Written by Jenni Kilburn (copyright 2014)
Most people wouldn't generally consider cake to be a healthy or nutritious food. Rich, creamy fillings combined with sugary frostings and oils to bind can often give the impression that cake should be a luxurious treat rather than a regular addition to our diets. But in fact there can be many health benefits of cake and also several ways to substitute ingredients to add even more nutritional value while cutting down on unnecessary calories. Many people assume healthy food has to be bland or boring but here are some of the ways in which you can have your cake and eat it...guilt free:
The main body of a cake mix usually includes flour and sugar – both of which are great energy boosting carbohydrates that provide the body keeping the mind agile and the body pumped up. For certain cakes a portion of the flour (usually plain, self raising or all purpose flour) can be substituted for healthier alternatives such as whole wheat or quinoa flour. These are often made up of complex carbohydrates which are less fattening and have a more complicated molecular make-up. This means that it takes the body longer to break them down and therefore you will find that you have longer lasting bursts of energy and more stable blood sugar levels which will also keep you feeling mentally alert as well as physically motivated.
Oils and fats:
Many cakes are often packed with oil and butter which act as binding agents. In small amounts these types of fats are a good source of energy and also help to bulk the natural supply of body fat up for those colder months – partly why we find cake such a comforting food during the winter. In moderation these fats are fine but if you are conscious of these extra calories then you can substitute oil, butter or margarine for other nutritious foods to add the necessary moisture to your cake mix. Natural, plain yogurt or puréed fruits can act as a binding agent while reducing saturated fat content.
Fruit can easily be incorporated into most cake recipes because of it's natural sweetness. Fruit is an important addition to our diet and can have a wealth of health benefits – citrus fruits are a great source of vitamin C which supports immune system health, whilst bananas are packed with fiber. As mentioned, puréed fruits can be used as a binding agent or you could even substitute a creamy filling in a sponge based cake for mashed apple or banana. Pineapples and cherries can be used for decoration alongside berries which are being hailed as the latest type of super foods due to the sheer amount of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants captured in such a tiny fruit. Do bear in mind when picking your fruits that fresh fruits are usually the healthier option as opposed to tinned fruits or Maraschino cherries which are usually soaked and preserved in a sugary syrup.
Cake is well renowned as a 'happy food' because it contains ingredients that increase the production of serotonin in the brain – even so more so if your cake includes chocolate. This so called 'happy hormone' gets our endorphins flowing leaving us feeling positive, energized and calm – so much so that healthcare professionals often advise that people suffering from anxiety or depression include moderate amounts of chocolate into their diets. Chocolate often gets a bad press but in fact studies have indicated that it can have a wealth of other health benefits from improving cardiovascular health to aiding cognitive function and even helping the body protect itself against sunburn! However this is only thought to apply to dark chocolate so do opt for a high quality, dark chocolate with at least 70% cocoa in place of milk chocolate if you plan to use it for frosting, garnishing or as part of a chocolate sponge. A good quality chocolate will also give your cake a richer, more luxurious taste.
Eggs, milk, butter, cream – you will generally find at least some of these dairy ingredients in any cake mix. Dairy products are an important part of our diets because they contain protein and calcium which help bones, teeth and muscles to stay strong and healthy. To cut back on the calories of heavy milks and creams consider using soy based products instead as these contain all of the goodness but with less calories.