Have Your Cake and…. Healthy “junk” food ideas

One of the toughest parts of adopting a healthy lifestyle is getting off of refined sugar. Sugar has been proven in many studies1 to be more addictive than cocaine and is far more socially acceptable. Just think about it: sugar is everywhere…throughout grocery stores, in every gas station, at every checkout register, at every party or social get- together. The omni-present nature and addictive nature of sugar make it an incredibly difficult habit to break. But break it we must for the benefits of:

• Maintaining a healthy body weight
• Maintaining a healthy balance of gut flora
• Reducing risk of Diabetes and cardiovascular disease
• Setting a good example for our loved ones
• Getting off the blood sugar roller coaster

The blood sugar roller coaster happens when we eat a load of sugar that is unbalanced with fat, protein and fiber. Our blood sugar jumps up rapidly, necessitating a rapid insulin response that then quickly converts excess blood sugar to fat, dropping blood sugar down again. When blood sugar drops quickly we become hungry again and reach for more sugar and the cycle continues until we become insulin resistant and Diabetes ensues. If you haven’t yet watched the documentary Fed Up, I highly recommend it for a simple breakdown of the physiology of how sugar behaves in our bodies. This documentary also draws a very intriguing connection between the current food industry, which promotes endless amounts of sugar intake and claims that it doesn’t affect our health negatively, and the tobacco industry of the 1950’s, which did the same with cigarettes. Things that make you go hmmmmm….

So, we all know that sugar is evil, but the question remains, how do we get around it? The goal is to not deprive ourselves of the pleasure of eating, but to enjoy foods that are compatible with our health goals. Luckily as more and more conscious consumers are waking to the reality of the dangers of the sugar-laden Standard American Diet, a whole industry of “healthy” desserts is emerging. The common themes in these desserts are:

• More complex, natural sweeteners such as fruit, maple syrup and honey
• Nut-based flours that contribute fat and protein without the refined carbs
• Binders like eggs, chia and flax seeds instead of gluten from flour
• Using healthful fats like coconut oil and grass-fed butter rather than trans-fats

Let’s take a look at the recipe of the week this week, which comes to us from my personal Paleo heroine, Danielle Walker, gourmet chef extraordinaire who healed herself of auto-immune disease with paleo-style nutrition.

NoOatmealRaisinCookiesGrain-Free Oatmeal Raisin Cookies
Serves: 16 Prep time: 10 mins Cook time: 20 mins Total time: 30 mins

• ¼ cup palm shortening, unsalted grassfed butter, or ghee
• 1 large egg at room temperature
• ⅓ cup honey
• 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
• 4 teaspoons cinnamon
• ¾ teaspoons nutmeg
• 1 cup blanched almond flour
• 2 tablespoons coconut flour
• ½ teaspoon baking soda
• ½ teaspoon sea salt
• 2 teaspoons finely ground flax seeds*
• ¾ cup finely shredded coconut (I think Let’s Do Organic reduced fat is best for texture)
• ½ cup raisins**
*omit for SCD (Specific Carbohydrate Diet)
**may use chocolate chips, cranberries, or currants

1. Preheat the oven to 350°F.
2. Place the shortening and egg in the bowl of a stand mixer and cream for 1 minute on high. Alternatively, use an electric hand mixer.
3. Add the honey and vanilla and mix for another minute, until creamy.
4. Place the cinnamon, nutmeg, flours, baking soda, salt, and flax seeds in a small bowl and stir to combine.
5. Slowly add the dry ingredients to the wet and mix for another minute, until combined. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, then mix again for 30 seconds.
6. Add the coconut and raisins, then mix again for a minute.
7. Using an ice cream scoop or a large spoon, drop balls of dough the size of a golf ball onto a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper.
8. Place another piece of parchment paper over the balls, then use a spatula to gently press the balls down into circles about ¼ inch thick and 2 inchs in diameter.
9. Place in the oven and bake for 9 to 10 minutes, until the edges are lightly browned.
10. Cool on a wire rack completely before eating. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for later use.

Note that:
• The baker can choose palm shortening (another plant-based fat similar to coconut oil), grass-fed butter or ghee depending on personal preference
• The binders are coconut flour, eggs and flax seed meal (flax seed meal can be omitted for those on gut-healing nutrition regimens)
• Danielle uses almond flour and coconut flour in combination, avoiding grains completely
• Lots of flavor is contributed by emphasizing the vanilla, cinnamon and nutmeg, reducing the need for more sweetener
• The only sweeteners are the fruit sugar from the raisins and coconut flakes and 1/3 cup of honey

If you’re a baker, you now have a whole new world to explore. If you are a casual sweets consumer faced with the challenge of producing a “healthy” dessert that won’t disappoint your company, lots of options for you too. Below is a list of websites I refer to regularly when planning holiday meals, or nutrition workshops or fancy finger foods to bring to social events.

Againstallgrains.com (of course!!!)
Paleomom.com (Moms with picky eaters, take note!!)

Just because you are choosing to avoid sugar doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy dessert. So, get out there and re-invent your sweet-tooth.