One of the most important aspects of healthy eating and cooking involves learning to use the right ingredients. Almost any food or dish can be recreated in a way that is better for our health. It's all in the quality of the ingredients we are using.
A client may tell me something like - "I absolutely love sweets, but I know they're so bad for me." They are usually surprised when I tell them, they can still have sweets!
Completely eliminating foods from our diet (or trying to), especially foods we wholeheartedly enjoy, or are part of our culture, can set us up for failure when it comes to a healthy eating journey. It also makes room for feelings of guilt, anxiety and even depression. It can make us miserable.
So instead of eliminating, I encourage clients to recreate their favorite foods using ingredients that are nutritious and will support their health and goals. With the power of the internet and access to millions of recipes, this is easier to do than ever.
When making changes to our diet, one of the firsts to get the boot is bread, cookies and sweets. This is because processed white flour has very little nutritional value. It's high in carbohydrates and calories yet low in everything else like fiber, protein and vitamins. White flour is stripped of its nutrients during processing. Because of it's low nutrient content, it is sometimes fortified with artificial vitamins.
White flour has been identified as a major culprit behind obesity, heart disease, diabetes and more. At the minimum, it congests the system, creates a sluggish metabolism and can lead to weight gain and constipation.
But what if we use something other than white flour?
Let's take a look at almond flour. Almond flour is a protein rich flour made from grinding blanched almonds in a food processor until it is fine powder-like texture.
Initially, most people would think that because almond flour is higher in fat and calories, then it is not healthier than white flour. However, a majority of the fat in almonds is monounsaturated (healthy) fat. Almond flour is also lower in carbs and is incredibly nutritious in comparison.
Almond flour is a great source of vitamin E, manganese, magnesium and fiber. Vitamin E acts as an antioxidant in your body. Antioxidants prevent damage from free radicals - harmful molecules that accelerate aging and increase your risk of chronic diseases like Alzheimer's, cancer and heart disease.
Magnesium is involved in many processes in your body and may provide several benefits, including improved brain function, improved blood sugar control, reduced insulin resistance and lower blood pressure. Magnesium deficiencies have been linked to both type 2 diabetes and depression and anxiety.
Foods made with refined wheat are high in carbs but low in fat and fiber. This causes spikes in blood sugar levels, followed by rapid drops, which can leave you tired, hungry and craving foods high in sugar and calories.
On the other hand, almond flour is low in carbs yet high in healthy fats and fiber. This means it releases sugar slowly into your blood and provides a sustained source of energy.
Almond's low glycemic properties and high magnesium content makes it a suitable option for those who are trying to control their blood sugar.
Similarly, if you need to follow a gluten-free diet but are a big fan of baked goods or pizza - you can use almond flour to bake your own desserts or make your own pizza crust. You can even use it in place of bread crumbs!
Another plus of baking with almond flour? You're making it yourself. This means you're controlling what and how much is going in your food. It will be fresh and, most likely, free of most preservatives, chemicals, fillers and dyes used in the baked goods we get from the supermarket or a chain bakery.
But does it taste good? I think so! Though I want to emphasize that it does taste different and you may need time to learn love it the way you love the original.
When learning to eat cleaner and healthier, it's important to keep an open mind and remember that the flavors and textures we are used to are artificial and created to keep us addicted. A french fry or a potato chip taste very different from a freshly baked potato, right? In the beginning, "healthy" or "clean" food, may taste plain or different because your taste buds are used to artificial flavors or foods that are oversaturated with sugar, fat and salt.
You will adjust. Once you begin to distinguish how bad your body feels when you consume unhealthy foods vs how your body feels when you feed it foods that nourish your health, you will begin to love your better-for-you alternatives.
You can find food swaps to almost any "unhealthy" food or ingredient. Moderation and balance is still key even when using food swaps. Almost anything in excess can become harmful. This is not a green light for someone to consume almond flour based muffins for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Lastly, keep in mind everyone's healthy looks different and what may work for you, may harm someone else - so it is always important to consider working with a health care professional to identify what your goals are and what food swaps are suitable for you.
There are so many options out there, the possibilities are endless. There is no reason to be missing out on your favorite foods. If you need help discovering how to recreate your favorites, feel free to reach out!