Vegan, gluten-free, vegetarian, Paleo. It doesn’t matter what your dietary preference is—fresh-from-the-oven banana bread is always straight up irresistible.
But with a lot of diets, classic banana bread is out of the question. Most recipes call for white flour, granulated sugar and brown sugar, full-fat butter, and of course, bananas (which are pretty high in fructose themselves).
Overall, baked goods aren’t exactly teeming with nutrients. The biggest problem with cookies, cakes, and breads when you’re trying to eat healthier is that they’re full of empty calories.
Take sugar, for example. Cook’s Illustrated has a test kitchen–approved recipe for banana bread that calls for three-quarters of a cup of brown sugar to be folded into the batter—that’s equal to 600 calories of pure carbohydrates. There are no proteins, essential fats, vitamins or minerals, or fiber in sugar, so it’s processed very quickly by the body. This causes blood glucose and insulin levels to spike, and then immediately drop as the body plays catch up (also known as a “sugar rush”).
Over time, excess sugar consumption can lead to insulin resistance, which leads to metabolic syndrome, obesity, heart disease, and even Type 2 diabetes. At the end of the day, sugar contains a lot of calories that are used purely for energy, but lacking a lot of the necessary nutrients we need to stay healthy.
The same could certainly be said for other popular baking ingredients like processed white flour and artificial flavors and sweeteners—they’re high in calories, but relatively low in nutrition. And if you’re trying to lose weight or live a healthier lifestyle, that’s the exact opposite of what you want. But eating better doesn’t mean eschewing all your traditional favorite foods. It might involve a little more research and recipe testing, but it’s possible to have your banana bread and eat it, too.
Now that you’re up to speed on alternative flours, natural sweeteners, and Paleo-friendly cooking oils, it’s time to reveal our ultimate banana bread recipe. From the kitchen of Merce Muse, our food editor extraordinaire, this loaf went through a few different iterations before this recipe was finally deemed “The One.”
It calls for five extra-ripe bananas to really nail down the classic flavor and add natural sweetness and moisture to the batter. For the alternative flour, it was important to choose one that would retain a dense, almost gooey texture even when fully cooked so the loaf dry up and crumbly. Because coconut flour tends to be a little drier, Merce opted for almond flour instead. The recipe also calls for grape-seed oil because it has a slightly more buttery flavor than most cooking oils, but you could also use coconut oil instead.
Paleo Banana Bread
Yield: 12 mini loaves, or about 24 servings
Active Time: 10 minutes
Total Time: 30 minutes
5 large, ripe bananas
3 ½ cups almond flour
¼ teaspoon ground cardamom
¼ teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon vanilla powder
1 ¼ teaspoons sea salt
1 ¼ teaspoons baking soda
3 large eggs
½ cup light agave
¼ cup coconut oil or grapeseed oil
½ cup chopped walnuts, plus more for garnish
Preheat oven to 350 degrees and spray a mini loaf tray with nonstick spray.
Place bananas in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until just blended. Set aside.
Whisk together almond flour, cardamom, cinnamon, vanilla, sea salt, and baking soda in a large bowl. In a small bowl, whisk together eggs, agave, and grapeseed oil. Fold the wet ingredients into the dry and thoroughly combine. Fold in the pureèd bananas and walnuts. Let dough sit five minutes.
Divide dough between the tray’s 12 pre-greased molds, sprinkle extra chopped walnuts on top, and bake 15 to 17 minutes. Let loaves cool in molds slightly before serving.
Paleo bakers, we want to hear from you! What are your favorite must-have ingredients for recreating your favorite “bad” desserts in a health-conscious way? Let us know in the comments below.