We’re slowly but surely approaching the holidays, that time of the year that we usually spend with our loved ones - chatting, playing games, and eating a lot! But that last thing might be stressful for a lot of reasons… You might be on a weight loss journey, following a specific diet, or are cooking for someone (either yourself or someone else) with food allergies or intolerances. Or maybe you just want to keep it healthy for the sake of taking care of your body during the holidays! This can sound tricky, but it’s not impossible at all.
When it comes to baking, over the years and after a lot of trial and error, bakers and cooking enthusiasts have perfected the art of substituting ingredients for healthier, cheaper, or just different alternatives so that recipes can be suitable for anyone who wants to try them. We’ve compiled a list of some of the healthiest baking substitutes that you can use next time you’re baking your favorite cookies or an array of different pies for an upcoming holiday party, so go find a pen and paper and start taking notes!
Honey instead of white sugar
If we’re talking about essential baking ingredients, sugar is probably one of the first to come to mind! When making a cake, you usually use a few cups of sugar to sweeten it and give it that delicious flavor, but table sugar is nothing but simple carbs that will probably spike your blood sugar as soon as you take a bite. There’s nothing wrong with eating regular sugar once in a while, but if you’re planning to keep your holiday desserts healthy, we suggest using some honey as a healthy sugar alternative! Natural sources of sugar, such as honey, are less likely to impact your blood sugar levels as table sugar does, and they’re also digested and metabolized more easily by your body. Honey also contains nutrients and antioxidants that are not present in table sugar with the added benefit that it’s sweeter, so the amount of honey that you’ll be using is lower than the amount of sugar that your recipes usually need, around 2/3 cup of honey per cup of sugar. Natural maple syrup is also a great sweetener option for baking something sweet and delicious without the empty carbs! But keep in mind that these are liquids, so you have to reduce the number of other liquids in your recipe so that you can keep good consistency in your mix.
Recipe idea: Honey goes exceptionally well with cookies! You can pick your favorite cookie recipe and give it a tasty twist by adding some honey instead of sugar, cinnamon, and a little bit of ginger for a delicious dessert.
Pureed fruit instead of sugar
Another healthy twist to your sweetening methods is using fruit! Mashed or pureed fruits can give your foods a delicious hint of flavor and tons of sweetness, such as prunes and figs, which are filled with fiber and can help reduce the fat content of your baked goods. These fruits are great for chocolate cakes and brownies since they’re darker in color, but if you want to keep it lighter for some cupcakes or your favorite cookies, try using bananas or apples! Unsweetened applesauce is very low in calories and contains enough fiber, vitamin C, and natural sugars to make it a delicious and healthy option to table sugar. To put it in perspective, one cup of unsweetened applesauce contains about 100 calories, as opposed to a regular cup of sugar which can contain up to 800 calories. If you prefer the banana flavor, mashed bananas offer great consistency to your mix and are sweet and rich in fiber, potassium, and vitamin B6!
Recipe idea: The best recipes to use unsweetened applesauce with are, of course, apple pies or any other fruit pie because the flavor pairs really well. Replace each cup of sugar with a cup of unsweetened applesauce and enjoy a tasty and healthy pie!
Powdered peanut butter instead of regular peanut butter
While this is not usually a staple when baking, many people like to add some peanut butter to their recipes to enrich their flavor, or even after it’s done as a topping or filling. Nut butter is a great fat option for a healthy diet, but since baking usually involves other fat-rich ingredients, it’s best to limit how much fat you’re going to be using, and powdered peanut butter is just perfect for that! As the name suggests, it’s peanut butter in the form of powder, because all the water and oils were extracted in the process of making it. This makes powdered peanut butter have 85% less fat than your regular creamy peanut butter! You can mix it in with the rest of your ingredients for that rich nutty flavor without having to worry about all those extra calories.
Recipe idea: There’s nothing better than eating nut-flavored muffins, so try adding some powdered peanut butter to your mix, or mix the powder with a little bit of water to create a creamy nut butter that you can put on top of your favorite baked goods!
Healthy oils instead of butter
More often than not, our recipes need butter to either mix it in, put it in the pan, or both, adding an unnecessary amount of saturated fat to our pastries and desserts. And yes, that buttery flavor can be hard to replace, but if you’re more worried about the nutritional contents of the final product and don’t mind leaving that flavor out while still keeping your mix consistent and moist, then choose healthy oils in place of butter! Many people use canola oil and other vegetable oils for their recipes, but these processed oils are filled with inflammatory fats and barely any health benefits. Instead, go for healthier options like olive oil or coconut oil, which are much less refined, keeping their rich flavor and nutrients in the process!
But healthy oils are not the only option. Did you know that you could use pumpkin puree as an alternative and still make something delicious? Canned or pureed pumpkin works perfectly and you can substitute oil with it in a 1:1 ratio, so any number of cups of oil that your recipe needs you can just replace with cups of pureed pumpkin. With butter it’s a little different, so try using 3/4 cup of pureed pumpkin for every cup of butter. It provides a lot of moisture, tons of vitamins and minerals, and almost none of the fat! Another great substitute for butter is avocado, which is a healthy fat that has a creamy and moist texture that will make for a satisfying final product, especially if it’s a recipe with chocolate.
Recipe idea: If you want to make sure that the flavor and color of the pureed pumpkin stay hidden, try using it for a carrot cake! The flavor of the carrot masks really well that of the pumpkin, and even if you can taste the pumpkin a little bit, it still goes really well with the carrot taste.
