Carb Solutions: Not Another Holiday Carrot Cake!
Over half of the U.S. adult population, some 154 million, qualify as overweight or obese. Another 29 million of us have diabetes, many as a direct result of being overweight. Then there are the 23.9 million overweight children who are dutifully following the example of their XXL adult role models. Diabetes and these extra pounds cost this country billions annually in both medical and economic resources, not to mention the effect these weight-related disorders have on overall mental well-being and happiness. However, diabetes and being overweight are very manageable, even preventable, with a few lifestyle tweaks. By maintaining a sensible diet in conjunction with some regular exercise, no matter how minimal, we can all be in total control of our weight. One easy way to start taking control is to choose the foods we eat based on the glycemic index [G.I.] and glycemic load [G.L.].
Simply put, our bodies convert all foods into sugar calories that provide energy to the body via the bloodstream. The glycemic index assigns a score of 1 to 100 to all foods based on how speedy the body converts that food into sugar. Foods that break down slowly enable the body to assimilate these calories of energy more efficiently without overwhelming the body with more sugar than it can process. While this is especially important for people with diabetes who process sugars much slower than others, everyone can benefit from eating foods with low glycemic scores. They also reduce appetite and encourage the metabolism to burn body fat. Conversely, a diet of foods high on the glycemic charts has been proven to increase appetite and impede effective fat oxidation.
A Quickie Glycemic Primer:
• The glycemic index of a food compares its effect on blood sugar level to that of pure glucose, which has a score of 100. White bread, made with processed white flour, is at the top of this scale, scoring a perfect 100 on the glycemic index. For perspective, a score of 55 or below denotes a low-glycemic-index food; 70 or above is considered very high. Serving size is not a consideration in arriving at a food’s glycemic index number.
• On the other hand, the glycemic load focuses on how many digestible carbohydrates (sugars) a food contains in a typical single serving, defined as approximately 3.5 ounces. For glycemic load, a score of 20 or more is high, while 10 or less is low.
Carrot cake sure sounds healthy enough. Not so much! While this popular holiday potluck dish does contain and is named for that nutrient-packed orange root, the rest of the ingredient list adds up to some 600 calories per slice and more carbs than a loaf of white bread! This is a far cry from this dish’s iconic roots— no pun intended! Since carrots have a natural sweetness, many historians believe that the cake originated in the Middle Ages when sugar and other sweeteners were scarce. Fast forward to today’s overabundance of sugar products, and you’ll discover that almost all modern-day carrot cake recipes include a few cups of both white and brown sugar combined with an equal amount of white flour and are usually topped with a frosting of cream cheese. So do not be fooled by the carrot name; carrot cake is about as healthy for carb counters as organic potato chips!
Here’s a much healthier veggie-based cake recipe for your holiday table that uses two other common “sweet” roots: parsnips and sweet potatoes. Both tubers are unique and very similar in their glycemic profiles. While both have medium glycemic index scores, they are also extremely high in fiber, which contributes to very low glycemic load scores. The fiber content of each slows the digestion process and thus enables the body’s metabolism to turn the starches in each root to sugars in a measured fashion, so there is no blood-sugar spike.
Like carrots, parsnips were also prized for their natural sweetness before processed sugar became available. For this cake, the root is grated and combined with my favorite flour substitute– an almond flour and coconut flour blend. Coconut flour adds a little sweetness and lightness to the comparatively denser almond flour. Neither coconut nor almond flours are flour at all. Instead, they are finely ground almonds and coconut that, with some help from a few teaspoons of baking powder and soda, react like flour when baked. Except for its natural sweetness, the parsnip is neutral enough in flavor to easily assimilate the flavorings of cinnamon, nutmeg, maple and vanilla; the yogurt and oil components serve as binders. The results are an extremely moist cake that defies the fact that it is made from a root vegetable and ground nut meals!
Interestingly, the glycemic value of sweet potatoes varies based on the cooking method. Boiling them gives a low GI score, while roasting, baking and frying will generate a much higher GI. Once boiled and peeled, puree with ground ginger and vanilla exact plus a dash of a confectioners’ sugar substitute to up the sweetness for a deliciously natural frosting that, again, defies its vegetable origins.
Parsnip Cake with Sweet Potato Frosting
For the Cake:
4 cups fresh parsnip, grated [about 3 or 4 parsnips]
1 cup Almond flour
½ cup Coconut flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons maple syrup flavoring (like Mapleine)
½ cup vegetable oil
1 cup plain Greek yogurt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
For the Icing:
2 sweet potatoes – boiled, peeled, completely cooled
3 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar substitute (like Swerve)
1 tablespoon ground ginger, or more to taste
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Salt, a pinch
Peel and grate the parsnip.
Combine the flours, baking powder and soda, nutmeg, cinnamon and salt into a large bowl, then stir in the parsnips. In a separate bowl, beat the eggs, maple flavoring, oil, yogurt and vanilla together by hand or an electric mixer.
Fold the wet ingredients into the dry gently. Pour into a tall, greased 9-inch cake tin lined on the bottom with parchment paper. Bake at 350 F for 35 to 40 minutes or until an inserted knife comes out clean. Leave to cool in the tin.
For the Sweet Potato and Ginger Frosting:
Cut the sweet potatoes into chunks and place in a food processor with all the other icing ingredients and puree until smooth. Remove cooled cake from the tin before spreading with the sweet potato frosting.