Bake Healthier This Holiday Season

bake-healthierWhile this year's holiday meals may look slightly different, we all look forward to something sweet as the finish. Baked sweets, however, are notorious for being high in calories, saturated fats, and sugary carbohydrates, and low in nutrition.

There is no doubt that finding time to bake can be challenging when we try to maintain a balanced lifestyle during the holidays, but we're sure that sweets will remain a cherished part of our holiday menus for some time to come. Luckily, there are ways you and your family can have your cake and eat it too. Switch some of the ingredients to satisfy your sweet tooth and stay on the right side of health -- without losing out on taste.

Why legumes belong in your baking cupboard this holiday season

A lot of baked goods are almost entirely made up of carbohydrates. They lack essential macronutrients and micronutrients, giving you the effect of never quite being full, which encourages you to eat even more. Including the fiber and protein of legumes such as lentils and chickpeas will satisfy you quicker and will add a source of essential nutrients into the mix.

Use lentils for a fiber boost

Lots of studies have shown that heart disease risk drops if you regularly eat high-fiber foods such as lentils. They are also a great source of folate and magnesium, which do wonders for your heart health. Folate lessens your levels of homocysteine, a significant risk factor for heart disease. Your blood supply, oxygen, and nutrients in the body get a boost from magnesium, so much so that a deficiency in this nutrient has been explicitly linked with heart disease.

There are many ways to incorporate lentils in sweets, such as this recipe for Chocolate Lentil Cake Pops. For an even healthier treat, you can reduce the sugar content and shower them with the nuts of your choice.

Throw in some chickpeas for protein power

A low glycemic index and a low glycemic load are one of the main benefits of chickpeas. These can help protect your blood sugar and insulin levels from unexpected spikes, increasing blood sugar control in those with type 2 diabetes.

But chickpeas can be made into more than hummus. From brownies to flapjacks, bakers and bloggers have been using chickpeas in their baked goods for the better part of a decade. Cookies are a perfect way to use chickpeas, as in this Flourless Chocolate Chip Chickpea Blondies recipe. How do they make them so gooey? You guessed it: chickpeas.

Sub the sugar for even more benefits

For an even healthier holiday treat, you don't need to stop at legumes. The type of sweetener you use can provide extra nourishment. For instance, these Maple Glazed Lentil Gingerbread Cupcakes use agave and molasses, two nutritional powerhouses.

Agave has a low glycemic index, unlike refined sugar. This means that it breaks down more slowly, preventing the insulin rush you might get from a sudden rise in blood sugar levels. People with diabetes have been known to use agave syrup to help manage their condition.

Molasses contains a shopping list of essential minerals, including calcium, magnesium, manganese, potassium, copper, iron, phosphorus, chromium, cobalt, and sodium. The benefits are multiplied if you use blackstrap molasses, which contain enough potassium to help keep your blood pressure down.

A common belief holds that baking and healthy eating don't match, but healthier baking doesn't have to forsake flavor. With a close eye on portions and a dose of healthy moderation, all of us can enjoy home baking guilt-free this holiday season.

Download our holiday recipe sampler!