Baking is an exact science. Ingredients like flour, fat and sugar play an important role in ensuring that you end up with a tasty final product. Those same ingredients are the reason many baked goods are considered treats, to be enjoyed in moderation. The good news is that you can make a handful of simple substitutions to lighten up any baked product without making major sacrifices in the taste or texture. Next time you get baking, try out a few of these easy and healthy baking substitutions.
Baking Substitutions for Flour
All-purpose white flour provides the structure for almost every baked good. When white flour is refined, much of the fiber and nutrients are removed. This is a big reason why it’s considered not-so-healthy in the nutrition world. Using a whole-grain flour will add the fiber and nutrients back in. Examples of whole-grain flour include rye, amaranth, brown rice, spelt and whole-wheat flour. Of these, whole-wheat flour is the easiest to find.
You can ease into replacing white flour with whole-wheat flour: substitute ½ cup whole wheat flour and ½ cup white all-purpose flour for 1 cup white all-purpose flour. The difference in taste is subtle and for some not even noticeable, and you’ll get some health benefits from the extra fiber.
If you want to try using all whole-wheat flour instead of white, reduce the total amount of flour slightly. Whole-wheat flour is denser than its white counterpart, so reducing the amount will ensure you end up with a light and airy product. A good rule of thumb is to use 7/8 cup whole-wheat flour in place of 1 cup white flour.
Baking Substitutions for Fat
Fats help moisten baked treats. Solid fats like butter and shortening are a favorite in baking because they hold up well in the oven. Since solid fats generally contain unhealthy saturated fats, it’s good to use less. Using less will also help you save on empty calories.
Here are a few tried-and-true fat swaps:
- 1/2 cup applesauce and 1/2 cup vegetable oil in place of 1 cup butter, shortening or oil.
- 1/2 cup mashed banana and 1/2 cup vegetable oil instead of 1 cup butter, shortening or oil.
- 1 cup mashed ripe avocado instead of 1 cup butter, shortening or oil. Note: this swap works best for chocolate-based recipes like brownies.
- In frostings, substitute nonfat Greek yogurt for 50 percent of the butter or cream cheese.
Baking Substitutions for Eggs
Eggs have received a bad rap in the nutrition world. The newest research shows that eating eggs in moderation won’t raise your cholesterol levels as previously believed. In fact, eggs are a great source of many nutrients, and you can enjoy them in a healthy diet.
Although eggs are perfectly fine to use in baked products, substituting flax or chia seeds will add a dose of fiber and heart-healthy omega-3 fats to your baked product. This swap is also great if you’re looking to make a vegan-friendly baked good.
To replace 1 egg, use 1 tablespoon ground flax seeds or 1 tablespoon chia seeds plus 3 tablespoons warm water. Mix flax/chia seeds and water in a separate bowl and let sit for a couple of minutes before mixing with the rest of your ingredients.
Baking Substitutions for Sugar
Contrary to popular belief, sweeteners like brown sugar, agave nectar or maple syrup are not nutritionally superior to white sugar. They’re all still added sugars.
To lighten up your baked product, aim to reduce the total amount of added sugars. The good news is that the previously mentioned swaps for fat, like applesauce and bananas, double as substitutes for sugar as well. After swapping out some of the fat in your baked product for applesauce or banana, you can try reducing the amount of sugar by 1/4 cup.
Try our lightened up recipe for a crowd-pleasing holiday treat, Pumpkin Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting.
This blog was originally published on December 2, 2014. It was last updated on December 6, 2017.