Refined oils: cut down by using pumpkin in baked goods

I baked a cake for my brother’s 27th birthday yesterday. Ignore the way it looks, I got carried away in the decorating. 😀

Since it contains sprouted grains, you can find the recipe over at my sprouted foods blog. Vegan chocolate cake with peanut butter frosting.

I was particularly excited about the outcome of this recipe because of how rich, moist, and flavorful it remained even without animal products or refined oils. I eliminated the canola oil in the original recipe and replaced it with canned pumpkin. I love this trick. Especially in chocolate or fall flavored treats. It adds kind of a sophisticated undertone to the flavor.

Replacing oil with pumpkin was one of the first experiences I had with creating a low-fat dessert, even before I realized the bigger picture about food. When I was in my yo-yo dieting phases, I would take a box of brownie mix (any would work really) and skip the box instructions of adding milk, oil, and eggs and just add a can of pumpkin. I don’t remember where I had heard of this trick and I certainly didn’t research into why or how it worked. I remember it resulted in a “crappier” brownie (drier, less rich, and a bit less chocolatey than the box brownies intended.) A friend of mine would not really even eat them, but she was pretty picky. At the time, they were NOT ENOUGH to satisfy the obnoxious dependence I had formed on sugar, salt, and oil. So I’d eat these brownies, then head out to get some junk food somewhere else. Kind of defeats the purpose! So I ended up forgetting about the pumpkin substitution, and just continued shoving my face with whatever foods I wanted.

Once I went vegan, I started using Earth Balance and canola oil in all my baking. But now it was HEALTHY because it was vegan, right? Oh, so wrong. It’s true that a plant-based butter or oil would be cholesterol-free. That, yes, is healthier. However, it’s still a refined oil. As my veganism began to transform into part vegan, part nutritarian, I learned more and more about oil and the effect it has on our body. I wrote this today in response to a reader’s comment, but wanted to reblog it as an entry, especially since its so valid to this specific entry:

… fat content does not have as much effect on weight loss/weight gain as sugar content do. However, the source of the fat certainly affects overall health and the ease of losing/maintaining weight. You mentioned nutrient-rich foods. Well, oil is the LEAST nutrient-rich food you can have. Refined oil, which is what I was commenting on that made the Field Roast sausages so heavy in fat, contains only one item on the nutritional label: Fat. Refined oils are 100% fat. Certain low or no heat processed oils like flax or coconut may still contain beneficial EFA’s and omegas, but processed and refined oils like palm, canola, or even olive oil, lose many of these nutrients in the heating/refining process.

So in order to get fat and all the good stuff that comes with it, replace these refined oils with WHOLE FOOD sources like nuts, seeds, and avocados (fat from animal products would prove to be more difficult to break down and negate the benefits of the fats contained). The whole food source of healthy fats will result in more energy than the refined oils because your body will expend less energy digesting them. And that to me is the real goal when eating. Food is fuel.

Spending 120-140 calories on one tablespoon of oil is significantly less satisfying than mowing down on 1/4 cup of cashews or walnuts with 160-180 calories, even though both items are high in fat. The nuts might even contain more fat but its different and more complete. Basically, the end game is to spend every calorie on the most nutrient-dense foods (WHOLE FOOD). So logically, getting your healthy fats from a food that provides other and more efficient nutrition, is the more effective way to health. My bottom line is not just to lose weight but to eat to allow my body to reach its own peak performance, which will be my natural and correct weight. I’m not counting calories, I’m eating to live. Whole foods and nutrient dense for the win! I’ll eat carbs and fats all day long. I have never avoided either. The healthiest I’ve ever felt was when consuming an all-raw diet with some days up to 80% of my calories coming from nuts, seeds, and avocados.

The best reads on the subject that I’ve come across are “The Thrive Diet” by Brendan Brazier and “Eat to Live” by Dr Joel Fuhrman. The first one is particularly fascinating and easy to understand the stress that refined foods put on our bodies, including to pH levels.

When replacing oil, the first thing to remember is that oil is used to moisten. You want something with a smooth, moist texture. Pumpkin works well to add a distinct flavor (some people may honestly not like it, but if making a pumpkin flavored dessert, you’ll never notice the difference.) I find it works best in chocolate, I like the flavor it lends. It is true that the texture of a baked good will change when eliminating oil, but that does not mean it will be ruined! Oil is used as a ‘barrier’ so that the water is not completely absorbed into the flour and cooked off, and that the baked good remain moists.

Pumpkin (or apple sauce, pureed fruits, even zucchini) are great substitutes because they partially bind with the flour but not completely. It’s a different texture that will result, but it shouldn’t be dry and crumbly. The cake recipe above actually came out very moist. If you are worried about texture, start with substituting half the fat for pumpkin in the first take of a recipe. A slow, gradual change will allow your taste buds to relate to the new flavor and texture. The added nutrients will prove to be endearing to your taste buds (and body!) and you’ll find yourself craving this healthier version of any baked good in no time at all.

It’s true for me. I do not have canola oil in my house. I very rarely use olive oil. I do use Earth Balance and Daiya cheese pretty often, depending on what I’m making, but that’s usually the only incorporation of oil into my diet. I could do without it if I spent some more time planning and cooking. Limiting refined oils was what really kickstarted my weight loss. I lost a good amount of weight when I first went vegan, naturally. A lot of my calories were decreased by eliminating high-calorie, high-fat foods (specifically cheese!) and I was forced to do almost all my own cooking. This forced me out of my worst habit: fast food (which will be a whole different subject that I’ll probably spend days talking about my addiction and struggle with.)

I began to cook for myself, mostly vegetables. Stir fried in oil, roasted in oil, covered in salad dressing made with oil. There was always so much oil! I was easily consuming thousands of calories a week on refined oils. By cutting down, my energy and weight loss rebooted, and I began to explore the flavors of different foods instead of relying on the taste of oil to make things taste good. Now, I actually dislike the taste and texture of olive oil.

I don’t want to cause any ruffled feathers by saying eliminating refined oils is 100% necessary and correct for everyone’s dietary path. Nutrition is personal and subjective, food is an opinion. My opinion is that my body feels better with less oils. Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it. 🙂