Have you been trying to eat healthier this quarantine? (And by that, I mean cutting down on sugar, flours and butter, all of which have been perceived to be unhealthy?) Well, you might not know that most of the popular substitutes that you replace are actually just as bad.
Let’s start off with the most dreaded ingredient in those gooey lava cakes, buttercream-piped cupcakes, and decadent mousses that we all love- Yes, I’m talking about refined sugar. Besides the obvious (weight gain and excess fat), refined sugar is commonly the cause of dementia and liver disease. I know what you’re thinking, this sounds terrible. And it is! Which is why nowadays, people are shifting towards alternatives, like stevia, maple syrup, and honey, being the most popular. Sweeteners like Stevia and Splenda despite having no effect on weight gain, contain Sucralose, which are known to increase blood sugar. Replacing refined sugar with these in baked desserts isn’t a good idea, as at high temperatures, sucralose can break down into harmful substances which may even cause cancer! Honey is one of the most used replacements for refined sugar. However, most people aren’t aware that honey actually is still very calorie dense. A tablespoon of honey is 64 kcals, but a tablespoon of sugar is 49 kcals, so if you’re watching your weight, this natural, golden nectar is not for you. Constantly replacing honey in desserts and consumption in increased amounts can lead to weight gain, and in severe cases, type 2 diabetes. Moderate consumption is key.
Next up, let’s talk about the pantry staple used not only in desserts, but also in breads and pastries- Flour. Most breads, cakes, and other desserts are made using all purpose flour, also known as ‘Maida’ in india. This flour contains no nutrients and no fibre. It is known to slow down digestion, it congests the system, leads to weak metabolism, and makes you feel sluggish, which is why most bakeries are shifting to Whole wheat products.
Whole wheat flour is rich in vitamins B-1, B-3, and B-5, is rich in iron, calcium, and has more proteins.
However, the truth about Whole wheat flour is that it actually contains the same amount of calories as all purpose flour or maida.
I’ll let you in on another secret. A lot of off-the-shelf cakes, cookies and reads that claim to be ‘whole wheat’ are not necessarily 100% whole wheat, and contain only a small portion of it, which is mixed with other white flours. The label is often deceptive, and is used for marketing purposes. Some breads that claim to be ‘brown’ breads, are just sweetened with brown sugar, and don’t use whole wheat flours at all! I recommend that next time, you make sure to check the label, which should say ‘100% Whole Wheat’ the next time you’re grocery shopping. Or even better, replace whole wheat with other flours like Quinoa flour or Chickpea flour, which are even more protein dense, and super healthy.
Butter- the creamy, salty emulsion that adds buckets of flavour to any dish… also everyone’s worst nightmare.
As much as it improves flavour and texture, it’s extremely high in calories, only 1 tablespoon is 102 kcal. It is also high in saturated fats, and consuming an excess of it in cakes and cookies will lead to weight gain. However, there is a common misconception that consuming butter will lead to heart diseases and clogged arteries, and there has been no scientific proof for this myth, but nonetheless, healthier options have come up, the most popular being margarine. Margarine is made from vegetable oil, which contains no saturated fats unlike butter. Sounds great right?
But did you know that pure margarine contains vegetable oils, which are liquids at room temperature. To make them have the similar, soft, spreadable texture as butter, scientists often add chemicals to harden the margarine, which make them highly processed, and strip them of their natural properties. Sometimes, it is also put through a process called ‘hydrogenation’, which increases the saturated fat content in margarine, making it similar to that of butter, which can harm heart health.
If you are looking to replace butter, try opting for a neutral oil, such as sunflower or vegetable oil. Ghee, or Clarified butter works well too!
With all the fitness and health trends headlining, there is bound to be confusion while choosing your alternatives. I was certainly shocked while researching these myself! I hope that this busted some of your misconceptions.