As Dietary Guidelines for Americans indicates, “Foods and beverages high in calories from added sugars should be limited to help achieve healthy dietary patterns within calorie limits. When added sugars in foods and beverages exceed 10 percent of calories, a healthy dietary pattern within calories limits is very difficult to achieve.”
However, it’s quite easy to cross the line when daily foods are consumed.
For example, 39 grams of sugar is directly added to a can of coke, which is much higher than 10% of the calories of the whole can.
Apart from beverages like coke, baking is also the main source of added sugar and saturated fat, which is especially annoying during the festival as the baked goods are seen on nearly all the holiday tables.
Table of Contents
- Consider changing baking ingredients to balance taste and health
- Butter/Oil substitutes
- Cream substitutes
- Flour substitutes
- Sugar substitutes
- Egg substitutes
- Chocolate substitutes
- Other substitutes
Why Considering Baking Ingredient Substitutions?
Holidays drive weight to be gained and baking foods contribute to the majority.
Is it really necessary to dive deep into the world of baking to find ingredient substitutes?
On one hand, people have a special appetite for sweets as they give them a sense of happiness and help relieve their pressure. Moreover, sweets are basically something people must eat during festivals. Generally speaking, each festival has corresponding baking foods, such as pumpkin pie on the Thanksgiving table, gingerbread and chocolate cake on Christmas, and so on.
On the other hand, sweets contain too much-added sugar and saturated fat, which are definitely harmful to people’s health. According to the statistical results provided by Dietary Guidelines for Americans, the top 2 sources of added sugars are sugar-sweetened beverages and desserts and sweet snacks within which cookies, brownies, ice cream, and frozen dairy desserts top the list.
In terms of saturated fat sources, desserts and sweet snacks also top the list of contributors.
Therefore, baking goods contain much more sugar and saturated fat than other nutrients. Since they are essential during the holidays, and sometimes are eaten even as a staple food, here are some approaches on offer to balance the contradiction between taste and health, that is, to smartly use healthy ingredient substitutes for baking.
Healthy Ingredient Substitutes for Baking
You all know that butter is used in baking, but perhaps don’t know why butter is the favorite of baking. Firstly, the attractive mellow and milk flavor of bread and snacks is brought by butter. Besides, butter can lock the moisture of flour and make the baked products fluffy and dense. But butter is a thick substance on the top of fresh milk, which belongs to high calorie and fat. So, it brings forward weight gain and even some health problems like cardiovascular disease. To rescue from holiday baking weight gain, there are some alternatives that save you from high calories, fat and still have a texture worth chewing. These ingredients include:
Replacing butter or oil with avocados not only reduces calories – 813 calories for half a cup of butter and 184 calories for the same amount of mashed Avocado – but also produces softer, wetter baked goods. Although this fruit has a high-fat content, avocado is high in heart-healthy monounsaturated fat. It can actually reduce low-density lipoprotein (bad) cholesterol, maintain high-density lipoprotein (good) cholesterol, and help reduce abdominal fat.
Most plain applesauce contains only 80-100 calories and 2-3 grams of fiber per cup while each cup of butter can contain up to 700 calories and 0 grams of fiber! This butter substitute is not only fat-free, rich in fiber but also tastes good. So, using half of the applesauce instead of the butter in baking is a wise choice for weight control. Besides, the taste of applesauce is perfect for cake, biscuits, and bread.
Bananas are a perfect substitute for butter or oil as they are rich in fat, fiber, vitamins, and minerals but low in calories. Moreover, bananas are available at any time of the year and work best in baking recipes after a little oxidation (ripening). Why? The mashed banana is a source of natural sugar and contains less starch while it still creates a softer texture. So, it is really an excellent substitute for butter or oil and sugar while baking!
Being natural is always better.
Nut butter is a natural source of healthy fat, protein, and fiber, which helps people keep full for a long time. In fact, nut butter contains fat in the form of Omega 6 instead of trans fat, which will make them healthier for the heart!
