I covered in last week’s column useful tips to help us all enjoy the fall and winter holidays, with a goal of ending the year on a healthier note. One of our family’s favorite treats is carrot cake, usually relegated to our birthday celebrations. The great thing about carrot cake is that it can actually be quite healthy to eat. You are probably thinking that I am just trying to justify eating something sweet, but let’s look at some of the ingredients of most carrot cakes, and their health benefits.
Let’s start with the main ingredient: carrots. This vegetable, which originated in the Middle East and central Asia, was originally purple and first cultivated in Afghanistan to be the familiar orange color. Orange foods are rich in carotenoids, which are important cell-protective antioxidants. Some of the carotenoids in our diet will be converted, as needed in our livers to Vitamin A, which supports healthy vision and can boost our immune systems.
Another typical cake ingredient is the wheat flour. Many people have challenges digesting wheat, and there are alternative flours – such as coconut and almond flours – that will work well, and are lower in carbohydrates/sugar, as well as more nutrient dense.
Eggs are an incredibly healthy food and an important ingredient for your carrot cake. Eggs are one of our highest quality protein sources. Eggs contain omega-3 fatty acids, which are also found in cold-water fish and grass fed beef. Eggs are a great source of the carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin, which are important for eye health. Of course eggs are a food associated with allergies, and recipes for cakes without eggs are available.
Most recipes for carrot cake include the spice cinnamon. During the cold winter weather we can benefit from the warming oils in cinnamon. Use fresh cinnamon powder, which studies show can have a balancing effect on our blood sugar levels. Cinnamon is also anti-inflammatory and anti-microbial.
Including raisins in any recipe reduces the need for adding sweeteners. Raisins contain flavonoids, which help protect our health and are a great addition to hot cereals or desserts. Always choose organic raisins that do not have sulfites added as a preservative. Some people suffer from migraines and stomach upset when they eat foods containing preservatives.
No carrot cake would be complete without a cream cheese frosting. Some recipes include mineral rich maple syrup as a sweetener in their frosting. The fat in the cream cheese makes the carotenoids in the carrots more available. Cream cheese has less lactose or milk sugar, and may be better tolerated than milk by those people that are lactose intolerant.
I cannot write about carrot cake ingredients without mentioning the many health benefits of coconut oil used in cooking or baking. Coconut oil is rich in medium chain Triglycerides (MCTs) that are a great source of energy and won’t make you fat. This healthy oil also contains cold and flu fighting lauric acid. Always choose organic virgin coconut oil.
As you can see it is possible to have a great tasting dessert such as carrot cake, and enjoy the health benefits of the ingredients. Of course I suggest eating sweets in moderation, drinking plenty of pure water, getting sufficient exercise and, of course, eating your vegetables.
Below is a recipe from one of my favorite food bloggers:
Gluten/Grain Free Carrot Cake – Recipe from the Wellness Mama
Yield 8 -10 slices
A healthy carrot cake made with coconut flour and a lot of eggs for extra protein. Filling and delicious
1/2 cup raisins or dates
1/2 cup coconut milk
1/2 cup warm water
1 cup pumpkin puree or applesauce
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup coconut flour
2 Tablespoons of cinnamon
1/2 tsp each of nutmeg, cloves and sea salt
1 teaspoon each of baking soda and baking powder
1 cup crushed pineapple
3/4 cup coconut oil or butter
2 cups grated carrots
1/2 cup shredded coconut
1/4 cup honey (optional)
extra coconut milk or pineapple juice to thin if needed
1 package of cream cheese
1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup honey or stevia to taste
1 teaspoon vanilla
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
In a blender or food processor, combine the raisins/dates, coconut milk and warm water and blend until smooth. This will create a sweet liquid base for the batter.
Add a dozen eggs and vanilla and blend until smooth.
Add pumpkin puree or applesauce and blend until smooth.
Pour into a large bowl and add coconut flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, sea salt, baking powder and baking soda, and mix well until well incorporated.
Add coconut oil and mix well.
By hand, stir in grated carrot, shredded coconut and crushed pineapple and honey if using. (Can also wait and drizzle honey on top after baking if using)
Add extra coconut milk or pineapple juice if needed to thin. It should be spreadable but not liquid and pourable.
Grease a 9×13 baking dish with butter or coconut oil and spread batter in.
Bake at 350 degrees for 60 to 90 minutes, until the middle is set and no longer soft. Coconut flour takes a while to bake, so be patient. You might also need to reduce heat and cook longer, depending on your oven.
When done baking, remove and let cool.
Mix icing ingredients and spread over cake just before serving.
At Natural Grocers in Eugene, where I am the store’s Nutritional Health Coach, we offer free classes that include plenty of information about healthy eating choices, and free one-on-one health coaching sessions (call 541-345-3300). Please ”like” our Natural Grocers-Eugene Facebook page. Find our store’s schedule of free classes at: https://www.naturalgrocers.com/store-location/eugene/.