Growing up, sweets and treats were the norm in our house. There was always a bowl of candy sitting on our coffee table or brownies fresh out of the oven when my sisters and I came home from school. Like any kid, I almost never passed up the opportunity to enjoy sugary and chocolately goodness—as you can see in this photo!
Now though, I can’t really stomach more than a small slice of cake or a handful of chocolate at one time. Maybe it’s because I have a vivid memory of throwing up M&Ms on my white rug after eating wayyy too many when I was ten. Since eating too many cupcakes, cookies, and candies most often ended in feeling sick-to-my-stomach, I eventually learned that the sugar rush was not worth it.
Don’t get me wrong, I still have a major sweet tooth. But, I’ve learned how to savor my favorite sweets without feeling overly stuffed. I’ve also learned how to bake my favorite sweets using a few healthy substitutions, without sacrificing the flavor.
Key words: without sacrificing flavor. Pinterest will give you 100+ way to “healthify” desserts and other sweets. But, what’s the point if they end up tasting like cardboard? Trust me, I’ve tried many baking substitutions to know that some are just not worth the trade-off. That’s why I put together this list of Katelyn-approved baking substitutions. They leave sweets tasting delicious while also being a little more nutritious.
Instead of White Flour…
1. Try White Whole Wheat Flour
1 cup All-Purpose White Flour → 1 cup White Whole Wheat Flour
- Nutrition Trade-off: Higher in fiber = more filling and helps with digestion (a.k.a. bowel-friendly).
- Works Best With: Cookies, breads, muffins, brownies, and pancakes.
- Tip: Both whole wheat flour and white whole wheat flour are good choices nutritionally, but the white whole wheat flour will give a lighter and less dense texture in baking. Try whole wheat pastry flour for cakes, pie crusts, and pastries.
- Recipe Idea: Whole Wheat Apple Pancakes
2. Try Oat Flour
1 cup All-Purpose White Flour → 1 cup Oat Flour
- Nutrition Trade-off: Higher in fiber, protein and B vitamins.
- Works Best With: Cookies, breads, muffins, and pancakes.
- Tip: You don’t have to buy oat flour—just use a blender or food processor to grind up rolled oats or old-fashioned oats until you get a flour consistency.
- Bonus: It’s gluten free! Just be sure oats are certified gluten-free.
- Recipe Idea: Chocolate Chip Cookies
Instead of Butter or Shortening…
3. Try Mashed Avocado
1/2 cup Butter → 1/2 cup Mashed Avocado
- Nutrition Trade-off: Lower in saturated fat, and higher unsaturated fats, fiber, and fat-soluble vitamins = healthy for heart and immune system.
- Works Best With: Chocolate raw desserts like pudding, mousse, and frosting or brownies, chocolate cookies and cakes.
- Tip: Only substitute avocados when you’re using dark colored ingredients in a recipe so the green tint of avocados doesn’t leave your sweets looking unappetizing…
- Bonus: It’s lactose free, making it a good substitution for those with a severe lactose intolerance.
- Recipe Idea: Chocolate Avocado Mousse
4. Try Peanut or Almond Butter
½ cup Butter → ½ cup Peanut or Almond Butter
- Nutrition Trade-off: Lower in saturated fat and higher in unsaturated fat, fiber, and protein = heart-healthy, filling, and satisfying.
- Works Best With: Breads, muffins, cookies and any nutty baked goods
- Tip: Only substitute for baked goods with dense textures. Seed butters like sunflower seed butter can also be substituted for those with nut allergies.
- Recipe Idea: Banana Oat Bars
Instead of Vegetable Oil…
5. Try Canola or Olive Oil
1/2 cup Vegetable oil → 1/2 cup Canola or Olive Oil
- Nutrition Trade-off: Lower in saturated and trans fats and higher in unsaturated fat = heart-healthy.
- Works Best With: Breads, muffins, cookies, and cakes.
