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BAKED GOODS
How Do They Affect Your Weight Loss Program?

We all love baked goods, but what is their impact on our weight? Knowing what to expect is important, since let's face it: At one time or another, these products will make their way into our lives. There's no way around holidays, and holidays come loaded with precisely such temptations. So the question becomes: How do baked goods fit in with weight control? What can we afford to indulge in, and what should we beware of? The long-term success of our fitness goals may very well hinge on the way we handle this issue.

This page analyzes items such as cookies, crackers, cake & pie mixes and toppings, and baking needs such as flour, sugar, oil, etc - from the point of view of their calorie count, glycemic index and overall impact on a weight control diet. The goal is to help you make the right choices when it comes to integrating baked goods in your weight loss program.

Baked Goods
Cookies:

Cookies are a rather dangerous snack, since most of them bring in high amounts of refined sugars (bad carbs with high glycemic index), which predispose to fat formation and weight gain.
Reading the nutrition labels, you may be struck by a seemingly reasonable calorie content, ranging from 100 to 270 calories per serving, and a borderline acceptable content of saturated fat, mostly below 3 grams.
However, beware: The content of sugars for most cookie products is above 11 grams, and often above 20 grams per serving, which is definitely unacceptable for weight control purposes. For example:

  • A serving of Oreos (4 cookies) brings in 270 calories, with 3.5 grams of saturated fat, and 23 grams of sugars.
  • A Fig Newton pack brings in 200 calories, with 22 grams of sugars.
  • And cookies that are lower in sugars, such as Pepperidge Farm, make up for it in saturated fats: For instance, 3 Milano cookies bring in about 180 calories, 11 grams of sugars, and 5 grams of saturated fats.

Browsing through the aisle, however, I noticed several sugar-free cookie products which were also reasonable in fat content (e.g., South Beach Diet cookies - 100 calories per serving, 0 sugars, 1.5 grams saturated fat). These are definitely acceptable as part of a weight control diet.

In conclusion, when choosing a cookie product, here are the guideline to go by:
  • total calorie count below 200 per serving
  • saturated fats as low as possible (in any case lower than 3 grams per serving)
  • sugars up to 6-7 grams per serving

There won't be many regular cookies that meet these conditions, but you will find reduced-sugar cookies, or sugar-free cookies (sweetened with Splenda), which you can enjoy without jeopardizing your weight goals. And remember: With cookies, respecting serving size is as important as ever.


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Baked Goods
Crackers:

Crackers make better snacks than cookies, due to the lower amounts of sugars they contain.

  • Saltine crackers (e.g., from Nabisco) are a particularly good choice: They contain zero sugars and zero saturated fats, and bring in just 60 calories per 5 crackers.
  • Peanut butter crackers (e.g., from Lance) are another good choice for a satisfying snack: One pack of 6 double crackers brings 200-220 calories, with only 2 grams of saturated fat and 3 grams of sugar. And, peanut butter is considered healthy due to the monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats it contains. One word of warning, however: Reading nutrition labels, I happened to notice that certain peanut butter crackers (Keebler brand) contain trans fats. Trans fats are detrimental for health, so make sure the product you pick doesn't contain any. To my knowledge, all varieties of Lance crackers have zero trans fat content.
  • Goldfish crackers are another reasonable snack (at 150 calories, 0.5 grams saturated fat and 1 gram sugars per 55 pieces).
  • Other snack options, such as crackers combined with cheese (e.g., Ritz Crackers 'n Cheese) are available and bring in a reasonable calorie content (100 grams per serving).


Baked Goods
Mixes and Toppings:

  • The Cake & Pie Mixes and Toppings available at my grocery store were a deep disappointment to me. Not only were they unacceptable as far as sugars and saturated fats, but many of them also contained trans fats. Generally, one serving of cake or pie made from these products would bring in at least 300 calories, 30 grams of sugars, and a fair share of fats. Therefore, I feel that anyone who is serious about weight control should forego such items. Among all baked goods, they are perhaps the most detrimental.


  • Betty Crocker Cookie Mixes, on the other hand, appeared more reasonable at 100-120 calories per serving, 0-2 grams saturated fats, 0 trans fats, and 11-14 grams of sugars. (You can observe, however, that sugars are still higher than we'd like them to be.)


  • Bisquick Pancake Mix seemed reasonable as far as total calorie content (160 per serving), but on closer analysis turned out to contain 1.5 grams of trans fat per serving.


  • Muffin Mixes from Martha White (130 calories per serving, 13-16 grams of sugars and saturated fats below 2 grams) advertise on their nutrition label "trans fats zero", however: If reading the ingredients list, one can notice the term 'partially hydrogenated vegetable oils'. This is just another designation for trans fats, so I would be careful about using such products.

