I know it was for me…
Take these delicious Paleo vanilla cupcakes with chocolate frosting, for example. (By the way, this classic “yellow cake-chocolate frosting” combo has been a winner with everyone who has sampled them!)
Before I was diagnosed with hypothyroidism, I had an enduring love affair with sugar and flour. My weakness? Muffins, scones, croissants, scones, chocolate chip cookies, bread, and…oh, I so loved homemade fruit pies with a rich buttery crust.
I’m a foodie, so the baked goods that I ate were either homemade (for example, I used to ritually bake my own oatmeal bread every Sunday), or during my weekends upstate, they came from an old-fashioned bakery where the owner produced his own baked goods on-site.
In the City, I was a regular at a bakery down the block from me, where I indulged my craving (usually around 3pm) for chocolate buttercream-frosted chocolate cupcakes, or for a hefty wedge of old-fashioned three-layer chocolate cake bound with chocolate buttercream frosting. By the way, that one slice of cake weighed nearly a pound (!!), but I still managed to eat it ALL in one sitting! These treats always set everything right in my world again.
Until they didn’t.
Unbeknownst to me at the time, I had hypothyroidism (an underactive thyroid). As my hypothyroidism progressed, my body began rebelling against the treats that I loved. Within minutes of eating, say, a chocolate chip cookie, I would have heart palpitations that left me wired, anxious and unsettled. That cookie would also leave me so foggy and exhausted that I, literally, could not keep my eyes open!
After my hypothyroidism diagnosis, my integrative doctor advised me to stop eating gluten and wheat. In many cases, there is also a relationship between hypothyroidism (or autoimmune Hashimoto’s thyroiditis) and Candida, or yeast overgrowth. Many factors, including a high sugar diet, chronic stress and poor immune health, can feed Candida overgrowth. And, despite the fact that I was mindful of making “healthy”, “organic” and “high quality” food choices, I suspected that I had Candida.
For these reasons, I decided to follow a restrictive, no-sugar diet for 30 days. “No sugar” meant no gluten, no grains, no fruit and no dairy. I won’t pretend…it wasn’t easy, initially. After white-knuckling through a few tough days, however, my body adjusted. And my mental fog lifted!
After my 30-day sugar cleanse, I decided to reintroduce a little forbidden sweetness back into my life by way of these Paleo vanilla cupcakes with a Fleur de Sel coconut-chocolate frosting. It was sort of a test. I wanted to see how my body would react to flour (albeit coconut) and sugar (maple syrup, a natural, nutrient dense sweetener).
Using a wheat-free, gluten-free cupcake recipe from Elana’s Pantry as a template, I adapted the recipe to reflect my own tastes and preferences.
So, instead of agave or stevia, I use a 1/2 cup of organic, dark-colored maple syrup, labeled Grade A, Dark Color, Robust Taste. I chose dark syrup over the commercially popular light-colored maple syrup (labeled Grade A, Golden Color, Delicate Taste) because it is more nutrient-dense. Harvested later in the season, dark maple syrup has a deeper, maple flavor and a higher concentration of minerals, including trace minerals, like manganese and zinc.
For the frosting, I use unsweetened cocoa powder instead of melted chocolate chips. I favor 100% unsweetened Valrhona cocoa powder, an intensely dark cocoa with a deep, bittersweet flavor. Based in France, Valrhona makes a Dutch process cocoa powder, where cocoa beans are first treated with a potassium solution to neutralize their acidity, then dried and ground. Compared to “natural” cocoa where cocoa beans are simply roasted before being ground into a powder, Valrhona is considered a more “processed” cocoa powder. But since it is 100% unsweetened, and I love the depth of its bittersweet flavor, I’m not overly concerned about losing antioxidants in my cocoa.
And I use melted coconut oil for the chocolate frosting.
According to my husband, who ate five in one sitting(!): “Not a strong vanilla taste. But the cupcakes have an appealing yellow cake texture and flavor that complements the bittersweet Valrhona-coconut frosting. The dark chocolate flavor resonates, especially with a tiny sprinkle of Celtic sea salt on top!”
If I do say so, myself….these cupcakes are delicious! With six eggs and coconut oil, they also contain plenty of blood sugar-stabilizing healthy fat and protein. A little sprinkle of mineral-rich Celtic sea salt (coarse-ground) on the chocolate frosting adds delicious contrast to the bittersweet of the chocolate and the gentle sweetness of the maple syrup. But it’s up to you—you can add or omit the Celtic sea salt.
Eating these cupcakes was a lovely pleasure; it also helped me see where I stood in my relationship with sugar and flour. After enjoying three cupcakes (they’re small!), I felt completely full and satisfied. In fact, five hours passed before I felt the first twinges of hunger again.
Everyone is different. And your ability to tolerate sugar will be different than mine. For me, the cupcakes were just sweet enough, just indulgent enough to satisfy my physiological, emotional and psychological desire for sugar.
Turns out: I hadn’t missed sugar as much as I thought I had. Often, we are more nostalgic for the memory of how a favorite food made us feel—whether comforted, happy, or “high”—than the reality of how that food may actually make us feel (in my case, brain-fogged, exhausted, yet wired).
Fast forward to NOW: I no longer crave cupcakes—not even gluten-free, wheat-free ones! If I did, however, I would bake up a batch and enjoy them 100%. Without apology.
What got me to this place was allowing myself to enjoy healthy versions of the treats I once loved. I savored. I enjoyed. And, without trying, I found myself saying “good-bye” to cupcake cravings!
Paleo Vanilla Cupcakes with Chocolate Frosting
Makes 12 cupcakes
For the cupcakes:
1/2 cup organic coconut flour, sifted
1/2 teaspoon Celtic sea salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
6 large eggs, ideally from organic or local cage-free, free-roaming hens
1/2 cup organic coconut oil, melted
1/2 cup organic maple syrup, labeled Grade A, Dark Color, Robust Taste
1 tablespoon organic vanilla extract
For the frosting:
1/2 cup Valrhona 100% (unsweetened) cocoa powder
3/4 cup organic coconut oil
2-1/2 tablespoons organic maple syrup, labeled Grade A, Dark Color, Robust Taste
1 tablespoon organic vanilla extract
Celtic sea salt, a pinch or two to sprinkle over each cupcake
To make the cupcakes:
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a muffin tin with parchment baking cups; set aside.
In a small bowl, whisk together coconut flour, sea salt and baking soda.
Melt the coconut oil over low heat (you do not want the oil to burn or smoke) and remove immediately; before pouring into eggs, make sure it is cool to touch.
In another bowl, use an electric mixer and beat together eggs, maple syrup, vanilla extract, adding cooled coconut oil.
Slowly pour wet ingredients into the dry and blend with mixer until batter is smooth, taking care not to overmix.
Scoop up apx. 1/4 cup batter and carefully add to parchment paper muffin cups.
Place on center rack and bake15-18 minutes. To avoid overbaking (they’ll get tough!), check after 12 minutes for doneness and every 2-3 minutes after that.
Cool completely. Top with frosting and sprinkle with Celtic sea salt.
To make the frosting:
Using an electric mixer, mix the cocoa and coconut oil (do NOT melt!) until well blended; add vanilla and maple syrup. You may need to add a little more coconut oil until frosting is soft and spreadable.