By: Natalie Chormann
Picture this: snow is falling, the fireplace crackling and the smell of cookies wafts from the kitchen. It’s a cozy, wintery dream come true. With the cold weather looking like it’s here to stay and holidays fast approaching, the time for cooking and delicious baked treats is certainly upon us.
The good news is that all those cookies and tasty baked goods don’t have to be laden with sugar, butter, and other ingredients that are less than kind to your waistline. Baking foods that are delicious and won’t cause you to tip the scale is easier than you think – just look for simple swaps for traditionally high-calorie ingredients. If you’re just getting started, I’ve got you covered below:
SWAP THAT SUGAR
When we decide that we’re going to “start eating healthy,” one of the first things that most of us think to cut out are the sugary foods and snacks. This is for good reason – sugar is particularly high in calories and low in protein and fiber, which makes it easy to overload on calories before you start to feel full. Table sugar offers very little nutritional value to our bodies because it has been stripped of natural nutrients during the refining process. Additionally, it’s been linked to many chronic diseases like diabetes and heart disease.
To up your health without sacrificing the sweets, try these sugar swaps:
Maple Syrup/Maple Sugar
Maple syrup and maple sugar are packed with vitamins and antioxidants, providing you plenty of health benefits that refined sugar doesn’t. It is even less likely to spike your blood sugar, so swapping this out in your recipe is a choice you (and your pants) can feel good about.
How to do it: Use 3/4 cup for every cup of sugar, limit other liquids by 2-3 tbsp/cup of syrup
Date sugar is made from ground dates and is not processed or refined like regular sugar. Because it comes from a fruit, date sugar is abundant in vitamins and minerals including calcium, iron, zinc, and magnesium (also unlike regular sugar). It also aids in weight loss because it is lower in calories and high in protein, fiber, and carbs, which helps you to stay fuller longer on less food.
Try swapping out the regular sugar for date sugar to sneak in your vitamins and filling up on fewer calories. Date sugar is best used in baking recipes because it doesn’t dissolve well in hot liquids like coffee and tea.
How to do it: Replace 1 cup of refined sugar with 2/3 cup – 1 cup date sugar
Honey packs a sweet punch but also contains small amounts of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that common sugars lack. Honey also contains fiber, which aids in digestion and helps you feel fuller on fewer calories. Honey has a few more calories than regular sugar, but since it is sweeter than sugar, you need to use less of it in baking recipes. As a result, you will consume fewer total calories for the same effect.
Due to honey’s hygroscopic nature (in layman’s terms – when it is exposed to air, it naturally attracts moisture), adding it to cakes and muffins creates a moist and chewy texture that you can sink your teeth into.
How to do it: Use 1/2 – 3/4 cup for every cup of sugar, limit liquids by 1/4 cup to one cup of honey
Unsweetened applesauce boasts only about 100 calories per cup, while a cup of sugar has almost too many calories to count, so making this switch cuts both the sugar and calories content greatly.
Applesauce also adds some fiber to your dish and can even be also be used to cut down on the fat in recipes. It’s a winner all around.
Try cutting the sugar in half and using applesauce for the other half if you’re just getting started and prefer to ease your way in.
How to do it: 1 cup to 1 cup ratio, limit other liquids by ¼ cup
BYE-BYE BUTTER & VEGETABLE OIL
Butter in small amounts isn’t bad for you but because it contains a great deal of saturated fats, using it on bread and cooking and frying with it leads to increased risk of heart disease. These healthy substitutions will help you to keep a healthy heart without compromising on taste.
That’s right – applesauce is back at it again. In baking, has a similar consistency to butter or oil but contains far less fat. Try using it to replace the butter in a recipe to significantly reduce the amount of unhealthy saturated fats in your treat.
This swap works especially well in breads, cakes, and pancakes. The mostly-liquid texture of applesauce is perfect for making your baked goods moist and fluffy without changing the taste. I repeat – you won’t taste the applesauce in your recipe!
