Pies are arguably the signature desserts of the holiday season. Among those watching their weight, however, delectable, flaky crusts can evoke fear, leading to visions of weight gain and stepped-up New Year's workout resolutions.
Fortunately, it doesn't have to be this way.
Start from the bottom up, if you will, since all crusts are not created equal. Many of us are accustomed to and thankful for the store-bought crust, though no shortage of avid pie-bakers would consider such a prefab pie platform "un-American."
I looked at some examples at Safeway in Ashland and was not impressed with the nutritional components of their rollout and frozen pie crusts — lots of unhealthy trans (partially hydrogenated) fats that muck up our arteries, paired with innumerable additives.
Choices exist. We can bake a pie in our own homemade crust, but typically it will contain lots of the blissful baking "trinity": butter, sugar and flour — providing potential for weight gain with little nutritional value.
Enter the nut crust. Though they may have some butter, sugar and flour, being composed mostly of nuts and seeds, nut crusts contain an array of healthful fats, some fiber and considerable protein. The fats from almonds and walnuts are heart-healthy. Moreover, the oily nature of nuts and seeds provide the "glue" that help bind the crust, sparing us extra flour and butter. They also give tangible mouth feel.
Don't forget hazelnuts and macadamias, pine nuts and pecans.
Or seeds. Pumpkin seeds contain zinc, magnesium and compounds that regulate lipids like cholesterol. They also improve bladder and prostate function. Sunflower seeds help lower cholesterol and are very high in vitamin E, which protects our cells against damage. Hempseeds contain fats that reduce inflammation and improve skin health. I recommend the Manitoba Harvest brand, available at health-food stores, which are dehulled and harbor considerable protein.
You can search online or in recipe books for nut crusts. Be creative, try different natural sweeteners and dust off that food processor in time for the holidays.
Michael Altman is a nutritionist at Ventana Wellness in Medford and the Centre for Natural Healing in Ashland. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org