Independent health store advice on free from baking

Looking for advice on natural health and wellbeing? Your local independent health store can offer a wealth of knowledge and expertise. This month we speak to Jane Pearson, owner of Health Foods for You in Sudbury, Suffolk

Independent health food stores are a great resource for free from baking products. Whether you are avoiding gluten, dairy, eggs or refined sugar, there are plenty of products to choose from.

There is a wealth of gluten-free flours available now, from rice and buckwheat to oat, tapioca and coconut. Nut flours are great for cakes and biscuits, tapioca is good for pastry, while millet is good for pasties and scones. Amaranth flour is great for providing essential amino acids and is particularly good for cakes.

Xanthan gum is a raising agent for gluten-free baking and you can also get free from baking soda. You might like to add pumpkin seeds or sunflower seeds to the mix because these offer additional health benefits and give things a nice texture, crunch and flavour.

Plant-based options

When it comes to cow’s milk substitutes, plant-based milks are a great alternative and there is quite a range. Cashew milk is fantastic for cooking and baking. Coconut tends to be sweeter, so if you’re baking, you may want to try that. Then of course there is soya, which is high in protein and best for savoury baking. Almond milk is naturally high in magnesium and vitamin E but may not be the best choice for baking as the nut flavour could be overwhelming. Hemp has quite a strong taste but then you get natural omega-3 from hemp.

As I’m vegan I make chia eggs, using chia seeds instead of eggs. Chia seeds don’t have a strong flavour and can be easily used in recipes and added to smoothies without affecting the flavour. Chia seeds look a bit like poppy seeds and they’re crammed full of iron, calcium, potassium and minerals. You soak them and they swell very slightly. You can do this 10 minutes before you bake a cake and, once they’ve swollen, you make them into tiny little balls. One will equate to an egg and will have the same binding ability. They make your baked goods light and fluffy. They’re also high in the essential fatty acid omega-3 and they’re high in fibre and protein, so great if you’re vegan. Lots of antioxidants too! You can make a flax egg as well – it’s a very similar process but you use flax seeds. The other egg alternative is from chickpea juice. It’s called aquafaba. It’s so easy – you drain off a tin of chickpeas, and two tablespoons of the liquid that remains is the equivalent of one egg white.

Sugar substitutes

I try to avoid sugar in my diet and you can use so many different substitutes. Xylitol looks very much like sugar but it’s incredibly low in calories and suitable for diabetics. It’s produced from the birch tree so it’s a natural product. It has about 40 per cent fewer calories than sugar and is good for a low GI diet. You can use it within your baking for the sweetness but won’t give you any of the negative effects you get with traditional sugar, and it doesn’t need insulin to be metabolised. Then you’ve got things like agave syrup, maple syrup or rice syrup. There are many pre-blended sugar alternatives you can get as well. Another natural sweetener is coconut palm sugar which has a beautiful flavour and contains minerals antioxidants and fibre, but can contain the same calories as regular sugar!

I make my own chocolate using cacao butter, coconut palm sugar and cacao powder. You blend all of those together and add in any fruit and nuts you want and you have your own chocolate. This will contain lots of magnesium so you get a natural feel-good factor. Cacao nibs are great because they’re crunchy, so you might want to use them if you are baking something like choc-chip muffins. You can get high-ratio cacao chocolate drops too, for example. As raw cacao is made by cold-pressing unroasted cocoa beans, it helps to relax nerve endings, so helps you feel relaxed, good and comforted.

Any of the substitutes mentioned can be used in traditional baking recipes. If you need any help or advice on free from baking, always ask in store as we will be happy to help!

Health Foods For You

Health Foods for You can be found at 75 North Street, Sudbury, Suffolk, CO10 1RF and is an independent shop opened in May 2012 by Jane Pearson.

Jane has been in the health, wellness and beauty industry for nearly 30 years. She and her team are dedicated to providing friendly, confidential consultations and offer professional advice.

To contact the shop, call 01787 828262 or visit www.healthfoodsforyou.co.uk

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