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Sweet Surrender: The Skinny on Having Your Cake and Eating It, Too!

This article originally appeared in the Summer 2004 edition of Celiac.com's Journal of Gluten-Sensitivity.

Celiac.com 10/13/2014 - Sugar—the very word brought the lively conversation at my dinner party to a screeching halt.  As my guests savored their cake, I could feel ten pairs of ears eavesdropping as I discussed this emotionally laden word with the woman seated next to me.

Photo: CC--timlewisnm“My friend made a chocolate cake,” she was saying, “and wanted to cut back on sugar in her diet, so she made a few adjustments to the recipe.  Instead of semisweet chocolate, she used unsweetened chocolate.  In place of the sugar, she used a few tablespoons of Splenda.”  But, my guest continued with a look of puzzlement on her face, “the cake didn’t taste like cake at all and it was hard and chewy and kind of rough-looking.  My friend had to throw it away.”

In these days of low-sugar diets, many of us—like my guest’s friend—are tempted to skip the sugar in baking, or at least reduce it somewhat.  Much maligned and often relegated to the back of the pantry, most of us regard sugar as a source of calories and are unaware of its other roles.

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Now, before I go any further let’s set the record straight.  I think we eat far too much sugar.  I look for ways to reduce it in my diet whenever I can.  I avoid sugary soft drinks, only eat desserts on special occasions, and watch for hidden sugar in commercial foods.

Nonetheless, after over 10 years of developing gluten-free recipes, I have a healthy respect for the role of sugar in baking.  It is particularly important for us gluten-free bakers, because we already have to alter the flavor of our foods by removing wheat flour.  If you thinking about omitting sugar in your baking, here’s what you should know:

  1. First, the obvious.  Sugar makes things taste sweet.  You can replace sugar with a substitute sweetener but the cake may taste different because we associate “sweetness” with the distinct flavor of sugar (even though you may think of sugar as “neutral” because it’s white).
  2. Sugar accentuates the flavor of food.  A chocolate cake tastes downright strange without sugar, but delicious with the right amount.  Try this experiment: Drink unsweetened tea and then add a little sugar to it and notice how much stronger the flavor is.
  3. Sugar tenderizes the crumb and makes it finer and moister.  In contrast, substitutes like Splenda tend to produce a crumb that is larger, tougher, and somewhat drier.
  4. Sugar encourages the browning process on the crust of baked goods.  It’s this browning that we often use as an indicator that a cake is “done,” and, it’s that tendency to brown that relates to its next benefit.
  5. Sugar produces a slightly crispy, shiny exterior on baked goods that makes them more attractive.  It’s the sucrose in sugar that does this and, since sucrose is missing in Splenda, it can’t promote the same level of browning.  

Next time you’re tempted to reduce or omit the sugar in baked goods, follow these tips:

  1. Instead of using all Splenda, use half sugar and half Splenda.  You will lower the calorie content, but your cake will be more tender, brown more attractively, and have a finer crumb than if you use all Splenda.  A cake may bake a little faster, so check it about five minutes before the recommended cooking time.  It may also have a little less volume and not rise as high.
  2. Add a couple tablespoons of honey to the batter.  Honey is a natural humectant and encourages the cake to retain moisture so it won’t dry out as quickly.  Of course, honey has its own flavor which you may detect if you use a lot of it.
  3. Increase the amount of fat in the recipe by 25%, but be sure to use healthier fats.  Canola oil and (light) olive oil are good in baking and are good for you.  Of course, this will increase the fat content and calorie content (a tablespoon of these oils is roughly 100 calories), but your baked goods will taste better and look better because fat is a flavor carrier and also tenderizes the crumb.
  4. Use a topping to conceal the rough crust found in low-sugar baked goods.  For example, a streusel topping on muffins will partially conceal their rough tops.
  5. Rather than drastically reducing the amount of sugar at the beginning of your sugar-reduced diet, gradually cut back on the sugar a little more each time you bake.  Your palate will adjust and eventually you won’t want “ultra-sweet” foods as much.
  6. Try an alternative sweetener such as agave nectar.  Even though it has calories, it has a low glycemic level (the rate at which it raises your blood sugar levels).
  7. Finally, (and this is the tough one) just try eating less of those sugary baked foods to reduce your sugar intake.  Maybe half a muffin, or a smaller slice of cake, or only one small cookie instead of a large one.  Our portion sizes have crept up over the past couple of decades to the point where our muffins are anywhere from 3-5 times larger than a standard USDA serving.

