Culinary Inspiration

Craving comfort foods is normal during this time. But, now more than ever it’s important to ensure we’re filling our bodies with nutritious foods. The good news: a few shelf-stable ingredients can be used to boost flavor and sweetness, with less added sugar, so we can get the comfort food fix we crave in a healthier way.

1. Fruits and Vegetables

Pantry-friendly ingredients like canned pumpkin, sweet potato, and pineapple can be used to boost sweetness in your comfort food favorites. Sweet potato and nut butter are the secret ingredients in my Double Chocolate Brownies. That sweet potato combined with nut butter, like walnut butter, are the keys to boosting flavor with considerably less added sugar and the added benefit of fiber and good fats.* These decadent, fudgy brownies hit all the right notes, while cutting down added sugar by two-thirds compared to a boxed brownie mix. They’re just as easy to make, too. The ingredients come together in the food processor for a quick and easy chocolate fix.

2. Nuts and seeds

Nuts and seeds are another one of my surprising tricks to boosting sweetness with less added sugar. Toasting nuts is a small step that pays off when you need to amplify flavor. I use nuts and seeds liberally in my recipes to add texture and natural sweetness, which helps round out lower-sugar recipes. Walnuts are one of my favorite nuts to use. They’re a feature ingredient in my Pineapple Zucchini Bread, Caramelized Banana Muffins, and my Apple Cinnamon Coffee Cake – all crave-worthy comfort foods made more nutritious with the addition of fruit and an ample serving of toasted walnuts.

3. Spices

Spices like vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cardamom add the suggestion of sweetness without added sugar. They’re another key ingredient in my lower-sugar recipes and I typically use more spices than a traditional recipe. My classic chocolate chip cookies are a great example of how to employ simple spices, along with fruits and nuts, to boost sweetness. The Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies in Half the Sugar, All the Love are sweetened with Medjool dates, but I also amp up the vanilla to create that quintessential chocolate chip cookie flavor with half the sugar of a classic recipe. You can round out the recipe with a boost of flavor from chopped walnuts, too. And we can’t forget about classic oatmeal cookies. My Chewy Oatmeal Raisin Cookies get their sweetness from applesauce, raisins and a touch of brown sugar to ensure crispy edges – and walnuts add the perfect crunch.

*Cooked sweet potato without the skin provides 4g fiber per ½ cup. One serving of walnuts (1/4 cup) provides 2g fiber and good fats including 2.5g monounsaturated fat, 13g polyunsaturated fat – including 2.5g of the essential plant-based omega-3 ALA.

Half the Sugar All the Love CoverExcerpted from Half the Sugar, All the Love by Jennifer Tyler Lee and Anisha Patel, MD, MSPH (Workman Publishing). Copyright © 2019. Photograph by Erin Scott
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