The holiday season will be here before you know it and that means the number of baked goods being made and eaten will soon be on the rise. I'm pretty certain more cakes, cookies and breads are made around the holidays then at any other time of year. Good as they taste, unfortunately for the most part baked goods really are not healthy. But, with a few ingredient tweaks here and there, and a few healthy baking tips at your disposal you can end up with a recipe you can feel substantially less guilty about eating. One of the biggest things to “tweak” in any recipe is the flour.
All-Purpose Flour is a Highly Processed Food
One of the biggest problems with so many baked goods (from pizza crust to bagels and crackers to breads) is that they are made with highly processed white flour. While the vast majority of flour and flour-based products sold in the United States is made from wheat, the nutrient-rich wheat germ and the fiber-rich wheat bran are removed during the processing of white flour leaving only the nutrient-poor, fiber-free starch. No nutrients equals empty calories. Along with sugar, white flour is the ultimate empty-calorie carb.
Eating rapidly absorbed nutrient-poor processed white flour paves the path to weight gain, insulin resistance, hunger, obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease and, indirectly, exacerbates the symptoms of numerous inflammatory conditions (such as fibromyalgia, multiple sclerosis, asthma, etc.)
Do You Eat Refined Flour and Not Even Know It?
Very few food product labels use the term “refined flour” or “white flour” in their list of ingredients and no recipe is going to call for “refined flour” as an ingredient. Recipes typically call for “all-purpose flour” and food manufacturers use the term “enriched flour”.
Enriched flours and “all-purpose” flours certainly sound healthier than refined white flour, but they are all the same thing. Enrichment refers to government mandated processes of adding small amounts of synthetic vitamins and minerals to refined flour after it has been processed. As required by law, all refined flour is enriched.
“Enriched Flour” is Synonymous with Refined Flour and Is Not Healthy
The only reason flour is “enriched” is because all the good stuff was removed during processing! Whole foods are not enriched, only processed foods are enriched. Enriched flour does not contain fiber and the synthetic vitamins and minerals that are added back only represent a small portion of the nutrients that were removed during processing. Furthermore, your body does not recognize or utilize synthetic nutrients like it does naturally occurring nutrients. In addition, the disease-fighting phytochemicals are lost forever during the refinement process and are not added back.
Wheat Flour & Multi-Grain Flour Is Not Healthy Either
I especially notice how the flours in breads are often misrepresented. For example, the typical multigrain bread is no more healthful than white bread. While it's great to eat a variety of grains other than just wheat —because variety assures you are exposed to a wide array of phytochemicals, antioxidants and micronutrients nature has to offer—-this approach only works if you eat whole grains.
“Whole” Food Whole Grain Flours
“Whole” wheat flours and all other “whole” grain flours are made from the entire grain kernel. For example, whole wheat flour contains the wheat germ (full of nutrients) and the ground-up wheat bran (lots of fiber). Because nothing is removed, whole grain flours contain fiber, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. Whole grain flours are naturally nutritious and don't need to be “enriched.”
White Whole Wheat Flour Is a Healthy Flour
that Bakes Like & Tastes Like All-Purpose Flour
I didn't discover white whole wheat flour until I was working on my third book (The Whole Foods Diet Cookbook) and until then I had always used “whole wheat flour”. But, after discovering white whole wheat flour I'm completely hooked. White whole wheat flour is every bit as nutritious as whole wheat flour (it contains the nutrient-rich germ and the fiber-rich bran), it just bakes better and tastes more like the unhealthy all-purpose flour.
In comparison to regular whole wheat flour that is made from red wheat, white whole-wheat flour is made from a naturally occurring albino variety of wheat, which is lighter in color and has a sweeter, milder flavor (making it perfect for many baked good recipes…especially desserts!)
Best of all, white whole wheat flour offers the same nutritional goodness of its darker cousin. And, because white whole-wheat flour is less heavy than traditional whole-wheat flour, it can replace all-purpose white flour one to one in recipes.