Oh, you’re probably wondering about that dessert my guests were eating.  It was a flourless chocolate cake from my book Gluten-Free 101 made with one-third sugar, one-third Splenda, and one-third agave nectar.  It was topped with whipped cream (sweetened with agave nectar) lightly dusted with Dutch cocoa, and garnished with a bright red strawberry and a few chocolate-covered espresso beans.  The slices were reasonably-sized—not the massive servings we often find in restaurants.  My guests were relieved to learn that this dessert was a sweet, yet sensible ending to the meal…and, they ate every last crumb!

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2 Responses:

 
Barbara
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said this on
20 Oct 2014 10:13:58 AM PDT
Love it! Everyone eats gluten free in my house and don't even notice ...most of the time that is!

 
Bon
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said this on
20 Oct 2014 2:44:06 PM PDT
I wouldn't consume Splenda or Agave Nectar, or suggest that anyone else consume them either. Agave is NOT a healthy sweetener, it has more fructose in it then HFCS and may actually increase insulin resistance for both diabetics and non-diabetics.




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I believe the talk around this forum is that cheerios are not gluten free enough for people with celiac at this time. I don't know if anything has changed on that and when their lawyer calls me I'll quickly delete this. haha

Could be we generally say get off of dairy for a few months when going gluten free. The part of the intestines that produce the enzymes, and help break down dairy are associated with the tips of the villi, which are the most damaged if not gone in celiacs. THIS is why most of us end up with a lactose intolerance early on. And most can introduce it later after healing. As to her symptoms with it there was a bunch of research about dairy permeated the gut and causing neurological issues in a autism study I was looking at years ago. And there have been other studies about damaged intestines and how the hormones in milk can easier effect ones body. Personally I also have a huge grudge against dairy on a personal level as it is not natural to suck on a cows tits and drink the stuff, nor your dogs, nor a rabbits......I mean come on even Human Breast milk you would find odd to drink as an adult right? Back in the past dairy was a great way to get calories and fats when there was famine, etc around I mean it is meant to make a calf grow into a 500+lb cow. But on a genetic and hormonal level it is not really for human consumption and now days the whole corporate BS propaganda push and dairy farms shove that oh its healthy stuff down your throat. There are plenty of dairy free options for everything feel free to message me if you need help finding anything I have been dairy free for over a decade.

The full celiac panel checks TTG IGA and IGG, DGP IGA and IGG, IGA, EMA as Jmg stated above. Your test included TTG IGA and IGA. If your IGA was low, a low on TTG IGA would be inconclusive. But your IGA is fine. A high on any one test is a positive for celiac and should lead to an endoscopy for confirmation. So I'd get tested for TTG IGG, DGP IGA and IGG and EMA since there are symptoms. Warning I'm not a doc.

I did a gluten challenge for my endoscopy and requested a second blood test after my follow up with the consultant. I never did see those results but my GP said no celiac was indicated: Which left me gluten free for life, that wasn't an option after the challenge, but with a less satisfactory diagnosis, one by omission rather than the definitive 'you're celiac' one I was expecting. Yes! I have been 'properly' glutened on a couple of occasions but on several more I've detected a change or a reaction based on what could only have been trace amounts. NCGS is as yet poorly understood but patients tend to have more neuro symptoms than digestive. That's definitely been my experience, although it was only after going gluten free that I realised quite how many digestive symptoms I had just been living with as 'normal'. Close friends and family get the full explanation. 'I have an auto immune disease similar to 'coeliac etc.' If they stay awake long enough I'll tell them about the less than perfect testing process I went through or the Columbia Med research and the possibility of a blood test soon. They can see the difference between me on gluten and off it so they understand its not all in my head* If I'm ordering food in a restauarant or asking questions about food prep etc I will often just self declare as coeliac - people are aware of that and understand those requests are medical rather than fad diet based. I don't have any problem doing this, I'm not going to claim that and then cheat on dessert for instance and to be honest I expect once the research is complete the two conditions may wind up alongside others as different faces of the same coin. In the meantime I safeguard my health and avoid getting into a detailed conversation about genuine gluten sensitivity versus faux hipster posturing! *apart from the bits which are in my head

I originally had it on my face and scalp. (22 years ago) First biopsy with dermatologist came back as folliculitis. Then when I had a new outbreak on my upper back, she was able to remove a nice clean blister and we got the diagnosis of DH. She started me on Dapsone (100mg/day) and gluten free diet. Now I take 25-50 mg/day. My understanding at the time was that DH was the skin version of Celiac. Did a lot of research on my own. I met Dr. Peter Green at a Gluten free Vendors Fair and he said that a diagnosis of DH IS a diagnosis of Celiac, even if no other symptoms. So I stay gluten-free