One cup of vegetable oil has an average of 1,927 calories and 218 grams of fat. The reason it is so high in calories is that fats are calorie-dense. Instead of vegetable oil, 100% pureed pumpkin can be used instead for baking. Not only is pureed pumpkin sweet and tasty, but it is also loaded with antioxidants and vitamins that can help reduce the risk of cancer and even heart disease.
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. In addition, figs naturally help hold in moisture in baked goods, keeping them fresher. So, substituting oil or butter with fig puree is worth trying especially when you are ready to make darker-hued baked goods like brownies, chocolate cookies, and cakes.
Prune puree is an excellent low-calorie and low-fat alternative to butter. Like fig puree, prune puree can increase the fiber content of baked foods and help reduce the fat content. Prunes contain 3.3 grams of fiber per 100 grams, which can help to produce a “lift” starter such as baking powder. By the way, prune puree is more friendly with savory desserts containing cinnamon or chocolate as it already has a dark color.
Just like butter, coconut oil is solid when it’s cold. So, it’s a perfect butter substitute working well in most recipes for baking. Further, coconut oil has surprising benefits in the treatment of inflammation and some skin conditions as well. However, be aware of the tropical taste of coconut oil when baking. Refined and triple-filtered varieties have little to no coconut taste.
Ghee is a type of clarified butter that contains no cream, casein, or lactose. Therefore, it is considered as a healthier substitute than butter. What’s more, ghee has a smoke point of 450 degrees, which is higher than butter, so it is a perfect option for high heat baking of products like bread and cookies.
In pastry baking, the cream is used to enhance taste and aroma, and make the cakes crisper. Of course, it contributes to the name of “cream cake”. However, the cream contains high calories and a variety of saturated fatty acids, which can cause disease and obesity. Therefore, finding suitable substitutes for cream seems important. The cream is one of the toughest ingredients in the search for healthy baking substitutes. However, if you look up the information carefully, there are still some healthy substitutes.
Plain Greek yogurt
For high protein options, use half of plain Greek yogurt instead of cream. Greek yogurt works well in cakes, bread, and muffins because it produces a velvety texture and has little flavor during baking. For a healthy alternative, it sounds simple!
Evaporated skim milk
Whole milk and heavy cream tend to increase the fat and calories in baked goods. By replacing them with evaporated skim milk with low-fat content, the dietary hazards will be significantly reduced. Evaporated skim milk is indeed an ideal food in today’s society, which meets the nutritional needs of modern people in pursuit of “high protein and low fat”.
In baking, flour is an indispensable basic material. To lay it out even further, the quality of flour has a decisive impact on the quality of baked food. The main function of flour in baking is to increase the volume of bread and improve baking properties. Generally speaking, the higher the protein in flour, the larger the volume of bread. White flour, also called all-purpose flour, lacks so many nutrients, and foods that contain white flour affect the digestive system causing additional stress to your body. Here are some healthy white flour substitutes for baking on offer!
Whole wheat flour
Whole wheat flour is very different from white flour. Whole wheat flour is made by grinding whole wheat grains into powder which is a good source of protein, fiber, and a variety of vitamins and minerals while white flour removes the most nutritious parts – bran and germ. It can be used in equal amounts of white flour but keep low calories and high nutrients.
Coconut flour is a grain- and gluten-free flour, which is a good source of protein, fat, fiber, and minerals like iron and potassium. And it works best in cakes, cookies, and muffins with its mildly sweet flavor.
Almond flour is rich in magnesium, omega-3 unsaturated fats, plant protein, and vitamin E. In most recipes, almond flour is easy to use and has a nutty flavor in baking foods.
Black beans for flour
It may sound a little bizarre that use black beans for flour when baking but pureed black beans can be a good substitute for all-purpose flour especially in black bean brownies. It will also cut calories and add protein while giving the baking foods a surprising taste.
Oats for flour
Oat flour has a texture that is more similar to that of whole wheat flour than refined wheat flour. But it’s actually light and absorbent, says Stella Parks, a Food & Wine 2012 “Best New Pastry Chef,” and it’s an essential addition for making fluffy gluten-free white and yellow cakes. Besides, oat is rich in fiber and essential nutrients. These nutrients work together to help reduce cholesterol, stabilize blood sugar, and promote weight loss.