Chia seeds instead of eggs
While eggs are actually healthy and offer a ton of benefits, you might be on a diet that doesn’t include them, such as a vegan diet. For these particular instances, or if you just want to change things up a little and try new healthy things, chia seeds are a great egg substitute for your recipes! This nutrient powerhouse contains all nine essential amino acids, making it a complete protein, and it’s also rich in omega-3 fatty acids and fiber. Ground flax seeds can also be used as a vegan egg alternative, containing omega-3 fatty acids and fiber just like chia seeds, as well as antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. These are perfect choices for plant-based diets, and they can also promote better digestion. Add 1 tbsp of seeds to 3 tbsp of warm water and let it sit for a few minutes so it can get soft and ready to be added to your mix!
Recipe idea: It’s all about the flavor and what you want to bake at the moment. Flax seeds have a more nutty and earthy flavor, so they’re great for recipes such as nutmeg cake or nutty banana bread. Chia seeds, on the other hand, are more neutral in flavor, so you can use them for recipes where you want to keep the original flavor intact, such as a coffee cake.
100% whole wheat flour instead of white flour
White flour is a basic ingredient in the majority, if not all, of your favorite baked goods, but it isn’t the healthiest option! It lacks many important nutrients because of the way it’s processed, and it’s filled with refined carbohydrates that your body definitely doesn’t need. A better and healthier substitute for this is 100% whole wheat flour, which is packed with fiber, vitamins, and minerals, and works just as well as regular white flour. Just make sure to play with the quantities since whole wheat flour is denser than white flour, so you might need to use a little bit less of it to keep a good texture.
Another great flour option for your baking is nut flours! They’re also denser than white flour, so you need to be careful with your measures and use a little extra of your leavening agent of choice, but they’re gluten-free, packed with protein, and are lower in carbs than white flour. Nut flours such as almond flour and cashew flour are great alternatives as they offer a delicious nutty flavor to your cakes, cupcakes, and even bread! And you can use it alone or mix it with 100% whole wheat flour for an extra nutritious punch, or to keep the nutty flavor very mild.
Recipe idea: Whole wheat flour can be used in any recipe that needs white flour, so feel free to get creative! For a holiday recipe, you could use 100% whole wheat flour to bake a delicious set of gingerbread cookies in different shapes and sizes, using about 2/3 cups for each cup of white flour that the recipe calls for.
Unsweetened cocoa powder instead of regular chocolate
Chocolate is a delicious ingredient, and it’s something that you probably won’t want to take out of your recipe. We understand that, and the good news is: you don’t have to! Chocolate comes from cocoa, which is high in antioxidants and magnesium, and the higher the cocoa percentage in your chocolate is, the healthier your recipe will be. Unsweetened cocoa powder is the best option for baking since it’s pure cocoa without any added sugars, and you can mix it right in with the rest of the ingredients of your favorite recipe. You could also use cocoa nibs for your chocolate chip cookies so that you don’t miss out on those delicious treats, since regular chocolate chips often contain added sugars and dairy. And if you decide to use a chocolate bar, whether it’s melted or in chunks, make sure it’s dark chocolate with at least 80% cocoa in it!
Recipe idea: If you’re looking forward to baking some delicious brownies, try making the mix from scratch with unsweetened cocoa powder instead of just buying the pre-made mix from the store. You could even add cocoa nibs on top before baking it for added texture and flavor!
Oats instead of flour
We’ve talked about how great flour alternatives are, but did you know that oats can make for a good flour substitute too? They’re delicious, rich in fiber, and are packed with essential nutrients and antioxidants, promoting weight loss and lower cholesterol. Rolled oats add more texture to your baked goods, making them perfect for cookies and muffins, but if you want a smoother mix, use quick oats instead for a perfect blend. You can also make your own oat flour by putting your oats in a food processor or even a coffee grinder to obtain a powdered oat mix that you can use to bake your favorite dessert for the upcoming holidays!
Recipe idea: Oats pair really well with fruit, so we suggest trying banana oat muffins! They’re delicious, and the oats offer an amazing texture to the muffins, in combination with the softness of the banana. You could also try this with blueberries, raspberries, or your fruit of choice.
Greek yogurt instead of sour cream
Many recipes require a good dose of sour creams, such as crumb cakes and coffee cakes, but the reality is that sour cream is filled with saturated fats that may not go well with a healthy diet. This is when Greek yogurt comes in! Both are fermented dairy products, but Greek yogurt offers many more benefits when it comes to cooking. It’s incredibly high in protein and low in fat, but it’s still creamy and tasty, so make sure to get plain Greek yogurt without any added sugars or flavoring to get the most out of this delicious substitute!
Another good dairy substitute idea is using evaporated skim milk instead of regular whole milk, or even heavy cream, which is filled with saturated fats, containing at least 36% milkfat that you probably don’t need in your diet! Evaporated skim milk is a great dairy replacement that you can use while still getting all the nutrients and the flavor, leaving those empty calories far away when you’re baking your favorite recipes. And if you want to stay away from dairy in general, you can try non-dairy milk alternatives! You can choose from a lot of different options, such as almond milk, soy milk, and oat milk to make your recipes healthier and vegan-friendly, which is perfect when you’re baking for other people too.
Recipe idea: You can use the same amount of Greek yogurt as you would with sour cream, so feel free to choose your favorite baking recipes that use sour cream and try this alternative! Vanilla cupcakes are a great idea since Greek yogurt will give it a tangier taste that goes perfectly with the vanilla flavor.
But healthy eating for the holidays doesn’t stop there! There are many more healthy substitutes that you can try, as well as other ways to stay on track while still enjoying great food, such as exercising regularly and following our healthy strategies for the holiday season. Don’t miss out on your favorite dishes and desserts, just get creative in the kitchen with these alternatives and enjoy your holidays in the best way possible - healthily and mindfully!