Tips and tricks for a better way to enjoy America’s favorite dessert
“It’s as American as apple pie.” This familiar saying speaks to the best of American culture: Our history, or people, our food. And of all the recipes associated with America, apple pie towers above the rest – and it’s easy to see why. Few desserts are more comforting than a warm, delicious slice of home-baked pie, with its steaming fruity aroma and inviting golden crust.
Unfortunately being overweight is an all-too-familiar American characteristic as well – over two thirds of Americans are considered overweight or obese, which contributes to a wide variety of preventable conditions like heart disease, diabetes and stroke.
While pie is not the primary culprit behind obesity, clearly having too much of a good thing is part of the problem. And in an era of pop-up pie shops offering temptation, it’s become almost too easy to eat one too many slices. But there are still ways people can enjoy pie, just in a healthier, more nutritious way.
Make Your Own Pie
As daunting as this may sound to inexperienced cooks, baking a pie doesn’t have to be a monumental challenge. It is actually a fairly simple process, and can be made even simpler by using healthier, prepared ingredients. But the key idea behind making your own is: You control the ingredients, and can make them with far less sugar and fat than commercially-made pies. Many people would be shocked to know that frozen pie has the highest percentage of calories and unhealthy fats per serving than any other item in the freezer case. Plus, these desserts typically contain high amounts of added refined sugars for flavor, and chemical additives you don’t necessarily want to feed to your family. Once you understand the basics of making pie – crust + filling + baking time -- you can make them with healthier ingredients.
- Replace unhealthy crust ingredients. Most pies require a crust, which contains flour, fat and flavorings. If you start with a sugar-free crust (like the one used here for a tasty pumpkin pie), you’re well on the way to having healthier dessert. Coconut flour and sugar-free graham crackers can reduce the calorie count. And while traditional pie crusts call for lard or shortening, you can also make light, tender crust with cholesterol-free olive oil. Next, replace refined white flour with whole wheat. Whole wheat flour provides vitamins B1, B2, B3 and E, plus calcium, folic acid, copper, phosphorus, zinc, iron and fiber. Many of these ingredients actually help control weight as well as provide overall health benefits. And to cut crust calories in half, you can always make a pie that doesn’t have a top crust.
Still intimidated by making pie crust? There are some brands of commercial frozen pie crusts that are surprisingly low in trans fats, and bake up perfectly every time. And commercially-made filo dough is lighter still. Compare labels, choose a crust with the lowest calories and trans fats, and bake away.
- Replace unhealthy filling ingredients. Not all pies have to be calorie-bombs like chocolate chiffon, pecan and French silk pie. Among Americans’ favorite pies are actually some of the healthiest, with good old apple pie topping the list. Apples are high in important nutrients and are full of flavor, which means they may require less sugar than other fillings. Pumpkin pie is considered roughly equal to apple in terms of nutrients and calories, but the main thing is to use less sugar and fat in any filling. No matter which kind of pie you make, most pies taste the same when you use 1/4th to 1/3rd less sugar. So look for recipes that require less sugar, and use fruits whose flavors compensate for ‘missing’ sweetness. You can also try sugar replacements like honey or palm sugar, or replace white sugar with light brown sugar – it tastes sweeter than white, so you use less. Choose fruit that is high in natural flavors and sweetness, like plum, blackberry, blueberry, strawberry, peach and raspberry. And avoid creamy layers and cream toppings; for that creamy taste, add a dollop of lightly sweetened Greek yogurt.
- Make smaller pies. Finally, remember you don’t have to make several pies at once like grandma did, or even one 10-inch pie. You can make individual portions with small prepared tart shells, or “tartlets” that don’t require crust at all, but use wonton wrappers. And look for mini-pie recipes that use oats, crushed nuts or even beans instead of traditional pie crust.
Any way you slice it, you can still enjoy pie in a healthier way, especially when you make it yourself.
This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your health care professional's instructions.