Health Benefits of Baking Ingredients
The Nutrivore philosophy appreciates the inherent nutritional value of foods, without labeling any food as good or bad. By extension, no singular food choice is a bad one, and Nutrivore fully embraces treats, cultural foods, and food traditions, without derision. Not every food you eat needs to be the pinnacle of nutrient density—your diet can meet your nutritional needs while including some low nutrient-density, quality-of-life foods.
Added sugars are defined as sugars and syrups that are added to foods during processing or preparation, including sugars and syrups added at the table. And, science shows that it’s important to keep our added sugar intake below 10% of our caloric intake. The scientific rationale for this 10% threshold comes from links to rise in obesity due to increased caloric intake, links to dental caries, links to nutrient deficiencies (through displacement of more nutrient-dense foods), and, most compelling, links to cardiovascular disease. A huge 2014 study showed that consuming 10 to 24.9% of calories from added sugars increased cardiovascular disease risk by 30%, and consuming 25% or more of calories from added sugar increased cardiovascular disease risk by 2.75 times! But, note that staying below the 10% of calories from added sugars threshold doesn’t have any clear detriment to our health, so there’s absolutely room in a healthy diet for some sugar! And, note, this is looking at added sugars, not carbohydrates in general or sugars that come from whole foods like fruit. In fact, eating about 300 grams of whole fruit daily reduces all-cause mortality risk by about 10%!
The healthiest and most nutrient-dense sugar options to use are molasses, maple syrup and sugar, and honey.
In addition, some baking ingredients can be health-promoting! Take chocolate, for example. Dark chocolate (>70% cocoa) contains many beneficial nutrients! A 1-ounce serving is an excellent source of copper and manganese; a good source of fiber, iron, magnesium, and vitamin E; and also contains some zinc, selenium, phosphorus, and vitamins B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, B7 and K. The most important nutrient that chocolate contains though is its very high concentration of phytonutrients with antioxidant activity—including flavonoids, epicatechin, procyanidins, and catechin. In fact, chocolate contains even more flavonoids than wine and tea and a mere one-ounce serving of dark chocolate contains more than the daily amount of polyphenols associated with diverse health benefits!
Research has also shown that cacao has aspirin-like effects, antidiabetic effects, helps reduce parameters of stress, supports maintenance of a healthy body weight, improves cognitive performance, reduces stroke risk, and may even have anticancer properties. Other studies have shown that dark chocolate offers a reduced risk of developing heart disease and provides other beneficial vascular health properties.
A 2017 meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies found a 10% reduced risk of developing heart disease and a 16% reduced risk for stroke among people who ate the most chocolate vs. the least. A Cochrane systematic review from 2017 found that flavonol-rich chocolate and cocoa products can cause a small but significant reduction (2 mmHg) in blood pressure among healthy adults, and a slightly greater reduction in systolic blood pressure (4 mmHg) among people with hypertension. These protective effects of chocolate may be due to its phytonutrient content and its stearic acid (which has been shown to help reduce diastolic blood pressure)! And, a meta-analysis of prospective studies found that people eating moderate amounts of chocolate (less than seven servings per week) had a 14% lower risk of developing heart failure, compared to people eating no chocolate. However, eating 10 servings a week was associated with slightly higher risk (a 7% increase, compared to no chocolate), suggesting more isn’t always better!
The same 2017 meta-analysis above also found that chocolate intake was associated with a reduced risk of developing diabetes (18% lower for those with the highest intake of chocolate), but the greatest risk reduction occurred at two servings per week (25% lower risk), with no protective effects occurring above six servings per week. Other human studies have shown that consumption of flavanol-rich chocolate leads to greater insulin sensitivity, lower blood sugar response, and lower insulin response, while in vitro experiments have shown that chocolate polyphenols can alter glucose metabolism, inhibit glucose absorption in the intestine, and even regenerate pancreatic beta-cells—giving us some plausible mechanisms for chocolate’s anti-diabetic effects. But, it’s possible that the greater sugar and energy intake associated with very high chocolate consumption could offset some of those protective effects, explaining why higher chocolate intake doesn’t seem as helpful for diabetes as it does for other conditions—at least in observational studies.
Clinical trials have produced some promising findings on chocolate’s ability to help us maintain a healthy body weight, too. A meta-analysis of randomized clinical trials—35 in total—found that studies that included at least 30 grams per day of chocolate, for a length of four to eight weeks, led to a significant reduction in body weight and BMI among participants.
All in all, about an ounce per day seems to be the sweet spot (hyuck) for the highest magnitude health benefits.
Examples of Baking Ingredients
- cacao and cocoa powder
- chocolate chips
- flour (wheat and gluten-free)
- dried fruit
- maple syrup
- olive oil
- coconut oil
- corn starch
- tapioca starch
- backing powder
- baking soda
Nutrients in Baking Ingredients
Expand to see all scientific references for this article.
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