PHILOSOPHY

5 common myths about healthier pastry

We develop the reasons of the nutritional myths

What makes healthier pastry healthy? Well, that’s a question we’ve been dedicating ourselves to for some time now, and we must admit; sometimes it’s difficult to know what’s genuinely beneficial for our health and what’s disguising itself as better by hiding behind a “healthy” claim. With so many new diets gaining popularity and a growing interest in fat and sugar substitutes, we think it’s important to take a closer look at some of the most common myths about healthy pastry. That’s where we come in.

Myth 1. Vegan = healthy

One of the most common misconceptions in pastry (and the food sector in general) is that everything vegan is inherently healthier. This myths tends to stem from the idea that vegan or plant-based diets don’t make use of ingredients of animal origin, but rather opt for fats like coconut oil or cocoa butter in place of butter.

While it’s true that the “do no harm” philosophy of the vegan diet is linked with a greater consciousness about health and the ingredients we use in our elaborations, it is also possible to find vegan products made with hydrogenated vegetable oils.

As well as this, there’s nothing in the vegan pastry handbook against using refined sugar in recipes adapted to this particular diet, meaning some vegan recipes might contain just as much white sugar as your standard recipe does. Conclusion? Just because it’s vegan, doesn’t always mean it’s beneficial for our health.

Myth 2. “Natural” sweeteners are always better than white sugar

Azúcares en pastelería
Myth 2. “Natural” sweeteners are always better than white sugar

Nowadays, there are many sugar alternatives available to us on the market, whether you’re interested in making vegan recipes or not; but we do have to be very careful about which substitutes we use. Agave and brown rice syrup are two examples which are often marketed as natural, low-risk sweeteners. But when we take a closer look, we find that they’re no better than plain white sugar (and maybe even worse).

Agave syrup gets its good reputation from its low glycemic index, meaning it can be consumed by people with diabetes since it doesn’t spike blood sugar levels as much. However, agave is dangerously high in fructose, and can ultimately lead to metabolic issues. When consumed in excessive quantities, fructose has been linked to insulin resistance and fatty liver disease.

This doesn’t mean that fructose should be avoided at all costs—our bodies are more than capable of handling the fructose found in whole fruits, for example, since their high fiber content makes it easier for our bodies to absorb it. It is, however, advisable to avoid high-fructose sweeteners like high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) or agave syrup.

While brown rice syrup doesn’t contain fructose, it has a glycemic index of 98, even higher than that of white sugar (65-70). Brown rice syrup contains three sugars—maltotriose (52 %), maltose (45 %), and glucose (3 %). Both maltose and maltotriose are broken down into glucose in the body; meaning brown rice syrup is metabolized very quickly, resulting in a rapid spike in blood sugar levels and leaving it pretty much on par with agave syrup in terms of healthiness.

Myth 3. Healthy pastry should be low fat or fat free

Grasas en pastelería
Myth 3. Healthy pastry should be low fat or fat free

These days, it’s also very common to find food advertised as zero or low fat. Myths that are extremely popular amongst those who want to control their weight or cholesterol levels. Cutting out fat entirely can be dangerous, though. In getting rid of fat altogether, not only are we taking out the “bad” LDL cholesterol, but also the “good” HDL cholesterol.

Our body (and especially our brain) needs healthy fat for proper functioning. What’s more, fat also plays a vital part in taste (most aromatic molecules are fat-soluble) and mouthfeel; a lot of the time, huge quantities of sugar or starch are added to compensate for lack of texture and flavor in fat free elaborations. And, as we explain in our newest book Healthier, lighter and tastier pastry, excessive sugar is actually stored by the body as fat.

Therefore, it might be less detrimental to our health to have a piece of cake elaborated with hazelnut paste (healthy, mono- and polyunsaturated fats) and less sugar than fat free muffins full of sugar, starch and refined flour.

Myth 4. Vegetable oils are a healthy alternative to saturated fats

Over the years, we have witnessed some contradictory information as to which fat should we consume, and which should we avoid. Thus, we can be very easily misled on which ones are healthy and which aren’t. A belief shared by many is that vegetable oils are better than fats of animal origin, since they’re less likely to cause heart problems.

We hate to break it to you, but vegetable oils can actually be just as damaging if not used correctly. Some oils, like soybean oil or sunflower oil, are very rich in omega-6 fatty acids. Omega-6 fatty acids are essential for our body, however, it’s important to keep a good proportion between our consumption of omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids.

As vegetable oils and processed foods have increased in popularity, consumption of omega-6 in relation to omega-3 has skyrocketed from a 1:1 ratio to as high as 20:1. Such extreme amounts of omega-6 have been found to contribute to chronic inflammation, which can go on to cause other health issues.

Of course, not all vegetable oils are bad for you—olive, almond, avocado or flaxseed oil all bring us health benefits without contributing to inflammation.

Myth 5. Gluten free is guilt free

Trigo Sarraceno
Myth 5. Gluten free is guilt free. Buckwheat (image)

As new diets continue to surface, misinformation continues to spread about the pros and cons of certain eating habits, ingredients, and dieting regimens. Nowadays, going gluten free seems to have become a popular way to live a healthier lifestyle, but just as we mentioned earlier with vegan pastry; gluten free does not necessarily mean healthier.

If we take a traditional cake recipe with refined white flour and substitute it with white rice flour instead, it really won’t change much in terms of nutritional value or the glycemic index. So, if you were interested in making a gluten free recipe for health reasons, it might be better to opt for unrefined, whole flours like whole rice flour, nut flours or very nutritious buckwheat flour (see our blog post on buckwheat bread).

Myths conclusion: What really matters? What you leave out or what you put in?

Like we said, nowadays there is a plethora of information available to us on the internet which can leave our heads spinning. Rather than getting swept up by it all, it’s important to stay informed and do your research on each ingredient you use in your daily cooking and baking.

If you’re interested in delving into the world of healthier pastry, we have just the thing for you. Our new recipe book for amateur bakers and pastry chefs alike is full of healthier, lighter and tastier recipes. Without myths. Everything contrasted. In this book we opt for using whole, minimally refined ingredients, lots of fiber, and ingredients that are interesting and nutritious.

In the end, it’s not only what we leave out that makes our pastry healthier or lighter—it’s just as much what we decide to put in.

Omega-6 pro-inflammatory effect:

  1. Health Implications of High Dietary Omega-6 Polyunsaturated Fatty Acidshttps://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3335257/
  2. Importance of a balanced omega 6/omega 3 ratio for the maintenance of health. Nutritional recommendationshttps://scielo.isciii.es/scielo.php?script=sci_arttext&pid=S0212-16112011000200013

Fructose and fatty liver disease :

  1. Fructose and Non-Alcoholic Steatohepatitishttps://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fphar.2021.634344/full