Simple substitutions for healthier baking

Pastries with fruitWhen you switch to nutritious eating, it may seem like a lot of foods are off limits. Wouldn’t it be great if you could transform them into health foods instead? By learning a few substitutions for baking, you can enjoy your favorite pastries without a side of guilt.

Swaps to make when baking

The main offenders in baked goods are the processed flour, sugar, and fat. Cut these out in favor of ingredients that are high in nutrients and low in calories and you can feel better about indulging.


  • Black beans: Drain, rinse, and puree to make a protein-rich substitute. One can of beans makes about one cup of puree, which you can use in place of one cup of flour.
  • Whole wheat flour: While white flour is stripped of its nutrients during processing, whole wheat flour provides beneficial grains and fiber. For each cup of white flour, use 7/8 of a cup of whole wheat flour.
  • Nut flours: Flour made from nuts like almonds provides protein and adds more depth to the flavor of the food. Even though it contains more fat and calories, the extra nutrients make it worthwhile. However, be forewarned- baking with them can be tricky. These flours are heavier and require extra leavening agent to make them rise. Read up on some helpful tips before you start.

Applesauce in a bowl Sugar

  • Unsweetened applesauce: Applesauce is naturally sweet without the extra calories of sugar. Swap for sugar in a 1:1 ratio, but reduce the recipe’s liquid by ¼ cup.
  • Vanilla: You can cut out half of the sugar and add a teaspoon of vanilla to reduce calories while saving flavor. If you’re working with smaller amounts of sugar, like a few tablespoons, then only add ½ teaspoon of vanilla as replacement.


  • Avocado: Ditch the butter in favor of a healthy fat by using avocado puree. As a general rule, one cup of butter can be swapped for one cup of puree, but it may take some tinkering to get the taste just right.
  • Banana: Mash up one cup of ripe bananas and use them in place of a cup of butter or oil to add nutrients like potassium and vitamin B6.
  • Chia seeds: They look small at first, but mix1 tablespoon of chia seeds with 9 tablespoons of water and let sit for 15 minutes. The seeds will create a gel that works as a swap for butter. Substitute at a 1:1 ratio, but only for half of the butter in the recipe.

Of course, these substitutions aren’t an excuse to over-indulge in cakes and cookies. If you feel uncomfortable about improvising with these new ingredients, try searching for ready-made recipes that use them. With the rise of gluten-free diets, recipes that use substitutions are becoming more common.

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