Peering into the glass case of a bakery case or ogling the mouthwatering concoctions at your local cupcake shop is half the fun when indulging in a sweet treat. But if you’re skipping that part and making your baked goods at home, then there’s really no reason not to healthify what you’re putting into your body. Bonus: Avocado-based frosting and quinoa-spiked scones are all the rage—and you can D.I.Y. them, too!
“When you’re the one doing the baking, it’s not just the fork that’s in your hand,” says Tanya Zuckerbrot, R.D. and founder of the popular F-Factor Diet. “You’re now holding the spoon, the spatula, and the whole recipe. You’re the one in control over what you are putting in your baked goods, and you can make them as healthy and low calorie as you want!”
It’s time to dump the refined white sugar and fattening oils—into the trash instead of the mixing bowl. Introduce these healthy swaps to level up your baking game and you may just find your sweet tooth is even more satisfied! And if you’re a fan of baking mixes, then we’ve cooked up the report that’s perfect for you: Baking Mixes: Make This, Not That!
Sugar tends to be the foundation for many baked goods, but there are much savvier ways to sweeten up your goodies. Swap in one cup of unsweetened applesauce for one cup of sugar to cut fat and calories. Head to head, applesauce boasts only about 100 calories while the same amount of sugar contains nearly 800! Zuckerbrot says this method works especially well for oatmeal cookies. Sounds good, right? You’ll also love these 18 Tips for How to Make Frozen Oatmeal Cups!
“When it comes to making baked goods healthier, the goal is to lower the fat and carb content without compromising taste,” says Zuckerbrot. Greek yogurt is higher in protein and lower in fat than other dairy products and it can be used in place of sour cream or oil. It’s not always a one-to-one ratio, so you could try replacing half and do some experimenting with different recipes.
It’s tough to avoid all forms of sugar, so switching to more nutrient-dense options like honey can help ensure that you’re not stuffing your face with totally-empty calories. Honey is rich in vitamins and minerals and has an anti-inflammatory effect on the body. What’s more? Honey doesn’t send your blood sugar levels in a tailspin the way that white sugar does, so you’ll experience less wacky cravings and shifts in energy levels. Check out our report on Every Popular Added Sweetener—Ranked! for a better understanding of your best options.
Beans in brownies may sound a bit bizarre, but don’t knock ’em until you try ’em. Pureed black beans add a hit of protein and fiber, and they can be used instead of white flour in brownie recipes. Go ahead and use one cup for one cup. Beyond the beans, check out these 20 Best-Ever Tips for Brownies.
No need to reach for sugar when fruit provides natural, nutrient-rich sweetness all on its own. Mashed bananas have an ideal consistency to be used in place of butter and oil, and their natural, sweet flavor makes them a good swap for sugar, too. Bananas are a good source of vitamin B6 and potassium and are best used in recipes for cookies, brownies, pancakes, and muffins.
Whether you sneak in a few spoonfuls of ground flaxseed into your batters or craft a flaxseed egg in place of real eggs, incorporating this superfood into your baking endeavors will turn a regular cookie into a super healthy treat. Flaxseeds promote healthy digestion, help lower cholesterol, and also cut your risk for diabetes. However, they’re also one of the 11 Surprising Foods You Should Keep in the Fridge, so store them properly!
100% Whole Wheat Flour
When in doubt, skip the white and go for the whole wheat. “White flour has been stripped of nutrients and adds empty calories and refined carbohydrates to baked goods. Using other flours can provide nutrients like fiber, protein, and make a recipe gluten-free,” says Zuckerbrot. Swap in one cup of whole wheat flour for ⅞ cup of white flour for a healthy boost.
Coconut flour is made from dried, grounded coconut meat and is a gluten-free alternative to wheat-based flour. Adding coconut flour into the mix will not only lower the total carbohydrate count, but it will boost the fiber content as well, making your sweets a bit more satisfying.
Options abound when it comes to baking flours, and nut flours are one of the best choices for you. They’re gluten-free, lower in carbs, and higher in protein than white flour. “One cup of flour can be substituted with ¼ nut flour + ¾ cup wheat flour or 1 cup nut flour + ½ teaspoon rising agent in recipes for cookies, sweet breads, and cakes,” says Zuckerbrot. Bonus: Here’s a quick tutorial on How to Make Almond Flour.
“Fig puree can be used in recipes instead of margarine or butter to lower the fat content and add nutrients like fiber, vitamin B6, and copper,” says Zuckerbrot. While swapping figs into your batches will boost the nutritional value of the food, do note that this puree is best when used in recipes for darker-hued baked goods like brownies, chocolate cookies, and cakes.
Along the same lines of fig puree, prune puree can kick up the fiber content of your baked goods and help to reduce fat content. One half cup of prune puree can be used in place of one cup of margarine. “Margarine is made with unnatural hydrogenated fats, which are full of omega-6 fatty acids, which have been shown to cause inflammation in the body and may be linked to diseases such as cancers, heart disease, and obesity,” says Zuckerbrot. To lay it out even further, one cup margarine has 1,627 calories and 183 grams of fat, while a half cup prune puree is about 375 calories and has 0 grams of fat. For more foods to battle against inflammation, don’t miss these 30 Best Ant-Inflammatory Foods!
