Happy Hump Day y’all! We’re, like, already midway through January…how’s everyone feeling? Toward the end of last year, I really started to think about my vision for the blog in 2020. While I’m really proud of myself for all the posts I managed to churn out in my inaugural blogging year, maintaining a posting schedule of every two to three days was too much for me. It left me with little time to pursue other passions, and I often felt rushed and stressed out. At it’s core, the purpose of Meal Prepping In Heels is to offer practical, relatable, informative content that helps its readers live a happier, healthier life. However, in the quest to stay relevant, I lost sight of that. That’s why this year, it’s super important to me that you walk away from every post feeling informed or inspired. And while this may mean a decrease in the volume of content, it also means an increase in the value. And if there’s something I’ve learned in my (almost) 30 years on this earth, it’s that quality trumps quantity every. freaking. time.
Speaking of relatability, something that I am really trying to work on is shifting my mindset from just “eating/being healthy” to “creating healthy habits.” Anyone else? I know that might sound a little weird, but think of it as the difference between “motivation” and “routine.” You don’t get motivated to brush your teeth every night, you just do it because its the right thing to do. OK, so sometimes I may need an internal nudge to get my butt to the sink, especially amidst a late-night Netflix binge, but you get the point. Because here’s the thing, “health” doesn’t just mean salads and smoothies all the time. It means making the right decision for your mind and body no matter what situation your faced with. To really embody something as a lifestyle, it has to infiltrate every part of your, well, life. As discussed in last week’s post (here if you’re interested), the best way to start tackling this is by taking an honest look at those habits that maybe aren’t so great and figuring out the tools necessary to replace them with new ones that support your goals. The definition of a lifestyle is the way you live—which means you don’t necessarily have to change what you do, just how you do it.
One such area that I’m forcing myself to tackle is my insane sweet tooth. While in years past I’ve tried to just swear off dessert (spoiler alert: I’ve been unsuccessful), I’ve come to truly understand how completely stupid that all-or-nothing approach is for many reasons. That’s why this year, I’m living in harmony with these cravings by actually writing treats into my weekly meal plans. This way, I can (a) keep my sanity and (b) begin to develop a healthier relationship with food. Yeah, in case you didn’t know, part of finding joy in the every day is saying a big “F You” to food guilt. So how do I do this? By choosing to use ingredients I can feel good about. It’s literally a win-win and something I’m so passionate about. Focusing on fueling your body with real, whole foods instead of empty, processed calories is about soooo much more than a number on a scale or the tag of your jeans. It’s about showing your whole body love, from organs to organisms (I’m looking at you gut bacteria!). So, to bring it full circle, am I still going to eat sugar? You betcha, probably every week. But it’s going to be sugar from a natural source that has more to offer me nutritionally speaking. Make sense?
Luckily, wellness is super “in” right now, so there is an abundance of alternative, healthier ingredients out there for you to explore…most of which are fairly reasonably priced and stocked right next to their archaic counterparts on the shelves of your local grocery store. Perfect! Right?
In short, yes; however, it’s important to do a little research before you turn into a swapping machine, as some ingredients will require a few considerations or tweaks in order to get your recipes just right.
Which is where I come in.
First up, I’m highlighting three popular coconut substitutes, all of which I use on the reg these days when baking healthier versions of my favorite cookies, breads, or cakes. This week, I’ll be giving you a brief overview of why you might consider using these yourself, along with a few tips and tricks I’ve (more often than not) learned the hard way. Next week, I’m giving you a chance to work with all of them—and hopefully turn you into a believer—by way of an un-be-friggen-lievable cookie recipe I made over the holidays. Alright…you ready to dive into this?
Why You Should Use It:
Coconut oil is composed of beneficial saturated fats known as medium chain triclycerides (MCTs). MCTs are metabolized differently by the body—re: more quickly—than long chain triglycerides (LCTs) found in other oils, meaning they are processed as energy sources as opposed to being stored as fat. SCIENCE! In addition, studies have shown that the MCTs in coconut oil can help lower “bad” cholesterol and aid the body in burning calories. Therefore, when it comes to baking in particular, coconut oil is a great alternative for butter, shortening, canola oil, or vegetable oil.* Canola oil and vegetable oil are both highly processed and devoid of nutritional value. Shortening is heavy on the calories and composed almost entirely of trans fat—ya know, the ones that are so bad for you most restaurants have sworn off using them completely. And finally, while butter actually has a slightly lower fat content than coconut oil overall, its MCT composition is also lower (think 8% versus 55%), meaning it can’t boast the same benefits nutritionally speaking.