Not being processed and refined, quinoa flour is also a type of gluten-free flour with high protein, fiber, iron, and unsaturated fats. It is widely considered a good substitute for white flour for it lends a moist, tender texture to baking foods. And it is greater for pancakes, muffins, and pizza.
When it comes to the option of baking flours, chickpea flour is one of the best choices for you. Lindsey Love wrote a whole cookbook about it: Chickpea Flour Does It All. “Chickpea flour is a unique flour, in that the nutritional benefits, versatility, taste, and texture it lends to gluten-free cooking is rare when compared to other flours,” Love says.
Why is a dessert named “sweet”? Sugar is the soul of baking.
In fact, sugar not only brings a sweet taste to baked food, but also plays a very important role in the color, aroma, taste, and shape of baked food. For example, the caramelization effect of sugar and Maillard reaction can make food form golden or brownish-yellow skin and bring a good baking flavor. But as is known to all, sugar does have downsides, such as being high in calories without the fiber or protein to satiate you. Further, sugar can cause insulin levels to surge, which is especially bad news for diabetics. For these reasons, the idea to consider some sugar substitutes does help.
Honey is a fantastic natural substitute for sugar as it provides quicker browning and more moisture as a source of vitamins and minerals. But once you try honey during baking, first find the ratio of honey to sugar that you are comfortable with.
Maple syrup is similar to honey in that it contains trace amounts of vitamins and minerals, which are beneficial for the body’s immune system and heart health. By replacing sugar with maple syrup in your cooking, the sweetness is still present. So, it is an ideal substitute for sugar for healthy cookies, healthy muffins, and healthy desserts.
Coconut sugar comes from coconut tree sap and has a lower glycemic index (GI) than normal sugar. What does it mean? Foods with low GI values are slower in digestion and metabolism, thereby reducing fluctuations in blood glucose and insulin levels and reducing the risk of diseases such as type 2 diabetes. So have a try next time!
Monk fruit comes from a small subtropical melon with the same sweetness as ordinary sugar. But what may surprise you is that monk fruit has no calories, carbs, or fats. So why not choose this perfect ingredient while baking?
In recent years, it has become a trend to replace refined sugar with healthy fruit. Dates are highly nutritious dry fruits with essential nutrients and minerals like magnesium, iron, calcium, and potassium. And it is best used in recipes for denser baked goods.
Flavor and aroma are playing an important role in baking foods. And vanilla is an essential sweet flavor and scent when added into baking. It can actually substitute sugar in most recipes to add sweetness, warmth, and complexity of flavor of baked foods like a simple custard.
Molasses is a dark brown liquid made from the boiled juice of sugar cane and sugar beets. It is not sweet as sugar but can play the same role in baking. Molasses gives baked beans their sick texture and is commonly seen in gingerbread for its brown color.
Agave nectar (or agave syrup) is a natural sweetener obtained from several different species of agave plants. The main composition of agave nectar is fructose, glucose, and carbohydrates and it creates a more neutral taste and may alter the taste of goods when baked. Pay attention! It is very sticky, remember to use parchment paper!
Stevia leaf extract
Stevia is often treated as a safe and healthy sugar substitute. It can make food sweet without having a negative impact on health problems related to refined sugar. And it is good news for those who want to lose weight that stevia leaf extract has zero calories. So, why not enjoy the sweetness without worrying about getting fat by substituting sugar with stevia leaf extract?
Erythritol is a sugar alcohol with 6% of the calories and 70% of the sweetness of sugar. In baked foods, it behaves similarly to sugar and is easy to find in most recipes. And it also has a cooling effect and can mask fatty mouthfeel in bakery filling. One thing you must pay attention to is that consuming erythritol in excess may cause bloating.
Eggs are rich in protein, fat, and vitamins, which can be easily absorbed by the human body. The baked products with eggs have a strong egg flavor, which can also well increase the organizational structure, nutrition, and taste of the food. Eggs contain a lot of cholesterol. But eating too much will cause the blood cholesterol content to be too high. Besides, eggs used in baking have a strong fishy smell, which may affect the flavor of food. So here are some alternatives you can take.