Evaporated Skim Milk
Whole milk and heavy cream tend to rack up the fat and calories in baked goods; by swapping them out for a less fattening counterpart like evaporated skim milk, you can significantly reduce the dietary dangers. Evaporated skim milk can be substituted for heavy cream cup for cup to lighten up cakes, scones, whipped cream, and biscuits.
Powdered Peanut Butter
“The addition of peanuts or peanut butter in a recipe can add fat and calories rapidly. Powdered peanut butter like PB2 is made by removing the oil and water from peanuts and thus has 85 percent less fat calories than traditional peanut butter. The powder can be mixed with water to create a peanut butter, or used as a flavor like other powders (in smoothies, cookies),” says Zuckerbrot. For reference, two tablespoons of regular peanut butter equal 188 calories and has 16 grams of fat, while 2 tablespoons of PB2 has just 45 calories and 1.5 grams of fat. Speaking of PB2, these 20 Ways to Use PB will give you even more uses beyond your baking efforts!
A superfood no matter what you do with them, chia seeds tremendously bump up the fiber content of your food. They can be used in place of an egg by mixing one tablespoon of chia seeds with three tablespoons of water and letting them thicken for 15 minutes. Zuckerbrot suggests trying this healthy hack in recipes for muffins, cakes, and cookies.
Whether you’re choosing a baking flour or picking up a pre-made mix, the first ingredient you should scan for is 100% whole wheat or whole grain. Whole grains are good sources of fiber, antioxidants, and essential nutrients. They have been touted with reducing your risk for heart disease and also encouraging greater weight loss. If you want to keep baked goods and breads in the regular snack line up, check out these other tips for eating bread while staying fit—because yes, it’s possible!
Forget nutrition-less white sugar and replace it with 100% pure maple syrup to boost the health factor of your baked treats. Maple syrup provides added minerals to the mix and has a less dramatic effect on blood sugar when compared to regular, more refined sugars.
“People often underestimate how caloric oil is,” Zuckerbot says. “One cup of vegetable oil has 1,927 calories and contains 218 grams of fat. The reason it is so high calorie is because fats are calorie dense. Instead of vegetable oil, you can sub in 100% pureed pumpkin.” Use one cup pumpkin for one cup oil, which will only contribute 100 calories and zero (!) fat.
Nuts are a super healthy addition to any snack or meal and are easy to toss into just about any recipe. Walnuts, in particular, are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which support brain health and also increases feelings of satiety. For an indulgent, healthy boost, crush up and mix walnuts into any of your favorite cookie or brownie recipes.
VIDEO: The Benefits of Walnuts
Butter may make your treats seriously rich and creamy, but it also turns them into little fat and calorie bombs that blow up your belly. By swapping in half of a tablespoon of avocado for one tablespoon of butter, you can cut the fat and calorie content significantly and increase the satisfaction factor.
Unsweetened Cocoa Powder
The power of chocolate prevails! Cocoa in its raw form has been found to help reduce stress, fight belly fat, and fight off free radical damage. Cocoa powder can easily be added to cookies, cakes, and pancake recipes for an antioxidant-dense boost.
As mentioned, there are plenty of flour alternatives available today, but don’t discount your organic wheat variety. Conventional bags have higher exposure to pesticides and nasty chemicals, which have the potential to disrupt healthy body functions. Though more research needs to be done, it would be wise to go organic and lower your own exposure to unnatural chemicals.
Yes, full-fat can help you feel fuller and even absorb certain nutrients. But we’re talking about what you pour into your coffee cup, not cups of it for a cake! Although there are some debates around skim milk and its effects right now—some say it can cause acne—there’s zero debate that it’s far less fatty. “Whole milk has much more fat and calories than its fat-free counterparts. One cup of fat-free milk has 0-3 grams fat versus 8 grams fat in whole milk (and an additional 60 calories). Full-fat dairy products can be swapped out for their non-fat counterparts in equal parts and without compromising chemistry or taste,” says Zuckerbrot. Still not sure what you want to do about your dairy intake? Start with these 22 Expert Tips for Cutting Back on Dairy to make the move a bit easier.
Buckwheat is gluten-free and high in essential nutrients like B vitamins, manganese, and magnesium. The alternative flour has been found to help lower blood sugar levels and reduce your risk for diabetes due to its fiber content. Buckwheat flour is particularly good for whipping up a healthy and filling batch of pancakes!
Berries are an incredibly rich source of antioxidants, which stand up to free radical damage and support healthy skin and a strong immune system. Rather than reaching for chocolate chips to sweeten up your batters, mix in a healthy dose of berries. Raspberries, in particular, are a good source of gut-busting fiber and can help make you treats much more filling.
Whether you’re mixing them into cookies or baking them into muffins, oats are a hearty and healthy addition to your sweets. Oats are high in fiber and packed with essential nutrients, which all work together to help lower cholesterol, stabilize blood sugar, and promote weight loss. And you really can’t buy too many oats, either; use your extra oats to whip up some delicious overnight oats!