Healthy Baking Swaps


Baked goods get a bad rap. We live in a world of butter and sugar and white flour, so what is a health-conscious baker to do? First and foremost, we like to practice moderation around here. One slice of cheesecake at a party is fine. Two? Not so much. A warm, fresh-baked muffin in the morning is delicious and comforting and isn’t going to tip the scales when balanced with lunches and dinners filled with fresh veggies, fiber and lean proteins. Speaking of which, one of the reasons we do love to bake from scratch is because we can control the quality of our ingredients.

In general, we like to eat and cook with fresh, whole foods. When we bake a batch of cookies at home, we can name and pronounce every ingredient, and we buy fresh eggs and use high-quality chocolates – all with nary a preservative, thickener, stabilizer or who-knows-what-else. So those are the givens, but what else can we do? We hate to break it to you, but “healthy desserts” is a bit of an oxymoron. There are, however, some smart substitutes you can make to help lessen the impact of your baked goods. Here is a list of some healthy baking swaps that we recommend. You can apply these to your favorite recipes, but always remember that it is an experiment and you might have to do some adjusting, as the potential substitutes vary with each recipe. If you develop any slam-dunks, we would love to know!

  • First, take a look at your recipe. Instead of baking a pound cake, look for desserts that are rich in fruit and naturally low in fat – poached fruit, fruit compotes, meringues, Pavlova, sorbets – there any many to choose from.
  • Baking with applesauce (unsweetened) is a great substitution for part of the fat in your recipe. Start by replacing about 1/3 of the fat with an equal amount of applesauce and if it works, try replacing up to half. (So if the recipe calls for 1 cup butter, use ½ cup butter and ½ cup applesauce). There are great jarred, unsweetened applesauces available, so this makes it an easy swap, too. The applesauce also boosts the vitamin content of your recipe.
  • If you like the applesauce results, try other mashed fruit like bananas, prunes, canned 100% pumpkin purée or even mashed avocado.
  • Alternatively, you could simply try reducing the fat in a recipe by 25%.
  • Sugar can often be reduced by 25% to 50%. Again, results will vary, but give it a try if sugar in particular is what you want to reduce in your diet.
  • Swap organic cane sugar for regular sugar. It is less refined and some studies suggest that it retains antioxidants. Just substitute cup for cup and you are good to go.
  • Many healthy bakers use puréed black beans (either cooked from scratch or canned are fine) in equal measure as a substitute for all-purpose flour. This works great in chocolate brownies where the bean flavor is masked.
  • An easy substitute for white flour is King Arthur White Whole Wheat Flour, which is a very subtle whole-wheat flour, both in taste and texture. You will increase your fiber and antioxidant content and you can substitute in equal measure. Start by swapping it in for half of your all-purpose white flour, assess the results, and increase as you like.
  • Smart Balance makes a 50/50 Butter Blend which is trans-fat-free, high in heart-healthy omega-3 fat and has less saturated fat than pure butter. It can be used in equal measure to the original amount called for.
  • Add chopped nuts to many recipes for their added health benefits, or try substituting 1/4 of the all-purpose flour with nut flour.
  • Many bakers have success using ground flax seeds as an egg replacement. For every large egg, substitute a blend of 1 tablespoon ground flaxseeds and 3 tablespoons of water. This is best done blended together in a powerful blender, such as a Vitamix, for larger amounts, or a clean coffee grinder for small amounts. Blend until creamy.
  • 1/4 cup of silken tofu, blended till creamy, can also stand in for a large egg. This saves calories and adds calcium.
  • Think about size. A cookie recipe might state that it yields 15 cookies, but why not try making the cookies smaller than instructed? Not only do you increase your yield, but you also have built-in portion control. Remember to reduce baking times.
  • Neufchatel cheese can usually be swapped in for regular cream cheese, saving you calories and, depending on the recipe, providing an even creamier texture.
  • For a classic chocolate chip cookies recipe, use mini chips instead of regular and reduce the volume by half. You will still feel like you are getting your chocolate fix, but will save fat and calories.
  • Better yet, reduce the chocolate chips in any recipe and sub in cacao nibs, which have all of the positive health qualities that we want from chocolate without any of the extra sugar or other additives.
  • If you are using vegetable shortening, read the labels. Avoid products that contain partially hydrogenated fats and look for ones that are derived from coconut or palm oil. We recommend the Spectrum Organics brand.
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