Nutrition Articles

Light Baking Done Right

14 Clever Ideas for Healthier Baked Goods

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If you're trying to lighten your caloric load or lose weight, are you destined to days of tasteless cookies, or—worse—a life without sweets and treats?

Of course not! There are plenty of ways you can substitute lower-calorie ingredients and still create delicious and healthy treats.

Cooking is an art, but baking is a science. It requires careful formulas, precise measurement and a keen eye. Omitting high-fat ingredients or arbitrarily swapping them can yield flat, dull and downright inedible results. In baked goods, most of the calories come from three ingredients: butter or oil, eggs and sugar. This tasty trio is also where much of the flavor derives, and more importantly, these ingredients keep your muffins moist and your cookies from crumbling. So how do you reduce (or get rid) of these essential ingredients and without chewing on baked goods that look and taste like cardboard? We'll save you the guesswork and the trouble by sharing the 14 secrets to light baking done right.

Baking Without Butter
In all recipes, fat adds moisture and richness. But per cup, butter adds 1,627 calories and 184g of fat, shortening packs 1,845 calories and 205g of fat, and even heart-healthy oil boasts 1,927 calories and 218g of fat. Divided among a batch of four dozen cookies, that's at least 34 calories and 4g fat per cookie attributed to the oil (or butter) alone. But who eats just one? Thankfully, you can cut some of the fat when you bake, but you should only swap half the fat a recipe calls for. (Cookies made with fruit purée will not get crispy and will have a cakelike texture; low-fat muffins tend to be dense.) Try one of these 4 substitutes:

Unsweetened applesauce has a neutral flavor that works well in almost every baked good. It adds moisture and fiber to recipes while cutting fat.
How much: Replace half the butter, oil or shortening called for with an equal amount of applesauce
Best used in: Any baked goods, especially cakes
Calorie swap: Save at least 1,550 calories and 184g fat per cup
Pumpkin purée is not just for pies. Keep unsweetened pumpkin purée on hand year round to cut fat and add flavor to most baked goods. As with all low-fat baked goods made with fruit, expect moist, spongy treats.
How much: Replace half the butter, oil or shortening called for with an equal amount of purée
Best used in: Spiced breads, cakes or muffins; quick breads, pancakes and brownies
Calorie swap: Save at least 1,500 calories and 184g fat per cup
Prune purée has a rich flavor that blends well with chocolate and spices.
How much: Replace half the butter, oil or shortening called for with an equal amount of purée (buy jarred prunes in the baby food aisle or make your own purée by mixing 6 Tbsp of hot water with 8 oz of prunes in a blender)
Best used in: Chocolate baked goods, brownies, gingerbread and spice cakes
Calorie swap: Save at least 1,365 calories and 184g fat per cup
Bananas add flavor, fiber and moisture, much like oil does. Use bananas in any recipe where their strong flavor won't overpower more delicate ingredients such as citrus or berries.
How much: 1/2 mashed or puréed banana for every cup of oil (if your banana isn't very ripe, try peeling it and microwaving it for a few seconds to soften it for easier mixing)
Best used in: Quick breads, coffee cakes and pancakes (bananas are dense, so they are not ideal in recipes for light and fluffy baked goods)
Calorie swap: Save at least 1,575 calories and 184g fat per cup
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About The Author

Stepfanie Romine Stepfanie Romine
A former newspaper reporter, Stepfanie now writes about nutrition, health, fitness and cooking. She is a certified Ashtanga yoga teacher who enjoys running, international travel and all kinds of vegetables. See all of Stepfanie's articles.

Member Comments

    Eat whatever you bake this way fast, the stuff gets hard, and after you do it for awhile, tends to taste the same, sort of dull, same as any diet food! Better than nothing, though........ - 5/11/2016 8:23:56 AM
  • Fat is not the culprit, sugar is. People eat way to many simple carbohydrates. - 2/10/2016 9:54:17 PM
  • Omg this article is awesome!! I had no idea you gould use vinegar and baking soda instead of eggs!! - 1/29/2016 9:35:45 PM
  • I use unsweetened applesauce all the time. I think I will try the pumpkin for a change!!!

    - 3/28/2015 10:41:24 PM
  • Eat baked goods rarely, but when you do make them properly,with butter and eggs and sugar. Sheesh. - 9/2/2014 11:27:11 AM
  • Wow.. Great ideas! Thanks... I didn't get to make volcano's in school! :( But hey, now I can! LOL - 9/2/2014 10:36:59 AM
  • Wonderful article. Are there recipes on SP using these subs? - 1/21/2014 4:49:31 PM
  • I knew about applesauce but not the pumpkin nor prunes. Thanks. - 12/23/2013 5:40:17 AM
  • This is great info, but it should be noted that baked goods that are made with fresh bananas cannot last long. They go bad, or get mouldy. - 12/15/2013 8:06:08 PM
  • Thanks for this article. I have tried some of these methods, but this article shares a few more tips and options.

    I've used banana, applesauce and yogurt . . . most with good results.

    - 12/15/2013 11:26:07 AM
    very helpful, have to try the applesauce one. - 11/21/2013 5:36:56 PM
    you can also use shredded zucchni to replace eggs butter and oil.remember how moist zucchni- bread is. - 11/20/2013 6:19:15 PM
  • Interesting article. Just wish there was a way to print the complete article to save for further review. - 10/26/2013 12:32:11 PM
    Sorry to be a contrarian, but I'd rather have a smaller helping of the real thing. Further, I wonder what the research says about low fat sweets....while you save calories, all of these recipes substitute carbs for fats which leads to a higher glycemic index which in my case inspires me to overeat more than something that has a some fat and makes me feel satisfied.

    I do recommend pumpkin cookies which are basically a lower fat variation of chocolate cookies, but generally what works for me is eating whole foods sensibly prepared and leaving a couple extra calories for a splurge. - 6/24/2013 10:50:38 PM
  • i would disagree that you cant substitute all of the eggs or oil - my favorite easy treats to make for family & friends just involve boxed cake mix, and subbing in something in place of all the oil and eggs called for. chocolate cake mix + 2 cups pumpkin puree is incredible, and tastes SO rich. its dense, but i dont necessarily see how thats a bad thing. or vanilla cake mix with a cup of diet orange soda - bam, orange cupcakes. i add in a little orange extract, too - theyre sticky, but delicious. - 6/24/2013 10:10:47 PM

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