unsweetened applesauce

1/2 cup raw, unsalted walnut pieces

1/2 cup golden raisins

1 cup almond meal

1 cup brown rice flour

1/4 cup light or dark brown sugar

1 teaspoon sea salt

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 tablespoon ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon ground ginger

1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9-inch round springform pan with canola oil spray.

Chop 2 1/2 of the three peeled apples into 1/4-inch pieces. Cut the remaining half of the apple into paper-thin half-moon slices and reserve for topping the cake, if desired.

Combine the ground flaxseed with the 4 tablespoons of almond milk in a large bowl and mix well, then add the chopped apples, agave syrup, canola oil, vanilla extract, applesauce and the remaining 1/2 cup of almond milk; mix well.

Combine the walnuts, raisins, almond meal, brown rice flour, brown sugar, sea salt, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg in a separate bowl.

Slowly stir the walnut mixture into the apple mixture; once they are well incorporated, pour into the pan. Bake for 40 minutes, then, if using, carefully arrange the reserved apple slices in a fanned-out pattern on top of the cake. Bake for 5 to 10 minutes, until the cake does not wobble at the center when gently shaken and the edges have started to brown and pull away from the sides of the pan.

Let the cake rest for 10 minutes before releasing it from the springform pan.

NUTRITION Per serving: 240 calories, 3 g protein, 29 g carbohydrates, 14 g fat, 1 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 250 mg sodium, 3 g dietary fiber, 17 g sugar

(The Wichita Eagle – Dec. 25, 2012)

The delicious desserts we enjoy during the holidays are usually loaded with added sugars and unhealthy fats. If you’re feeling overly stuffed and would like to make your sweets more healthful in the future, experiment with making substitutions and reducing the sugar in your recipes.

The U.S. Agriculture Department labels solid fats and added sugars as empty calories, and recommends that these make up no more than 15 percent of your diet. However, most Americans consume about 35 percent of their calories from these empty-calorie sources.

What are solid fats?

Solid fats are fats that are solid at room temperature (i.e., butter and shortening). Most are high in saturated fats or trans fats, which tend to raise “bad” LDL cholesterol levels and increase the risk for heart disease.

What are added sugars?

According to the USDA, added sugars are sugars and syrups that are added to foods or beverages when they are processed or prepared. This includes white granulated sugar, brown sugar, high-fructose corn syrup, raw sugar, honey and maple syrup. This does not include naturally occurring sugars such as those in milk and fruits.

So, the overall goal for healthful baking is to reduce the empty calories from added sugars and solid fats and replace them with more healthful ingredients. Besides, most recipes call for more sugar and fat than are actually needed for flavor. To preserve the flavor of your recipes, the American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends reducing the sugar and fat by 25 percent to 33 percent.

Healthful baking tips

• When reducing sugar in your recipes, be sure to add spices for flavor. Try cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, cardamom, vanilla bean or pumpkin pie spice.

• Instead of solid fats such as butter and shortening, go for vegetable oils such as canola oil for less saturated and trans fat. Even better, unsweetened applesauce can replace half the oil in your recipe to help cut down on overall fat. The applesauce also adds natural sweetness and fiber. Canned pumpkin or sweet potato puree can also be used as a substitute for these solid fats while also offering health benefits from vitamins A and C.

• Swap frosting for fruit slices or pureed fruit — nature’s candy.

• Add unsweetened dried fruits such as raisins for added fiber and natural sweetness.

• Add heart-healthy raw, unsalted nut pieces for crunch and flavor. Try incorporating nut butters into your recipes for added protein.

• Replace one whole egg with two egg whites to reduce cholesterol. Or, you can skip eggs altogether and combine 1 tablespoon of heart-healthy ground flaxseed with 3 tablespoons of water.

• Try using evaporated skim milk instead of heavy cream.

• Use whole-grain flours instead of refined white flours for additional fiber and nutrients.

• Consider using agave nectar instead of sugar. Agave syrup has fewer calories but is also sweeter, so you only need half to three-quarters as much.

• Use dark chocolate with a high percentage of cocoa, which offers flavonoids, a healthy antioxidant. I recommend using mini chips, which allow you to use less overall chocolate but provide a bit of flavor in each bite. Unsweetened cocoa powder is great for adding chocolate flavor without a lot of calories or fat: One tablespoon contains about 15 calories and 1.5 grams of fat (and zero cholesterol or sugar).

Healthful baking rule of thumb

When it comes to lightening up your recipes, start by making small changes and never change a major ingredient. If you have a family recipe that is filled with special meaning, you may not want to do anything too radical. Evaluate each recipe on a case-by-case basis and have fun experimenting with these more healthful options.

And, when the baking is done, pay attention to the portion size of the desserts you consume: No food is a “bad food” when enjoyed in moderation. Portion size is particularly important when it comes to high-calorie foods such as cakes, brownies, tarts, cupcakes, cookies and pies. Set yourself up for success by taking a smaller piece of pie or one less cookie. You can savor every bite and feel just as satisfied.

Elaine Gordon, a master of public health professional and a master certified health education specialist, is creator of the healthy recipe site EatingbyElaine.com.

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