Avid bakers, keep reading: You don’t have to throw out that muffin pan to do some healthy baking. In fact, there’s never been a better time to make some quick and easy baking substitutions that will take your treats from highly caloric to highly healthy. Whether you’re vegan, gluten-free or watching your refined sugar intake, here are five healthy recipe substitutions you’ll just love:
1. Pass on the butter, and use avocado instead
While bakers may worry that using avocado will turn their brownies green, that’s not going to happen (though you might notice a greenish tinge on a vanilla or caramel goodie), says Marie Delcioppo, a raw foods chef in Charleston, South Carolina.
Health benefit: Avocados are loaded with protein, fiber and potassium and provide a steady stream of energy.
Tip: Make sure the avocados you’re using are fairly ripe so they’re creamier. To find out, squeeze them slightly and check the stem on top, Delcioppo says. “If you pull the stem off and it’s brownish, the avocado is ripe and good to go,” she says.
2: Swap applesauce for butter or oil
Applesauce, an oldie but goodie healthy replacement to any baked good, adds sweetness to everything from pumpkin quick bread to cookies, says Brynn Foster, a healthy baking expert and founder of Voyaging Foods in Hawaii.
Health benefit: Applesauce lessens the fat and calories in your treats while adding natural flavor, moisture and fiber to whatever you’re baking.
Tip: Use all-natural or unsweetened applesauce so you’re not adding additional sweetener to your baked items. When substituting, follow a 1:1 ratio. That's 1/4 cup of applesauce for 1/4 cup oil, for example.
3. Skip the granulated white sugar and use stevia instead
Stevia, a natural sweetener that comes from the leaf of the stevia plant, is another way to add sweetness to your baked goods without the spike that comes from granulated sugar. Just be sure to steer clear of powdered stevia since it’s as refined as sugar. “Aim to use raw or liquid stevia since it hasn’t undergone as much processing,” Delcioppo says.
Health benefit: Stevia has zero calories, no carbohydrates and zero glycemic index so it doesn’t cause sugar spikes the way refined sugar does. “You don’t feel that sugar high or crash,” Delcioppo says.
Tip: Stevia is extremely sweet — it’s more than 200 times sweeter than sugar — so be mindful of how much you’re using. “If a recipe calls for a quarter-cup of sugar, you won’t use anywhere near that amount,” Delcioppo says. “Start small and do a taste test. This will help you gauge how much stevia you need to use.”
4. Ditch the white flour and use coconut flour instead
Processed white flour will prompt way more of a sugar rise and crash versus coconut flour, which is produced from dried coconut meat.
Health benefit: Coconut flour — popular for those on grain-restrictive diets like paleo — provides an alternate source of protein. It’s gluten-free and contains a high amount of dietary fiber, which makes it quite filling, Foster says. It’s great in everything from quick breads to cookies — provided you’re OK with baked goods that have the smell or taste of coconut. “A plant-based protein paired with fiber will make you feel full longer and prolong energy,” she adds.
Tip: Coconut flour will make baked goods more crumbly and dry and will tend to soak up liquid, so be sure to have enough eggs and oil on hand. Substitute 1/4 cup to 1/3 cup of coconut flour for one cup of grain-based flour. “You need to adjust the egg and milk portions of your recipes to make sure the cookies hold together,” Foster says.
5. Skip the eggs and use chia seeds instead
While it may seem sacrilegious to skip the eggs and use chia seeds instead, this substitution is actually a great idea because chia seeds add a fudgy, moist and chewy consistency in brownies, for example, without adding any flavor or taste to recipes like flax or eggs do, Foster says.
Health benefit: Chia seeds, popular among plant-based eaters, are filled with fiber, protein and omega-3 fatty acids. They’re also gluten-free and packed with vitamins and minerals.
Tip: Chia seeds need to be pre-soaked so follow directions closely in terms of how much water to use, how long to soak the seeds, and how much chia equals an egg. Most experts recommend following a 9:1 ratio of water to chia seeds. Note: The seeds will be slimy after you soak them.
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