Every recipe on the internet seems to be labelled "healthy" when often, they aren't healthy at all. So how do you spot a truly healthy recipe?
It is important to remember that a diet should be balanced, so it is difficult to look at a single recipe in isolation. But in general we need to limit our intake of sugar and saturated fats.
Here are 5 ways we can spot a recipe that might not be as healthy as it claims to be:
1. It is a family recipe passed down through the generations
Image "Making Ginger Cookies" (CC BY 2.0) by Liz West
This isn't a hard and fast rule, but is often a strong indication of an unhealthy recipe. Our grandparents ate cake for morning and afternoon tea! They shunned any suggestion that you should hold back on sugar. They cooked in solidified fat.
In short, their cooking practices would be frowned on by today's standards. I've found many old recipes to be gob-smackingly indulgent in sugar and fat when lighter versions are just as tasty.
Look for healthier versions of family recipes to pass on to the next generation.
2. The recipe uses large amounts of honey
Image "Honey" (CC BY 2.0) by Siona Karen
The internet is awash with recipes that have been rewritten to use "healthy" sugars like honey. However, substituting 1 cup of white sugar for 1 cup of honey does not make it a healthier version of the original recipe. Honey contains more calories than an equal volume of sugar and a simple substitution of these ingredients will result in a recipe that is higher in calories. As honey is sweeter than white sugar, often half (or less) of the amount of sugar should be substituted with honey.
Honey, particularly raw, unprocessed honey has many health benefits which can be lost if you bake with it. If you have gone to the effort of obtaining raw honey, don't destroy its benefits by partially processing it yourself by heating it to high temperatures!
Look for recipes with natural sweeteners (e.g. bananas or dates) or reasonable amounts of raw honey in them. Don't destroy the benefits of raw honey by baking with it.
3. The recipe uses large amounts of any fat or oil
As with sugar, recipes are also being rewritten with "healthy" fats like coconut oil. Some of these recipes are simply substituting one fat for another and being labelled as "healthy". But healthy fats are still fats and need to be consumed in limited amounts.
Recipes with large amounts of any oil or fat need to be looked at with suspicion and certainly aren't an everyday food even if someone gives them a "healthy" label.
However, you don’t want to avoid fats altogether as they are essential to your health, for example they are vital to the proper functioning of your brain and nerves. We naturally consume good fats when we eat foods like nuts, avocado and salmon.
Look for recipes contain or use “good fats” in small amounts.
4. The recipe uses processed ingredients
Image "IMG_0969" (CC BY 2.0) by zaphad1
Processing food results in less nutritional value and unwanted additives like salt, sugar, preservatives, colours and flavours. Steer away from recipes where most of the work is done for you with a jar or can of something.
Find recipes that shows how to make something from scratch. Replace the processed ingredient e.g. soak your own beans and dice your own tomatoes.
5. The recipe uses artificial sweeteners
This is about getting real with yourself. Lets forget about whether artificial sweeteners are good for you or not. If you see artificial sweeteners in a recipe it is a good indication that the food is a treat food and the recipe will never be "healthy"! If you consume these foods as an occasional treat, then using small amounts of real sugar in them won't be a problem.
Enjoy your cake occasionally but don't think it is healthy!
How do you decide if a recipe is healthy or not? Share your tips with others by commenting on this article.