Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Sweet on You

One thing that I really enjoy doing when I have a little extra time is baking. I like to make cookies and quick breads, but my husband complains because often times I give all the food away as soon as it comes out of the oven. My rationale is that I don’t want all these delicious, highly caloric baked goods just sitting around the house. Jon works nights and is practically never home to consume them so guess who ends up eating all the cookies? It's not the dog.

I made banana bread on Sunday and I pulled out all my usual stops to make it as healthy as possible. I subbed whole-wheat pastry flour for white flour. Whole-wheat flour has the bran and germ of the wheat, which contains fiber and B vitamins, while white flour is only the endosperm of the wheat, leaving only carbohydrates. White flour causes a spike in blood sugar because it is digested quickly, so it is not considered as healthy as slower digesting whole grain products.

Another move I always make when it comes to baked goods is to add nuts. Nuts are delicious, but beyond that add heart healthy fats and protein.

Then it comes down to the sugar. What to do? White sugar is a highly refined product that simply has no nutritional value whatsoever. Excess sugar in the diet is easily transformed into stored fat in the body and causes a blood sugar spike higher than Mt. Kilimanjaro. So what are the alternatives?

There are a lot of health gurus shouting from the rooftops about agave nectar. Agave is made from a cactus like plant and has a sugar profile that is similar to high fructose corn syrup. For this reason it doesn’t cause blood sugar spikes and it is often recommended for diabetics. It is VERY sweet and you need to use less of it than you would sugar.

Blackstrap molasses is one sweetener that I can get behind. While it is a processed ingredient, it is actually a by-product of sugar production; it contains all the healthy minerals that are extracted out of crystalline sugar in the refinement process. It is high in iron, calcium, and magnesium, and it has a distinct flavor that I enjoy. Unrefined sugar like sucanat and turbinado sugar are also good options in that they still contain many of the minerals that are boiled out of white sugar.

Then there are my favorites, honey and maple syrup. I chose a combination of the two for my banana bread. Maple syrup is usually produced in Vermont or Canada, so you don’t have to worry about free trade regulations and human rights like you do with the sugar industry. Grade B has a stronger maple flavor and I believe it is best suited for pancakes and waffles. Grade A has a more delicate flavor, which might be nice for baking. Personally I enjoy the rich maple flavor, and it was delicious in my bread!

Honey is also a winner in my book. My in-laws gave me a big jar of raw unrefined local honey a few weeks ago and I have been slowly savoring it. I used some in the banana bread because local honey may be able to reduce some seasonal allergies and it is as unrefined a sweetener as you can get.

The banana bread turned out delicious and I feel good about putting it in my body knowing the ingredients I used were the best I could get. Do you enjoy baking? What sweeteners do you like to use?

1 comment:

  1. Looks like a great recipe....have you ever tried coconut in banana bread? I never did but all your healthy substitutions got me thinking differently about baking! Thanks.