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Better Baking

January 31, 2012 by Dean Simmons, Registered Dietitian

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Better Baking

They say that the best way to a man's heart is through his stomach. For me this is a truism. When my partner steps into the kitchen to make something delicious I feel my heart grow three sizes - just like the Grinch on Christmas day.

There is a special place in my heart for baked goods (especially fresh cinnamon buns), so I jumped at the chance to respond to a reader's request for a posting about healthier baking.

I love the yeasty smell of dough rising on a warm shelf and peering into the oven with anticipation watching the surface of a tasty something or other begin to form a golden brown crust. Unfortunately, most baked goods have a bad reputation when it comes to nutrition. They get criticized for their relatively high fat, sugar and sodium content. They also have a tendency to draw heavily on refined, instead of whole grain flours.

When I'm baking at home I like to try to make ingredient substitutions, where appropriate, to make the end product a little healthier. At home I like to:

  • Use whole grain, or whole wheat flour for at least half the flour in the recipe to add fibre and nutrients
  • Use mashed banana, pumpkin or applesauce to replace half of the fat in muffins
  • Cut the sugar by 1/3 to ½ (I find a lot of baking recipes to be overly sweet)
  • Add dried fruit to add sweetness, texture, taste and nutrition
  • Add in nuts or seeds (sunflower seeds, flax seeds, almonds or walnuts) to add protein, fibre and healthy fats with a satisfying crunch
  • Cut back on the amount of salt used in muffin, loaf and cookie recipes
  • Use unsalted butter or margarine

There are also some great tips and recipes in the Bake Better Bites booklet.

In addition to these substitutions, I like to freeze about half the batch (either before or after baking). If there is a plate of baked goods sitting out in the kitchen, chances are that I'm going to eat them—keeping half of the batch out of sight helps to extend the enjoyment.

Those are my tips, what are yours?

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Comments (1)

cpetelski's picture

HealthyFamilies BC

Posted on Thursday February 2, 2012 a 11:38am

Thanks for your questions Clara. I love using pureed pumpkin in baking. It helps to add moistness to muffins and as a bonus it counts as one of the servings of orange vegetables that Canada's Food Guide recommends we eat daily.

Personally, I don't use Splenda at home, and as such I have no practical experience using it. Splenda is a suitable and safe replacement for sugar in baked products and you can substitute it for sugar (1:1 ratio). Sucralose is the sweetener in Splenda and it is considered to be safe when added to foods below the level of 9 mg per kg of your body weight per day, so if you weigh 60Kg you could consume 540 mg of Sucralose per day without any safety concerns (1 cup of Splenda contains about 250 mg of sucralose). Sweeteners based on aspartame or saccharin are not suitable for baking because the flavour changes under high heat. For a closer look at artificial sweeteners, check out Health Canada's page on sugar substitutes.

If you want to reduce your sugar intake without adding artificial sweeteners, here are two strategies to consider.

  • Reduce the sugar in the recipe to the lowest level that you find results in an acceptable tasting product. A little experimentation is called for here, start by reducing the sugar by 1/4 and if that works well try reducing it by 1/3 the next time.
  • Serve yourself smaller portions. This way you can easily cut your sugar intake while still enjoying great tasting baked goods.

With regard to margarine, it is best to choose a non-hydrogenated (soft tub style) margarine if you are using it to replace butter in baking recipes. Because non-hydrogenated margarine has lower amounts of saturated fats than butter, it is considered to be a healthy alternative. Be careful not to use the ‘light' or reduced fat versions of margarine in baking as these contain a significant amount of water that will negatively affect your baking.

Butter is hard to beat in terms of flavour. If you would prefer to use butter instead of margarine, you might consider making Better Butter at home by mixing together softened butter with a neutral tasting oil like canola oil (1:1 ratio). A little butter goes a long way, so you could also try using less butter than the muffin or cake recipe calls and add in a mashed fruit or ricotta cheese to replace the remainder of the butter. Typically, muffins and loaves are quite forgiving of ingredient substitutions like this. With cookies, the texture will be affected by the amount of butter or margarine used, so you'll have to experiment.

I hope this helps to answer your questions and provide you with some healthy baking strategies.


Dean Simmons


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