Tis the season to be jolly - and along with that - it's the season of temptation - and the evidence suggests most of us give in. A study in the New England Journal of Medicine shows the average person puts on a pound during the holidays and never loses it. This adds up to serious weight gain over the years. For those with high cholesterol or high blood pressure, land mines abound on the dinner table. Fortunately, there are ways to avoid the holiday food trap. While Santa makes his list and checks it twice, you can study WebMD's list of foods that are naughty and nice.
NAUGHTY: Cakes and Cookies
Carbohydrate cravings may increase during fall and winter. You don't want to give in by reaching for too many sweets, but it's not good to ignore the cravings either. Carbs taste good and make you feel good triggering the release of serotonin, a brain chemical that boosts mood.
NICE: The solution is to control portions or snack on complex carbs, such as whole-grain cereal or crackers.
Even though Christmas 2013 is behind us, we are still right in the middle of the holiday week and thus the goodies seem neverending. But to deny ourselves completely is a mistake as the cravings will only increase.
suggests that by choosing treats with oats, nuts or fruit we'll be at least getting some fibre and that it's best to avoid anything with lots of frosting and anything coated with sugary sprinkles (I've never been a fan of sprinkles, but the grandkids luv 'em). The following are suggestions on how to improve our favourite family recipes:
Cut Back on Sugar
- An easy place to start is the granulated sugar. You can use 1/4 cup less in many drop cookies, such as these cinnamon-sugar cookies, and they'll still taste as sweet. Often, you could cut up to a third of the sugar and not notice a difference. Or add dried fruit to make up for the sugar you're leaving out.
- If you want to bake with a sugar substitute product, stick to recipes from the manufacturer. Used in your recipes, these products could throw off the flavor, texture, and appearance of your cookie. "Some artificial sweeteners become bitter when exposed to heat," Libby Mills. spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics says. Aspartame won't do well in the oven, but saccharin and sucralose should taste OK.
- Baking tip: Because sugar helps dough spread while baking, using less sugar can lead to puffier, rounder cookies. If you want cookies that look more like you're used to, Mills suggests coating the palm of your hand with nonstick cooking spray and flattening out the dough balls before putting them in the oven.
Replace the Fat
- Butter, shortening, and some kinds of margarine have a lot of unhealthy fats. Fortunately, you can replace up to half of a recipe's fat content with healthier options.
- Fruit purees. Try unsweetened applesauce, pumpkin puree, or prune butter.
- Vegetable purees. Cauliflower adds the lightest flavoring. Pureed fennel will add extra flavor to anise cookies.
- Oils. Canola and sunflower oils raise good cholesterol, too. Canola oil also gives you healthy omega-3 fats.
- The substitution is simple: 1 cup of butter = 1/2 cup of butter plus 1/2 cup of oil or pureed fruits or vegetables.
- However, Mills says that lower-fat cookies will have a denser texture and they won't be as crisp.
- If you use margarine, avoid the hard sticks. Choose soft margarine in a tub with no trans fat and less than 2 grams of saturated fat per serving.
- Baking tip: Reduced-fat substitutions will make cookies lose moisture during baking. Lower the oven temperature by 25 degrees, and shorten the baking time. Keep an eye on the first batch to get the timing right.
Change Flour for Fiber
- "In olden days, people cooked with what they had on hand. If whole wheat flour had been in the pantry, you can bet your great-grandma would have used it," Mills says.
- Whole wheat flour bumps up the fiber content. In your recipes, "Start by replacing 1/4 cup of white flour with whole wheat," Mills suggests. If you're happy with the taste and texture of the finished product, next time use 1/2 cup.
- "You can replace up to three-fourths of the recipe's white flour with whole wheat flour or whole wheat pastry flour, or up to half of white flour if using oat flour," Mills says.
- Toss in a couple of tablespoons of ground flaxseed for even more fiber.
- Baking tip: Any whole wheat flour (including pastry flour) absorbs more liquid because it contains more protein or gluten than all-purpose flour. "You may need to add a little extra liquid, such as water or milk, to get the right dough consistency," Mills says.
- This extra moisture can mean a longer baking time. Bake just three or four cookies before cooking the entire batch. If they're not done by the time the recipe says they should be, put them back in the oven and keep checking every minute or two until you're happy with the result.
More Healthy Cookie Tricks
- Cut the salt in half. (You won't miss it.)
- Use fewer chocolate chips. (Try smaller chips, or chop larger ones finely so they spread throughout the dough.)
- Use fewer nuts if you're worried about calories. Otherwise, nuts add good fats and phytochemicals along with some protein and fiber. (Again, smaller bits will blend into the dough more evenly.)
- Add spices such as cinnamon, cloves, allspice, vanilla, or almond extract.
Mix in dried fruit including raisins, cherries, cranberries, or chopped apricots for sweetness, texture, and color.
NOTE: "Baking is more of a science than an art," Mills says. "You have to experiment with a recipe several times before getting the perfect measurements." Because you're making changes, the cookies won't be exactly like Grandma's. But they'll still be tasty, and they'll be healthier.
Pineapple Coconut Bites
Makes about 20 cookies
1 1/4 cups canned crushed pineapple, slightly drained
1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1/2 cup almonds
6 tablespoons confectioners' sugar
1/2 cup whole-wheat pastry flour
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup unsalted cold butter
3 tablespoons light olive oil
2 tablespoons unsweetened shredded coconut
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1. To prepare filling: Spoon pineapple into a small saucepan with honey and cornstarch. Cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, until thickened, about 3 minutes. Let cool.
2. To prepare dough: Meanwhile, process almonds in a food processor until finely ground. Add confectioners’ sugar; process to combine. Add whole-wheat pastry flour and all-purpose flour; process to combine. Drop butter by the tablespoon through the feed tube, processing briefly after each addition. Add oil and pulse once or twice. Add coconut, cornstarch, salt and vanilla and process just until the mixture resembles crumbly, fine meal, but will hold together if pressed.
3. Reserve a scant 1/2 cup of tart dough to use as crumbled topping.
4. Preheat oven to 350°F. Line mini muffin pans with 20 paper cups.
5. Drop a scant tablespoon of dough into each paper cup. Press the dough into the bottom and up the sides of the cup, making a well in the center, to form a miniature crust. Spoon 1 1/2 to 2 teaspoons of the pineapple filling into each crust and top each with some of the reserved crumbs.
6. Bake until the topping is golden brown and the crust is cooked through (watch carefully toward the end and move the pan to the bottom rack if the top begins to brown before the bottom crust is done), 20 to 25 minutes. Let cool in the pans.
Nutrition per cookie : 101 Calories; 6 g Fat; 2 g Sat; 3 g Mono; 6 mg Cholesterol; 10 g Carbohydrates; 1 g Protein; 1 g Fiber; 59 mg Sodium; 45 mg Potassium
1/2 Carbohydrate Serving
Exchanges: 1/2 starch, 1 1/2 fat
Make Ahead Tip:
- Equipment: Two 12-cup mini muffin pans and mini muffin paper cups
I find that nibbling on grapes with some cheese is a nice treat!!!