DEAR HOLIDAY BAKERS,
They say the holiday season is all about holiday giving, sharing love with one another and being charitable to all. I’m sure it’s the same reason all you closet bakers of the world go full cylinder during the month of December.
I, and the other baked goods receivers of the world (hint: non-bakers) are so impressed: by your flavor combinations, how fluffy or chewy or rich the treat is, and how you manage you outdo yourself every year. It is truly something of magic. Very, very impressive.
What makes them that much more special is that they are prepared with love: hours of preparation in your hot kitchen, yet you are twirl around the room to holiday music, swirling icing onto some sweet concoction. You must have either an elf or Martha Stewart or some kind of magic singing stove in your kitchen, because your cookies are wrapped so delicately in wax paper and nestled into their boxes. Your homemade candies and truffles are so artful with their decorative chocolate drizzle. The peppermint bark. The double-fudge brownies. The salty-sweet combination of pretzel, caramel and chocolate. You hand them to us, smiling, proud.
And I’m gonna need you to stop.
Every year from the second week in December until the week after New Years, my clients, gym-goers, and general friends and family, all COMPLAIN about all these beautiful baked goods.
“It’s EVERYWHERE. My coworker’s cookies, my kid’s candy, and my neighbors keep dropping things off. And it’s really sweet but …”
Exactly. You bakers are so sweet to think of others. To take time out of your own holiday shopping trips, to pick all the items up from the store, to think of us so lovingly (except for those diet-sabotagers out there). And here are the rest of us, pawning it off on coworkers just to get it out of their house because we just. Can’t. Stop.
It’s all very SWEET, and that’s exactly the problem. Sweet means it’s loaded with sugar, and when you load your body with sugar, it will use its ultra-efficient energy storage system to store all that as FAT. Then all the extra sugar lying around during the holidays will be lying on your midsection and upper arms until April.
It’s not totally the fault of the christmas cookies. There are a ton of other reasons people tend to fall off the wagon around the holidays, including bad sleep, drinking, stress, skipped workouts and heavy dinners. But due to all those other factors, the sugar is hitting us at the worst time, when our metabolism is most sluggish, stress is at an all-time high and there’s a lot of time spent sitting indoors around food.
Do ever feel like once you get that sweet treat, you aren’t satisfied by one? Do you tell yourself, “Just one more and I’ll stop,” only to break your promise? You aren’t weak-willed. It’s an addiction. If you bakers hadn’t heard, the ingestion and digestion of fast-acting simple sugars causes a high in the brain that “lights up” the same areas affected by cocaine. And because the treats are lacking in nutrition, even with all the calories, the satisfaction factor that tells you “I’m full” is lacking.
It really doesn’t even end with the holidays. It’s exactly this surge in sweetness that could keep people in the addictive sugar cycle through March, when something is finally stronger than the sugar: the realization that they once again, failed their New Year’s resolution to lose the weight gained every holiday.
You could say it’s a *heavy* price to pay for free cookies.
Self-control and discipline is a virtuous option here, but it’s not really fair to put tons of sugar all over the place when most of the world needs to cut their sugar intake. Remember, losing weight isn’t only for people to make themselves look hot – we live in a world where diabetes rates are climbing from the “American” diet of processed, cheap food and overconsumption of sugar is linked from everything from cancer to skin breakouts. I don’t know anyone who couldn’t benefit from less sugar in their diet.
And so bakers, I put unto you a challenge. Should you accept, you will giving back to the world with exactly what we need, and thereby achieving peace on earth and actually granted “health and happiness” for your loved ones. No one should be deprived of your love and talent and so let us compromise with this glorious thing called “substitutions.” When it comes to baking, don’t stop, but SWAP.
You probably already do it when a recipe calls for milk chocolate chips but you like dark chocolate, or when you ran out of the proper oil. You have amazing baking knowledge, so you are definitely the right person for the job, to prove that healthy ingredients CAN “hide” in baked goods to make them taste just as delicious.
Not all sugars and flours are created equal. Different sweeteners, like honey, date sugar, coconut sugar and stevia (a plant-based sweetener) will not spike your insulin like traditional white sugar. You can also use mashed bananas, applesauce and pureed pumpkin to replace sugars and oils (the fiber will also slow the absorption of sugar). Instead of using harmful omega-6 oils like vegetable oils and shortening, use coconut oil, a medium-chain triglyceride proven to improve brain, muscle and skin health. Instead of the white stuff, use fiber-rich and slow-digesting complex carbohydrates like ground oat flour, or cut the wheat altogether with almond meal, coconut flour or even chickpea flour. Nut butters like peanut, almond and cashew can also help lightened-up foods taste like their decadent counterparts. Without all the junk, you are more likely to actually have just one or two and get back to your veggies.
Check out some of my favorite websites that are dedicated to healthy baking substitutions:
If we can keep the nostalgia, but make our treats a little less harmful, we won’t have obese children dreaming of dancing gingerbread in a sugar-induced carb coma.
If you’re really feeling humanitarian, switch up your regular chocolate chips for those made with certified Fair Trade and organic cacao, to ensure globally, everyone is paid a fair wage and we keep harmful chemicals away from our food and the people that grow it. If you’re the kind of person that has a pet peeve for corporate greed, buy your ingredients from smaller mom-and-pop shops. Your baked goods could a small delicious way for you to make the change you want to see in the world.
This message is NOT a war on christmas cookies, and I’m not seeking for political correctness. I’m just wondering if we couldn’t make a few changes to make it hurt our bodies less, and to soften the impact of fat storage instead of softening our midsections.
Delicious treats that are better for you and put your dollars toward positive, sustainable economic growth? Now THAT is baking with love. Pat yourself on the back and award yourself Nobel Peace Prize for Baking. The butts and guts of this nation thank you for your service.
Wishing you lots of health and happiness this holiday season and beyond!