How to do it: 1 cup to 1 cup ratio, limit other liquids by ¼ cup
Plain Greek Yogurt:
Calorie-for-calorie, plain Greek yogurt is a great natural and healthy source of protein and is much lower in fat than both oil and butter. And because Greek yogurt also contains probiotics and a ton of calcium, swapping your traditional oils and butters for plain Greek yogurt kicks up the health-o-meter quite a bit. The thickness of yogurt gives cakes a denser, heartier feel that makes your baked goods taste more homemade.
Greek yogurt not only works well as a swap in recipes that call for shortening or oil, but it is also a perfect substitute for sour cream and even mayonnaise! That’s right – try plain (not vanilla – PLAIN) Greek yogurt instead of mayonnaise with a little bit of honey mustard when making tuna or chicken salad for a delicious protein-packed, low calorie meal!
How to do it: If you are replacing all of the oil in your recipe, use a 1 cup to 1 cup ratio and thin out the yogurt with a little bit of water. If you are replacing half of the oil in the recipe, replace ½ the oil with ¾ the amount of yogurt. (Instead of 1 cup of oil, use ½ cup of oil and ¼ cup plus 2 tbsp yogurt).
The health benefits of coconut oil are numerous (Seriously – Google “benefits of coconut oil.” I dare you). Unlike other oils, coconut oils contain healthy saturated fats called medium-chain fatty acids such as lauric acid and capric acid that are easier to digest and are not readily stored as fat. Coconut oil is also anti-viral and anti-bacterial, giving your immune system a boost and preventing you from getting sick as often.
Refined coconut oil doesn’t have any coconut taste, but unrefined, virgin coconut oil is a little better for you because it has not been processed or deodorized and thus still contains all of the coconut’s natural protein, vitamins, and antioxidants. Any recipe that calls for vegetable oil or shortening can be use coconut oil without a change in the taste or texture of the original recipe.
How to do it: 1 cup to 1 cup ratio
ELIMINATE THE (WHOLE) EGGS:
Whole eggs are considered a nearly perfect food because packed with protein and almost every single vitamin and mineral that our body needs to survive. They are also packed with omega-3 fatty acids that aid in proper brain and cognitive function and help to prevent chronic diseases like arthritis and cancer.
So why shy away from eggs? Well, the short answer is that you shouldn’t (unless you have an egg allergy or are vegan, of course)! However, because egg whites contain 99% of the fat found in the egg and most of the calories, you should limit the number of whole eggs that you eat if you are counting calories or reducing your fat intake. Try these swaps for cutting down:
The whites of the egg are a fantastic source of protein and contain no fat or cholesterol. In baking, replacing your whole eggs with egg whites will allow you to pack more protein into your dish without changing the taste or texture. In addition, you will significantly reduce the calories and fats in your treats.
How to do it: 3 Tbsp. liquid egg whites for 1 egg or two egg whites/egg
Chia seeds have recently risen in popularity because they are packed with protein and fiber, and help you feel fuller on fewer calories. Calorie-for-calorie, they are one of the most nutritious foods available, containing important micros like calcium, zinc, B vitamins, manganese, and phosphorous.
These little seeds offer numerous undeniable benefits but – who would have thought they could be used to replace eggs? This is a great alternative for people with egg allergies or vegan diets and works particularly well in muffins, cakes, and other baked pastries.
How to do it: 1 tbsp. chia seeds plus 1 cup water for 1 egg. Mix and let sit for 10 – 15 min until it turns into a sticky, egg-like texture. Then, just mix it in your recipe like you would an egg.
Baking is literally a science, so try experimenting with these swaps and others to see what you come up with. No matter what your goal is – whether it’s weight loss, converting to Veganism, or managing your heart disease, you can find swaps that will allow you to reach that goal without having to compromise on taste or completely eliminate certain recipes from your diet.
Some last-minute tips:
- Don’t try to go too crazy and substitute everything in the same recipe. Try making one or two swaps at a time and see how it comes out
- Be willing to play around with ingredient amounts as you tinker with substitutions, especially when substituting wet ingredients with dry ingredients or vice versa.
- Remember that every recipe is different, so even though you got the Greek yogurt substitution to work perfectly in that cake recipe as-is, you might need to add a little water to get the consistency that you want when using it to make brownies.