Do you plan to buy or bake a birthday cake for your child’s birthday? They might look similar but appearances can be deceptive. Understandably most parents want to wow their children with an eye-catching birthday cake and these days shops, supermarkets and patisseries offer a bewildering array of fantastic looking cakes. Add to this the convenience of buying a cake instead of having to spend hours baking one and it is easy to see why many choose to buy a sensational party piece in the form of a rocket, hedgehog, Spiderman or beautiful princess rather than spend time in the kitchen.
But do you really know how different the ingredients used in a bought cake might be to a homemade one? The answer can be found on food labelling.
Next time you are cake shopping read the label and ask yourself five basic questions:
- What sweeteners have been used?
Many food manufacturers do not use real sugar but instead high fructose corn syrup (HFCS). This is often used because it is sweeter, cheaper to make and easy to store. However HFCS is an industrial food product, a biologically novel compound resulting from the chemical enzymatic process of sugar extraction from corn stalks. The fructose and glucose in HFCS are more rapidly absorbed into our blood stream and this can cause liver damage as well as metabolic disturbances that increase appetite and weight gain that can lead to diabetes, heart disease and cancer.
- What additives have been used?
Polydextrose (E1200), acesulfame potassium (E950) and saccharin (E954) are just a few of the unpleasant additives that can be found in baked goods and desserts. Clinical studies demonstrate that food additives have a pronounced cumulative behavioural effect on children. For example, irritability, restlessness, inattention and sleep disturbance in some children can be linked to the consumption of preservatives in our food.
- Have any artificial colours been added to the cake?
You may have found that some artificial colours were used in the decoration of the cake. These additives just like any other could cause health issues for your child. Choose a cake with decorations made from real fruits, chocolate sauce or natural food colourings.
- What type of flour has been used?
The best choice is unbleached organic flour. Bleached flour that has been chemically treated to improve its consistency and baking properties is widely used. The bleaching chemicals are potentially harmful to our bodies. Using whole-meal flour is even better because it contains more nutrients.
- Does this cake contain any trans fats?
If the label says “trans fat” or “hydrogenated oil”, stay away from this product. Some manufacturers get around rules that ban trans fat by using “partially hydrogenated oil”. Food manufacturers can legally include this and say “no trans fats” at the same time. These artificially modified fats make food last longer but shorten our lives by clogging arteries and increasing the risk of heart disease, stroke and in some cases Type 2 diabetes. Even if the cake itself does not contain trans fats the frosting still might.
As a general rule, the shorter the list of ingredients in a product, the better.
Baking your own cake can make a BIG difference to how healthy your birthday cake mainly because you are in control. You can use whole-meal flour, organic butter and free-range eggs. In addition the taste and texture will be much better then anything you buy at the supermarket.
Homemade cakes contain far less sugar and you can use fruit and even vegetables such as carrots to reduce the sugar you need to add even further. Another idea is to replace a portion of the sugar and fat in the recipe with fruit puree. If you add seeds and nuts you can make your cake even healthier. These ingredients add important nutrients to your cake, including vitamin C (even though you will loose some of it due to heat), lots of micronutrients (essential elements for our body) and beta-carotene if you add carrots (an antioxidant that helps protect against cancer and ageing).
Using whole-meal flour will increase the fibre content of your cake. This means that not only will the cake fill you up more easily, the calories will take longer to digest, resulting in a slower more consistent release of energy. And you’ll be less likely to over eat. The extra fibre is good for your gut too because it feeds your good bacteria and helps your intestines digest faster.
There are plenty of foods that you can enjoy without compromising your child’s health. It is all about learning which certain foods are best and which to stay away from.
To get you started I would like to share my favourite cake recipe with you. “Apple Sharlotka” is both quick and easy.
You will need:
6 free-range eggs (better if they are not from fridge)
1 cup of raw organic sugar
1.5 cups of whole meal flour
2-3 medium to large apples (preferably not too sweet)
½ teaspoon of cinnamon
Cut the apples into small chunks after washing but without peeling. Beat the eggs with the sugar until the mixture is thick and fluffy. Next add the flour and cinnamon. Then put the apples in a greased backing tin, pour the batter on top of the apples and bake at 1800C for 45-60 minutes until the cake has a nice golden colour. Once it has cooled you can decorate it as you wish and serve. For example you can spread the top with some honey and sprinkle on some chopped almonds. Bon appétit!
By Irina Schurov