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Healthier Baking: Seven Easy Substitutions for More Nutritious Baked Goods

August 18, 2021

By Erin Hancock, MPH/RD student at UNC-Chapel Hill, Dietetic Intern at the Duke Lifestyle & Weight Management Center, and Christine Tenekjian, MPH, RDN, LDN.

Baking can be a fun, delicious, and stress-relieving hobby to take up while many of us are spending more time at home. The only downside to frequent baking during social distancing, it is much harder to share all your baked goods with family and friends!

Now that all your baked goods are sticking around the kitchen, you might want to make your favorite recipes more nutritious. Whether you want to add more fiber or reduce calories, fat, carbs, or sugar (or simply find yourself missing a key ingredient!), the following list of substitutions will be your helpful guide.

Keep in mind:

  • Certain ingredients are required for making baked goods rise, stay moist, develop a crust, and have a pleasant texture.
  • For these reasons, it is not possible to substitute every ingredient.
  • Some substitutions are likely to alter the end product in some way.
  • Try one substitution at a time per recipe, and perhaps only substitute half of the original ingredient initially, to see what works for your particular taste and texture preferences.

Whole Wheat Flour in Place of White Flour

Replace half of the white flour in a recipe with 100% whole wheat flour. White flour is overly refined and stripped of all its nutrients, creating an empty-calorie carbohydrate. A 50/50 mixture of white and whole wheat flour is unlikely to change the color or flavor of your end product but will add important fiber and nutrients than white flour alone lacks. If you enjoy the 50% whole wheat product, try replacing 75% of the white flour next time! Experimentation will help you find the ratio you and your family enjoy best. This method can also be used in pancake and waffle recipes.)

Almond Flour in Place of White Flour

Replace the white flour in a recipe 1:1 with almond flour, but don’t forget to add ½ teaspoon of baking powder. (Example: if the recipe calls for 1 cup white flour, substitute it with 1 cup almond flour plus ½ teaspoon baking powder, in addition to any baking powder already in the recipe.) Almond flour is gluten-free and contains fewer carbs and more protein than white flour. It also has more fat than white four, which can be a healthy source of fat to add to your diet if needed ( it also means almond flour has a bit more calories). If you want another project to take on in the kitchen, you can even make your almond flour at home. Products made with almond flour might be flatter and denser but just as tasty.

Unsweetened Applesauce in Place of Sugar

Replace the sugar in a recipe 1:1 with unsweetened applesauce. Because applesauce is quite wet, you will also need to reduce the other liquids in the recipe by adding about ¼ cup per cup of applesauce. (Example: if the recipe calls for 1 cup sugar and 1 cup milk, replace with 1 cup unsweetened applesauce and ¾ cup milk.) This substitution could change the flavor of your final product slightly, but applesauce contains more fiber and vitamin C and about seven times fewer calories than regular white sugar.

Mashed Bananas in Place of Butter or Oil

Replace the fat in a recipe 1:1 with mashed bananas. Three medium bananas will make about 1 cup of mashed banana. Mashed bananas have a thickening effect that helps other ingredients bind together without all the added fat and calories of butter or oils. Bananas are also naturally sweet, so you might also reduce the sugar in the recipe. For example, if you substitute mashed bananas for butter and the recipe also calls for one cup of sugar, you might try only adding ¾ cup sugar. Mashed bananas work especially well in a cookie, brownie, pancake, muffin, and quick bread recipes.

Canned Pumpkin in Place of Oil or Butter

Replace the oil in a recipe 1:1 with 100% pumpkin puree, or replace the butter with ¾ the amount of pumpkin. (Example: if the recipe calls for 1 cup of butter, substitute with ¾ cup 100% pumpkin puree). Adding pumpkin will alter the flavor of your baked good, but it will also substantially lower the calorie and fat content. Though this substitution might be particularly appealing during the fall season, canned pumpkins can be found in grocery stores year-round.

Plain Greek Yogurt in Place of Sour Cream or Heavy Cream

Replace the sour cream or heavy cream in a recipe 1:1 with plain Greek yogurt. This substitution will keep your baked goods moist and soft while lowering fat and increasing protein. Plain Greek yogurt is a very versatile ingredient and can also take the place of sour cream or mayonnaise in many of your favorite recipes.

Skim Milk in Place of Whole Milk

Lastly, simply replace whole milk in a recipe with skim. Skim milk contains the same amount of protein as whole milk but three to four times less fat and fewer calories. Milk alternatives can also be used in place of whole milk to cut fat and calories in a recipe; however, most milk alternatives lack the protein found in cow’s milk, which can affect both the texture and nutrition of your final product. If you notice a substantial change in the flavor of your final product, try substituting with 1% or 2% milk to cut at least some fat and calories.

Whichever substitutions you decide to try, we hope you enjoy this time and find some relief in your baking. Now, what are you waiting for? Ready, set, BAKE!



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