- Tip: Canola oil is less expensive and has a more neutral flavor than olive oil, making it a more versatile for baking. But, olive oil works well for nutty and savory foods like pumpkin and banana bread.
- Bonus: These oils can also be used in place of butter or shortening… even in boxed mixes! 1 cup butter → 3/4 cup canola or olive oil
- Recipe Idea: Pumpkin Bread with Chocolate Chunks
6. Try Greek Yogurt
½ cup Vegetable Oil → ½ cup Non-fat or Low-fat Plain Greek Yogurt
- Nutrition Trade-off: Lower in calories, saturated and trans fat, and higher in protein, Vitamin D, Calcium, and probiotics = healthy for heart, bones, and digestive system.
- Works Best With: Muffins, cakes, cookies, brownies, and frostings.
- Tip: Choose full-fat greek yogurt if you’re looking for a creamier flavor. Greek yogurt can also be used to substitute butter or shortening using a 1-to-1 ratio.
- Recipe Idea: Carrot Cake with Yogurt Cream Cheese Frosting
Instead of Sugar…
7. Try Puréed Fruit
1 cup White Granulated Sugar → 1 cup Mashed (ripe) Banana, Pumpkin Purée, or Unsweetened Applesauce
- Nutrition Trade-off: Replaces refined sugar with natural sugars, fiber, vitamins, and minerals.
- Works Best With: Snack bars and breads (bananas), brownies and chocolate cakes (pumpkin), and muffins and cookies (applesauce).
- Tip: You don’t need to replace all the sugar. Try substituting half the sugar in the recipe for puréed fruit. Then, try ¼ sugar with ¾ puréed. For every cup of puréed fruit, reduce the liquid in the recipe by ¼ cup.
- Recipe Idea: Cinnamon Applesauce Muffins
8. Try Vanilla Extract
1/3 cup White Granulated Sugar → 1 tbsp Vanilla Extract
- Nutrition Trade-off: Less sugar = no blood sugar spikes (a.k.a no sugar crash)
- Works Best With: Muffins, cookies, cakes, brownies, and pies.
- Tip: Cinnamon and unsweetened cocoa powder are other ingredients that amplify sweetness, without adding the sugar. Replace 2 tbsp of sugar with ½ tsp cinnamon in oatmeal cookies or 2 tbsp sugar with 1 tsp cocoa powder in brownies.
- Recipe Idea: Chocolate Gingerbread Muffins
Instead of Eggs…
9. Try Flax Seeds
1 Egg → 1 tbsp Ground Flax Seed + 3 tbsp water
- Nutrition Trade-off: Eggs are a great source of protein and choline. However, flax seeds can be a good alternative for vegans and those with egg allergies… and times when you’re out of eggs! Flax seeds are high fiber, protein, and heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids.
- Works best with: Muffins, breads, and any baked goods with a grainy flavor.
- Tip: Mix ground flax seed with water in a small bowl and let it sit for 5 to 10 minutes to give it time to thicken and expand.
- Recipe Idea: Blueberry Almond Oatmeal Bites
10. Try Chia Seeds
1 Egg → 1 tbsp Chia Seeds + 3 tbsp water
- Nutrition Trade-off: Like flax seeds, chia seeds are rich in fiber and omega-3 fatty acids
- Works Best With: Muffins, breads, and cookies.
- Tip: Prepare chia seeds the same way you would prepare the flax seed mixture. Don’t be freaked out by the jelly texture—that’s what makes it a great binding agent. The weird texture disappears after baking.
- Recipe Idea: Chia Oatmeal Breakfast Cookies
Note: I am not saying that every dessert, cookie, or cake that you eat needs to be made with whole wheat flour and free of butter or shortening. But, if sweets take up a large part of your diet or if you have a diet-related health problem (i.e. high cholesterol, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, hyperlipidemia), making one or two of these baking substitutions can help you enjoy your favorite treats without your doctor giving you a nutrition lecture… Enjoy!