March is National Nutrition Month, when the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics reminds everyone to return to the basics of healthy eating. It is also the time of year when the Academy celebrates expertise of registered dietitian nutritionists as the food and nutrition experts.
According to the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, a healthy diet limits the amount of calories people should consume from added sugars and saturated fat. Does that mean no desserts?
While many baked goods are a major source of both added sugars and saturated fat, dessert still can be an enjoyable part of a full and well-balanced eating pattern. Follow these tips for delicious baked goods with more healthy nutrients and less added sugar and saturated fat.
Watch Portion Size
Keeping portion sizes in check is a primary strategy for healthfully incorporating baked goods into a healthy eating pattern. Make portion control easier by preparing miniature desserts such as mini-cupcakes. Or cut brownies and sheet cakes into two-inch squares and portion cookie dough using a one-tablespoon scoop.
Use high-quality ingredients for a more flavorful product that will satisfy cravings even with smaller portions. For example, use vanilla beans instead of extract, opt for high-quality chocolate and make sure your spices are fresh for the boldest flavor.
Incorporate Nutrient-Rich Ingredients
Instead of focusing on what to cut out, why not add something nutritious to your recipe?
- Add a Fruit or Vegetable
Try adding shredded or pureed apple, carrot, banana and pumpkin to recipes to boost nutrients, flavor and moisture. For some recipes, you can use these ingredients to replace some or all of the butter or oil.
- Try a Whole-Grain Flour
White whole-wheat flour can be substituted one-for-one for all-purpose flour in most recipes. You also can replace up to half the all-purpose flour in a recipe with a whole-grain flour without making any major adjustments to the recipe.
- Experiment with Recipes That Use Less-Common Flours
Try experimenting with recipes such as savory pancakes and waffles that call for chickpea flour. Or try recipes with almond flour, which works well for crusts and can be incorporated into dough for a big punch of flavor and added nutrients.
- Use Low-Fat Dairy Products
Use low-fat milk, low-fat buttermilk and low-fat yogurt in baking recipes to contribute protein and calcium. Consider swapping cream cheese frosting, which is high in calories and saturated fat and has minimal nutritional value, for a protein-rich frosting made from Greek yogurt.
Reduce Saturated Fat and Added Sugars
You can do this in a number of ways. For instance, try these modifications:
- Swap Butter for Heart-Healthy Oil
When modifying a favorite recipe, you generally can trade some of the butter for a heart-healthy oil, such as canola oil. Don't replace all of the butter with oil or you'll sacrifice texture.
- Simply Cut Sugar
As a general rule, you can reduce sugar in a given recipe by about 25 percent without noticeable differences. For instance, if a recipe calls for 4 tablespoons of sugar, reduce the amount to 3 tablespoons. When reducing sugar, you may need to increase the liquid in a recipe.
There is room for all foods, even baked goods, in a healthy eating pattern. Focus on occasionally enjoying small portions of your favorite treats and experiment with creating healthier versions of favorite recipes for more nutrients in each delicious bite.