Flaxseed is a rich source of Omega 3, which can reduce the risks of some heart diseases and inflammation as well. So, adding flax seeds instead of eggs for baking is a wise choice. You can buy flax seeds at the store or grind them yourself in a food processor or blender.
China seeds, also rich in Omega 3 and fiber, help boost energy, stabilize blood sugar and even prevent diabetes. Besides, chia seeds have little to no taste, so you needn’t worry about the flavor of baked foods if adding chia seeds into the ingredient.
When you are cooking dense baked goods, silken tofu is a nice alternative for eggs as it can hold everything together nicely. Try to use 1/4 cup pureed tofu to replace each egg next time when you are ready to do baking.
Soy milk has the highest protein content of all alternative milk, so it is the best dairy-free choice to substitute eggs as well for baking projects such as cake and bread. High protein content also makes baked goods made of soybean milk brown and look baked with milk. Some soy milk may be added with vanilla which may be beneficial, depending on what you bake.
The magic of chocolate is beyond imagination. The chocolate flavor is an increasingly basic and important taste in the baking industry and certainly, it is an essential part of baked foods like chocolate cake, brownies, chocolate mousse, and so on. But its high calorie and fat content may deter you. Certainly, there is still a kind of substitute for chocolate when baking. That’s the cocoa nib.
Cocoa nibs are small pieces of cocoa beans that have a bitter and chocolatey flavor. But the difference between cocoa nibs and chocolate is that the former is loaded with nutrients and powerful plant compounds. So, it’s a healthier alternative for chocolate lovers. Besides, dark chocolate which is rich in antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals is also another excellent substitute. The darker, the better!
Use meringue, marshmallow fluff or gannache to substitue for Frost
Here is the good news for you! You can still enjoy that pile of flavor with half the calories! A simple tactic you can employ is to substitute the frost with meringue, marshmallow fluff, or ganache. Of course, the ganache on the cupcake looks different from the frost, but many people actually prefer the taste of ganache.
Use graham cracker crust to substitute for pastry crust substitutes
Next time when you want to make a pie or tart, try to use graham cracker crust instead of the pastry crust. Graham cracker crust with lower calories and fat is buttery, crunchy, and a cinch to make. And you will find the flavor is not changed largely when turning to use the graham cracker crust, which can help you eliminate the sad feeling of eating so much butter with each bite.
Use powdered peanut butter to substitute for peanut butter
Powdered peanut butter like PB2 is made by removing oil and water from peanuts, so it has 85% fewer fat calories than traditional peanut butter. As a reference, one tablespoon of regular peanut butter equals 94 calories and 8 grams of fat, while the same amount of PB2 has only 22.5 calories and 0.75 grams of fat. Fans of this powdery substance use it in their smoothies because the powder has a very healthy impulse and is smoother than sometimes rough real peanut butter.
Use baking powder to substitute for baking soda
It is easy to confuse baking soda and baking powder. Actually, baking powder contains baking soda but also includes other additional compounds. So, people often use baking powder instead of baking soda for it’s also a great deodorizer. But it is worth noting that you need to use 4 teaspoons of baking powder for every teaspoon of baking soda.
Use milk and lemon juice to substitute for buttermilk
Do you want to have healthier eating habits? Do you want to make your own buttermilk pancakes instead of going out to buy the boxed pancake mix? There are two simple ingredients you can use at home: milk and lemon juice. Mix these two things together and sit for 10 minutes, then you can use it as the regular buttermilk.
Apart from Looking for Healthy Substitutes, Why Not Add Nutrients to Baking?
Berries are a great source of fiber and antioxidants which can help protect your cells, support healthy skin, and reduce disease risks. There is also a study showing that blueberries, blackberries, and raspberries have the highest antioxidant activity of commonly consumed fruits. And any berries in this group can make for excellent baking foods like pie and cupcakes. What’s more, these berries can also be used to decorate desserts and provide you with a perfect and attractive baked product.