*Note: When it comes to cooking, extra virgin olive oil and avocado oil will almost always reign supreme; however, I hardly ever see these oils called for in baking recipes, so that’s where your coconut oil substitution is going to be most relevant.
- For the most part, coconut oil can be substituted 1:1 for other fats, including butter and other oils.
- Use unrefined or virgin coconut oil. Unrefined coconut oil is made from fresh coconut meat and undergoes minimal processing, compared to refined coconut oil, which is extracted from dry coconut meat and highly processed, stripping it of much of its nutritional value.
- Coconut oil is sold in both liquid and solid form; however, coconut oil is naturally a solid at room temperature, which means liquid coconut oil is heavily processed in order for it to maintain that state. Again, processing = no bueno, as it eliminates important nutrients. Always purchase coconut oil in a solid state and then melt to use, which can be easily done with a few zaps in the microwave.
- Speaking of being a solid at room temperature…my one area of issue with coconut oil is that it will begin to coagulate (i.e., resolidify) if its temperature drops. Therefore, if you are using any refrigerated ingredients (eggs, almond milk, etc.) be sure to let them sit out and reach room temperature before mixing with the coconut oil. Easy troubleshooting, but you do have to plan ahead a bit.
- Finally, you’ll notice my emphasis on the concept of health”ier” throughout this entire post. At the end of the day, coconut oil is still a fat, which is something we need to be mindful of. Just because it’s “healthier” doesn’t mean it’s “healthy” ya know what I’m saying? Be sure to use it sparingly as you would any other oil.
Why You Should Use It:
Coconut flour is low carb, grain free, and gluten free, making it a great alternative depending on your personal dietary restrictions or choices. It’s also a lower-fat option compared to other popular flour alternatives such as almond flour. It contains a higher fiber content than many other flours, making it a great way to lower the glycemic index of your baked goods. Fiber-rich foods help regulate blood sugar levels, keep you fuller for longer, and support a healthy digestive system.
- Coconut flour behaves differently than other flours in that it is extremely—I mean, extremely—absorbent. Therefore, it cannot be used as a 1:1 replacement. As a general rule of thumb, you can substitute coconut flour for all-purpose flour or wheat flour at a 1:4 ratio. Because of its unique properties, it is almost always recommended to use coconut flour in combination with other types of flour.
- To be honest, because of coconut flour’s finicky nature, my best advice is just to follow established recipes. If you do decide to branch out on your own (you’re a braver soul than me!), you are going to need to alter your ingredients to account for its absorbency. I have found the following two tips for correcting the projected moisture imbalance: (1) add 2 tablespoons of extra liquid for every 2 tablespoons coconut flour you substitute or (2) use one additional egg for every 1/4 cup of coconut flour used.
- On a related note, even if following a recipe, if your batter seems too dry, it probably is. When in doubt, just add a bit more of any of the liquid ingredients called for.
- To properly measure coconut flour, fluff it with a fork first (it’s prone to clumping) and then scoop it out and level it off. No need to pack it down in this case!
Why You Should Use It:
Coconut sugar actually comes from the coconut blossom, not the hairy, brown sphere we’re all familiar with. The nectar from the blossom is boiled and then ground into a granular substance that resembles brown sugar. Similar to my coconut oil disclaimer, its important to point out that coconut sugar is still sugar. Again, it’s not healthy—just a healthier option—and should be used in moderation like any other sugar. With that being said, you definitely can feel better about using this over cane sugar. Most important to me as a clean (ingredient) freak is that it’s unrefined (no chemical processes…yay!) and derived from a natural source (no artificial ingredients…double yay!). In addition, coconut sugar includes a fiber called inulin, which has been proven to slow the absorption of glucose and won’t cause those spikes in you blood sugar that leave you feeling crabby and fatigued. I’ll take it.
- Coconut sugar can be used as a 1:1 substitute for brown sugar or white table sugar.
- Technically, coconut sugar is slightly less sweet than standard white sugar…so I guess just, know that? I’ve never experienced any lack-of-sweetness issues myself when using it, but for the sake of transparency or in case you’re dealing with a real picky eater, I figured I’d mention it.
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OK, for those of you who’ve made it to this point, I sincerely applaud you. I know this one was another novel, but guys knowledge is power, and one of the most powerful things you can be knowledgeable about is your health. Plus, you can’t tell me it wasn’t helpful. Right? Maybe? Even just a little bit? Thanks so much for sticking it out with me. I’ll see ya next Wednesday with those amazing cookies!