As soon as winter hits it feels like everyone starts baking. There’s just something so cozy and seasonal about spending time in the kitchen while whipping up treats. Plus, it feels like the temptation to indulge is constantly around us: Instagram feeds become crowded with photos of homemade cinnamon bread, cranberry muffins, and sugar cookies loaded with icing. Holiday-inspired pastries and drinks become readily available at coffee shops and bakeries. Friends and family deliver gift baskets filled with candied treats. We’re surrounded by desserts all throughout the holiday season!
What if I told you that you could enjoy all of these sweets in a healthier way? By baking at home, you can control exactly what ingredients go into your favorite desserts, and even make them taste better and more fresh than the store bought versions. You can swap most of the ingredients in baking recipes with more mindful choices. There are always better choice products out there—even when it comes to desserts. Prepare these treats in a healthier way with this list of better choice baking items.
Many baked good recipes call for vegetable or canola oil. Vegetable oil is a blend of several different oils, most typically safflower, sunflower, canola, corn and/or soybean oil. It’s made this way because it’s inexpensive to manufacture and consumers like it because it has a neutral flavor.
One of the problems with these oils is the ratio of omega-6 to omega 3 fatty acids. Most people get far too many omega 6 fatty acids in their diet and not enough omega 3 fatty acids. This can lead to inflammation in your body, cardiovascular disease, and autoimmune disease.
Try avocado oil, which has a neutral flavor and is rich in heart healthy oleic acid. Another good option is coconut oil since it’s full of MCTs (medium chain triglycerides) that are good for metabolism and brain health.
99.9% of sugar beets that are harvested in the United States are GMO sugar beets. More than half the granulated sugar packaged for grocery stores shelves is made from those GMO sugar beets. The problem is that sugar beets are routinely sprayed with two to four applications of Round Up (the main ingredient is glyphosate). Glyphosate has been shown to increase cancer risk.
Opt for raw honey instead, which has been known to improve blood lipid profiles. Two more options: Pure maple syrup, which contains up to 24 antioxidant properties, and coconut sugar, which contains inulin—a fiber that feeds good bacteria.
Many butter options on the market contain ingredients that aren’t necessary for its flavor or consistency. One frequently hidden culprit is vegetable oil, which as mentioned above, is actually a blend of several oils that have inflammatory properties. Another ingredient you want to avoid is artificial flavor.
Read the labels on the back of butter packaging and choose those that don’t list vegetable oil or artificial flavor. Kerrygold Pure Irish Butter is a good option because the only two ingredients are pasteurized cream and salt. Trader Joe’s also makes a good option that only contains cream and salt.
Did you know that a lot of baking powders are made with aluminum? The reason for this is because aluminum is heat activated, so when you put your baked goods in the oven, the baking powder (with aluminum) kicks in and creates carbon dioxide gas. The gas is what ultimately gives what you’re baking a nice rise.
The problem is, do you really want to be eating aluminum? Be sure to check the labels on your baking powder, specifically for sodium aluminum sulfate and sodium aluminum phosphate.
Simply choose a baking powder that doesn’t contain aluminum. Most packages will state “aluminum-free” but always double check the labels for any sneaky ingredients. Choosing an aluminum-free baking powder doesn’t mean that your baked goods won’t rise, it just means that you need to be quick when transferring your batter to the oven.
Eggs provide great protein to your baked goods. The problem is that chickens raised in cages have very little regulations on their feed and care. They also have significantly less health-boosting omega 3’s and vitamin E.
Use pasture raised eggs, which have less cholesterol and saturated fat, increased vitamin A, D and E, omega 3 fatty acids, and beta carotene. This is a super easy swap that will make a big difference in the long run!
Flour is a staple in most baking recipes but many of the options out there have been bleached, which means it could contain glyphosate. Unfortunately, glyphosate is widely used and has been known to have a negative impact on gut health.
Try organic oat flour instead. The Thrive Market Organic Oat Flour is unbleached and gluten-free.
When you think of sugar you might just think about traditional desserts like cookies and cakes, but the truth is that sugar is added to so many products. Added sugar is totally avoidable and just plain unnecessary in most food items—peanut butter is one of them. You might be shocked if you look at the added sugar column on the back of your peanut butter jar.
Another added ingredient in many peanut butters is vegetable oil, which as you learned above, is really just a blend of a bunch of different oils. News flash: Your peanut butter doesn’t need any oils!
Pick a peanut butter without any added sugar. You should also check and make sure there aren’t any oils on the ingredients list. I love the Kirkland Organic Creamy Peanut Butter from Costco—the only two ingredients are dry roasted organic peanuts and salt.
These are just a handful of healthier baking swaps you can make, and all of them are affordable and easy to find if you know what you’re looking for. You don’t have to cut out all of your favorite treats in order to live a healthier lifestyle—just start making smarter choices about what you’re baking with.