As a raw and plant-based food chef, I love the challenge of taking any old recipe and upgrading it into something nutritious, “junk-free” and free of intolerant ingredients as possible. The great thing about raw food is that all raw ingredients are REAL FOOD so by making a recipe raw, you automatically “de-junk” it. It’s fairly simple to “de-junk” any recipe by simply replacing certain processed ingredients and upgrading them to something more nutritious.
My aim is to make healthy food taste just as good, if not better, than less healthy alternatives. If I make my gorgeously moist vegan (secretly healthy with zucchini) chocolate cupcakes (recipe below), they simply must taste like, if not better than, the (unhealthy) ones my grandma would hide in the back of her cupboard so I couldn’t reach them.
Is it too much to ask that my food tastes good, looks good and is good for me?
Here are my Top 5 Tips to upgrading any baking recipe. I invite you to go away and upgrade your favourite recipes using these tips today. Enjoy!
1. Upgrade sugar with plant-based (non-chemical) sweeteners or coconut sugar – processed white sugar is toxic and addictive. It spikes insulin levels and contains zero nutritional value. For me, there’s no excuse to use processed sugar these days – there are so many healthier upgrades out there, it’s not even difficult. A yummy swap would be nutritious coconut sugar, which is low “GI” (Glycemic Index, a scale by which we measure the speed of the effect of “sugar” on blood sugar – the lower the better). For diabetics or those watching sugar-intake, an even lower GI alternative would be natural sweeteners such as 100% stevia or xylitol plant-based sweeteners. Be warned, these are super sweet tasting, so go easy. I love xylitol in baking and 100% stevia leaf to sweeten drinks and smoothies. Agave nectar, by the way, is a not upgrade in my books as it is basically a “High Fructose Syrup”. Agave does impact blood sugar, causing insulin resistance as well as significantly raising triglycerides (a risk factor for heart disease). Watch out for this one as many “health” companies use it claiming it is better than sugar, however, really it is not much better.
2. Upgrade your flour – sadly, as lots of kids and even adults suffer with intolerances these days we often need to avoid things like gluten and even nuts. All is not lost, however, as there are some amazing gluten-free and “intolerance-friendly” alternatives out there. Almond flour is a perfect go-to as long as you’re ok with nuts, or else coconut flour and garbanzo bean flour are baking-friendly and actually provide more fibre than standard processed flours. I have even used tinned garbanzo and black-beans as a flour replacement when I have really needed to (I’m not a huge fan of tinned food, per se, but I am human after all) – you still get a great result.
3. Replace salt with high mineral salt – I have about as much love for processed salt as I do processed sugars – none at all. Processed salt robs us of precious minerals while also dehydrating the body. Refined means the naturally occurring complex of nutrients is stripped from the original salt. What you’re left with is a toxic chemical that only resembles natural salt in its taste and texture. Common table salt literally imbalances the minerals in your body because it is made up of sodium. High mineral salts, such of pink Himalayan salt, grey slat, Celtic salt and sea salt are full of minerals and actually help to replace minerals – this salt will add nutritional quality to your baking.
4. Rethink your oils and fats – there was recently an article that went viral about how we should all be eating butter because saturated fats do have some health benefits, but what it did not fully consider is the true quality of these fats. Grass-fed and organic butter is surely better for us, but even then there are maybe healthier fats to use. For example, my go-to in baking is coconut oil because it is a perfect saturated fat that our bodies can easily use for energy (and no animals were harmed to make it either). Coconut oil is super yummy in baking! I am not saying everyone must become vegan, but it is a good idea to think about which fats you use for a recipe. If I am heating a fat, the best ones to use are ones with a high smoke point – such as a coconut oil or rice bran oil – because they will not easily go rancid at high temperatures. Vegetable oils have a lower smoke point and are better for flavoring a dish as opposed to cooking a dish. Extra virgin olive oil, for example, is better used to flavour than to cook with.
5. Add in some plants and greens! – and finally, add in some greens! Baking is a super easy way to sneak in some of your five-a-day without your kids and even hubby knowing about it! Zucchini is a great veggie for baking as it’s super moist. Beetroot goes great with chocolate recipes and spinach can be hidden with a chocolate taste. Omega-rich chia seeds and bananas are perfect bulking agents for baking. If you’re looking to transition to a more plant-based diet, replacing egg and animal-based thickeners with these options is an easy swap. Take 1 TBS chia to 3 TBS water (soak the chia to make a gel) and you have the equivalent of 1 egg, aka the “chia egg”.
Secretly Healthy Choc Chip Cupcakes
Vegan, Dairy-free and all Junk-free
Prep Time: about 5 minutes make + max 18 mins baking time
Yield: 12 cupcakes
- 1 1/4 cups organic garbanzo bean flour
- ¼ cup carob and ¼ cup raw cacao mixed powder
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 1/2 tsp baking soda
- 1/2 tsp high mineral pink salt
- 3/4 cup unsweetened coconut milk
- 1 TBS apple cider vinegar — a known health tonic
- 3/4 cup coconut sugar or ¼ cup powdered xylitol for no-sugar version
- 1/2 cup finely shredded zucchini, packed (about 1 zucchini)
- 1/4 cup coconut oil
- pinch of cinnamon – this will lift the chocolate flavour
- 1 tsp pure vanilla extract powder
- 3/4 cup dairy free chocolate chips – I use chunks of my raw chocolates – tip: if you want to keep the chocolate raw, simply push the chips into the cup cakes after baking!
- preheat oven to 350 degrees
- prepare muffin tin by lining with paper liners
- in large mixing bowl, sift together flour, cacao + carob, baking powder, cinnamon, baking soda and salt — leave to one side
- mix in the coconut milk and vinegar
- add coconut sugar or sweetener, shredded zucchini, oil and vanilla
- add flour mixture and 1/2 cup chocolate chips
- stir until just combined
- divide batter into prepared muffin tin
- sprinkle remaining 1/4 cup chocolate chips on muffin tops
- bake for max 18 minutes or until toothpick inserted in centre comes out dry with a few crumbles
- place on cooling rack to cool. Store in air-tight container and best kept in fridge – eat with in 4 days