 

Baked Goods
Baking Needs:

  • Baking Chocolate and Peanut Butter Chips bring about 80 calories per tablespoon, with 8 grams of sugars and up to 3 grams of saturated fats. This in itself seems reasonable, however it begs the question how many tablespoons go into the respective dish, and what else is in the recipe. All those facts will determine the total calorie content of the respective dish.


  • Sugar and Sugar Substitutes:
    • One teaspoon of sugar brings 15 calories, which seems like a trifling amount. However, think how many teaspoons go into a cake or pie, and you realize how the calories add up. Also remember that sugar has a high glycemic index, i.e. it is a 'bad carb' that predisposes to weight gain.
    • Fortunately, zero-calorie sugar substitutes are available, which can be used for sweetening, cooking and baking. In my personal opinion, Splenda (Sucralose), is the sugar substitute closest to sugar as far as taste. Splenda is an isomer of sugar, meaning it contains the same molecules but in a slightly different arrangement, which makes it non-digestible. Therefore, it brings in zero calories. Many Splenda recipes are available and in my opinion make for good foods. (Link to Splenda recipes)
      Aspartame is another zero-calorie sugar substitute, most commonly used in diet soft drinks. The artificial sweeteners 'Equal' and 'NutraSweet' are based on Aspartame. One drawback with Aspartame is that is looses chemical integrity at high temperatures: Therefore, its sweetness goes down with prolonged baking or cooking.
      Finally, there is Saccharin, an older sweetener which is marketed as 'Sweet 'n Low'. It can be used for cooking and baking without loosing sweetness. Note: High doses of saccharin have been involved in certain types of cancer in laboratory animals. To my knowledge, however, there is no conclusive evidence of any ill effects in humans at the doses normally used for consumption.


  • Flour is a highly caloric item: One cup of flour brings 400-460 calories, the vast majority of which come from carbohydrates (starches). Refined or enriched flour (white flour) is at the high end of the calorie range, while whole grain flour is at the low end. Another significant difference between refined and whole grain flour is the fiber content: For example, one cup of white wheat flour (refined flour) brings in 3.4 grams of fiber, while one cup of whole wheat flour (whole grain flour) brings in 14.6 grams of fiber. Fiber is an advantage in weight control, since it prolongs digestion time and slows the absorption of nutrients from the gut into the bloodstream. The result is a lower swing in blood glucose levels, therefore a lower level of insulin secretion, which translates into a reduced tendency to fat formation and storage.
    Another thing to look for in flour is how finely the respective flour is ground: Finely ground flour is more readily absorbed from the intestine, causing a higher swing in blood glucose levels and consequently in insulin levels. Coarsely ground flour, on the other hand, takes longer to be broken down in the digestive tract, and hence its absorption into the bloodstream is more gradual. This of course is beneficial for weight control purposes.
    In conclusion: Choose whole grain flour (usually whole wheat) and don't shy away from coarsely ground flour. And overall, try to use flour in moderation (avoid recipes requiring high amounts of flour).


  • Oils and Shortenings: The main oils available for cooking are Olive Oil, Canola Oil, and Vegetable Oil. One serving (1 tablespoon) of any of these oils brings in 120 calories, about 2 grams of saturated fat, and more than 10 grams of unsaturated fat. This unsaturated fat differs between the various types of oil mentioned above: Olive Oil and Canola Oil, for example, are richer in monounsaturated fats (which are considered beneficial for cardiovascular health). Vegetable Oils are richer in polyunsaturated fats. Anyway, due to their high caloric content, all oils should be used in moderation. A clever solution, especially for pan-cooked foods, is a zero-calorie cooking spray, such as Pam and Crisco. Cooking sprays contain oil combined with an emulsifier (lecithin), a propellant and a gas (such as propane). You can choose between Olive, Canola, and Vegetable Oil cooking sprays. A word of warning, however: The zero calorie count refers to a 1/4 second spray, in other words a very brief spraying burst. Anything more than will start racking up the calorie count. (In fact, I have a feeling that 1 tablespoon of cooking spray will have close to 120 calorie, same as the oil it is derived from. However, no information as to this fact is given on the nutrition label, and all other sources I looked up failed to provide any rigorous calorie info.)

Note: All calorie counts are approximate.



We hope the information provided on this page proves helpful for your weight control plan and makes your dietary choices a bit easier. One last word on baked goods (and perhaps the most important message of this page): For lasting weight control, baked goods should be consumed in moderation and infrequently.

 


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