I love to bake, and I do it quite often. While I occasionally bake specifically for other people, I mostly bake for myself, as I really enjoy homemade “treat” foods such as brownies and cookies. As a nutritionist, however, I can’t justify gorging myself on high-sugar and high-saturated fat goodies every single day, so I try to make my baked goods as healthy as possible while still ensuring that they taste good. Through much trial and error, I’ve added several healthy baking swaps to my repertoire; these swaps help cut fat, calories, or sugar and increase fiber content without sacrificing flavor. The next time you decide to bake a new or favorite recipe, consider trying one of these swaps to instantly make that recipe a little healthier, yet every bit as delicious as the original.
- Applesauce. Applesauce was my first foray into baking swaps, and it has remained my go-to swap for the past seven or eight years. Applesauce can be used in place of two different types of ingredients: eggs and fats. If you’re using it as a substitute for eggs, 3 tablespoons of applesauce equals one egg. This substitution works best in cakes and cookies; I’d stick with real eggs or EggBeaters if you’re making brownies. Applesauce is also more commonly used as a substitute for butter, margarine, and oils. It can be used in a 1:1 ratio, so ¼ cup of applesauce can substitute for ¼ cup butter in most recipes. Using applesauce in place of butter or oil may change the consistency of your dish, so if you are new to this substitution, I’d recommend substituting only half the oil/butter with applesauce to start. I have found that using applesauce in place of butter and oil works best when making sweet breads (like banana bread) and homemade pancakes.
- Mashed or Pureed Fruit. Most baking recipes call for some sort of sweetener, usually in the form of sugar, which can add a lot of calories and zero beneficial nutrients. While you may be tempted to turn to zero-calorie sweeteners like Splenda or Stevia to cut calories, you’re better off using a more nutritious substitute in the form of mashed or pureed fruit, which contains natural sugars, as well as filling fiber. Choose soft, ripe fruits like bananas or dried fruits like dates or prunes, and experiment with the ratio of fruit to sugar called for in the recipe. Oftentimes, you will need to use some sugar in order for your dish to achieve proper consistency, but you can reduce the added sugar count drastically by swapping some of this sugar for real fruit.
- Whole Wheat Flour. When baking from scratch, I try to substitute at least half of the white flour called for in a recipe for the whole wheat variety. Whole wheat flour adds fiber and results in a more filling, less processed dish. Whole wheat flour is denser than white flour, which means it can alter the consistency of a dish, so it’s best to start out with a 1:1 ratio of white to whole wheat flour and add a little more whole wheat flour to a dish each time you make it until you reach your desired taste and consistency.
There are many more healthy baking swaps, and I’m sure all of you other home bakers out there have a few favorites. Feel free to post a comment on your favorite healthy swap, and it may be featured in an upcoming blog post.