Baking With Whole Grains
Substituting for white flour in any recipe is one of the least forgiving but most important healthy changes you can make to your baked goods. It may take some experimentation for you to get the texture and flavor adjusted when substituting whole grains but the change is definitely worth it. Understanding the differences between refined and whole grains and how they impact your health is motivation in itself for you to make the transition.
There is a reason why most recipes call for refined white flour; it’s easy to use and makes a light textured product. Refining removes the wheat bran and germ, and makes white flour shelf stable, but removes the majority of the vitamins, nutrients and antioxidants and leaves behind just the starch; a simple carbohydrate. The problem with this is, in addition to the lack of nutrients, simple carbohydrates are immediately turned into sugar in your body and absorbed into your bloodstream causing your blood sugar level to spike drastically.
When your blood sugar rises your body sends out insulin to regulate, which triggers the storage of excess sugars as fat. Since your body uses carbohydrates for energy, not for building structure or facilitating internal functions, unless you are very active after eating carbohydrates, you almost always have more sugar in your bloodstream than your body needs for energy. Therefore, ingesting refined carbohydrates quickly and frequently results in added fat storage.
Unrefined whole grains, on the other hand, are accompanied by fiber, vitamins, minerals, fat and protein and are considered “complex carbohydrates”. Complex carbohydrates require more time for your body to break down and absorb, which results in a slower release of sugar into the bloodstream. This means that your body does not have to rush to do something with the sugars and you can use the prolonged release of them for sustained energy. Your body will store less as fat because the excess is not presented all at once.
The vitamins E and B in whole grains are crucial because your body requires them for the process of carbohydrate digestion. Fiber, protein, fat and antioxidants in whole grains are added benefits that assist in the slowed breakdown process, delay the spike in blood sugar, aid in digestion, nourish and re-build your cells and structure and help cleanse your body of harmful free radicals.
With all of this information in mind, don’t fret when confronted with a slice of baguette or piece of cake at your holiday cocktail party. Infrequent indulgences in your favorite pastry or pasta dish are not what cause weight gain, blood sugar imbalances or nutrient deficiencies. It is prolonged consumption of refined grains that will catch up with your health. So, when you are at home and you have the power to decide exactly what you put in your baked goods or evening meal chose whole grains instead.
Start by substituting 1/3 to ½ of the amount of flour called for with whole wheat or other whole grains. As I warned, it can be tricky to get the right flavor and texture at first. If your product is too dry or dense start by adding one egg or 2 tbsp of yogurt or applesauce to the batter and try again. Banana bread, pumpkin muffins, zucchini bread, carrot cake, or other fruit/vegetable based pastries hold up to whole grain flours exceptionally well.
By all means don’t limit your substitutions to whole wheat flour, there are many other whole grains out there that are ground and sold as specialty flours or can be incorporated in their whole cooked form right into your holiday treats. Quinoa, buckwheat, kamut, millet, spelt and teff are other great options.
Quinoa Banana Gingerbread
1 C. whole wheat flour
1 ½ C. cooked quinoa
1 tsp baking powder
½ tsp baking soda
¾ tsp salt
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground ginger
½ tsp ground nutmeg
8 tbsp lard (or butter)
1/3 C. molasses
2 large eggs
3 ripe bananas
2/3 C. whole milk yogurt
1 C. pecans (optional)
Preheat oven to 350. Mix flour, quinoa, baking powder, baking soda, salt and spices in medium bow. In a standing mixer or with a handheld beater, beat together butter and molasses until fluffy. Add in eggs, then bananas and beat until incorporated. Reduce speed to low and add flour mixture, alternating with yogurt until all is incorporated. Stir in nuts if using. Scoop batter into a greased loaf pan and bake for 50 minutes, or until wooden tester inserted into the loaf comes out clean. Cool bread in pan before turning it out. Slice and serve. Will keep well wrapped tightly for up to a week.