Healthy Baking 101

Although I love to cook, when it comes to baking I’m something of an amateur. Growing up my parents always kept a kitchen stocked with healthy options, and if I whipped up a sheet of cookies for no reason they often went uneaten (except by me). As I got older and more health conscious, I realized that I probably shouldn’t be devouring these cookies either. So, in an effort to maintain a clean diet, I kind of fell off the baking band wagon and became more of a cook.

Nowadays, we have so many more options for healthy baking. Right here in Philly there is a café that serves up my favorite “nuffins” made with yogurt, olive oil, and splenda. It got me to thinking about baking in an all new way, and I decided to give it a stab again. Up until now, this has involved following other people’s recipes, but this past weekend I attempted making whole-wheat pumpkin cupcakes with yogurt as an experiment. I took photos, and was planning to post on them today, but sadly, they came out entirely too moist, and sort of fell in on themselves.

The week got hectic, and I couldn’t make it to the store to pick up ingredients for another recipe, so as a result, I thought I’d take you all along the learning curve with me. In attempts to get the recipe right, I’ve been doing some research on healthy baking substitutes that I’ve heard about. Here’s what I’ve learned so far and can’t wait to try out. Once I get the cupcakes just right, I’ll be sure to share them with you all & if any of you have tips – please share!


Substituting applesauce is one way to cut down on fat in baking. Using it keeps the finished product moist, but it really only works for oil-based baked goods (i.e. breads, muffins, and some cakes) not recipes calling for butter.  When you substitute applesauce, it’s even more important to work the batter gently, and as little as possible. Most sources recommend a 1:1 swap (1 cup of applesauce in a recipe calling for 1 cup of oil). Measure it out in a liquid measuring cup, and use unsweetened applesauce.



Yogurt is another great way to cut fat and calories, but maintain a tender, moist consistency in baked goods. This one can be used in both butter and oil-based recipes. In those calling for butter, replace half of the butter with half as much yogurt (1/4cup yogurt & 1/2cup butter in a recipe calling for 1 cup butter). For oil or shortening, replaice half of the oil with ¾ the amount of yogurt (1/4 cup + 2tbsp of yogurt with ½ cup oil in a recipe calling for 1 cup of oil).


Whole Wheat Flour

This is where it can get a bit tricky. From what I’ve read, you want to find whole-wheat pastry flour which is generally lighter than the all-purpose kind. You usually still have to include white flour when making this switch. Sometimes you can use 100% whole wheat, but that’s where experimenting comes in. From what I’ve read, going entirely whole-wheat works great with banana bread. Breads in general can take more, as it tends to make the product heavier which is okay with bread. When baking pastries you’ll want to stick to a 50/50 rule (substituting half the amount of all-purpose white flour with whole-wheat flour).

click on images for sources


  1. do you know that artificial sweeteners actually have been shown to cause cancer? Sugar is still better:) Or replace sugar with honey! using brown sugar is also better because it is not as refined… Mom taught me well:)

  2. I agree with Aida, Splenda caused bladder cancer in lab animals during the product’s testing. Another good alternitave sweetener is agave nectar which has been proven to be better for you than sugar or honey because it does not spike insulin levels.

  3. flax seed is an excellent substitute for butter or eggs…1 tablespoon ground flax seed and 3 tablespoons of water per egg. to substitute for butter, use 3 tablespoons per tablespoon of butter. flax adds fiber, omega-3s and lots of other good nutrition. when substituting flax, it does cause baked goods to brown a tad faster so you may need to put foil over whatever you are baking. when baking with whole wheat flour, cut back just a tad on the flour…about a Tablespoon per cup and be sure to sift it no matter what you are baking and your goodies will come out lighter! Sugar in the raw is my favorite sweetener to use. I usually don’t substitute honey for all the sugar because it has a strong taste in some things. hope some of these tips help!

  4. When you want to cut back on the butter, puree an avocado for half the amount of butter asked for. And I mean PUREE! else it will just be chunky and wont mix right. The batter tastes strange but It makes your cookies soft and really good!

  5. Being a pastry chef, I have done my fair share of trying to create delicious low-fat, sugar free creations. While I continue to experiment for my clients, family and friends, I have found some things that do work. Dates are a great way to both sweeten and cut back on fat. Boil them down and then mash them into a pulp. They work great in chocolate chip cookies. I typically replace 3/4 dates with butter(I usually use Smart balance 50/50) for example: I would use 4 tab mashed dates + 3 tab Smart balance 50/50). In oatmeal/raisin cookies a trick I use to keep the cookies low-fat but still moist, is to boil the raisins in agave and water until they are plump(about 15 min) and to toast the oatmeal in the butter called for in my recipe(usually 3 tab)for 5 min in a skillet. I am obsessed with agave. I make the greatest sticky buns with agave. I found the trick to tempering its distinct after-taste is adding maple syrup to it or something that overpowers it like an extract. Buon appetite all!

  6. Any suggestions besides wheat flour? Especially for the gluten intolerant? I know almond flour is good but it is high in fat.

  7. I prefer to use Stevia- a natural alternative to sugar for the following reasons:

    Non-caloric: Great for weight management
    Individuals with diabetes can consume this sweetener: Does not increase blood glucose levels or insulin response
    Hypertension: Does not disturb resting blood pressure
    Non cariogenic: Does not cause dental caries

    * So easy to bake with as well: just to add- it is 300x sweeter than table sugar.*

  8. While, I do love stevia(truvia is pretty good), I find that there is a distinct after taste and it can be tricky to sweeten when used alone. I typically used it with something else like agave, honey, concentrated white grape juice or powdered frutose. Sometimes I substitute it for half of raw sugar just to cup don on the sugar. I love to use it in whipped cream. Add two packets to a 1/2 pint of whipping cream and beat until peaks form. No one will ever know the difference!

  9. @Anonymous : gluten free flour is great ; you can use either coconut flour or rice or corn or chestnut flour (which is quite expensive, so I always mix rice and chestnut flour)

    As for the egg replacer, arrowroot is GREAT. 1 full tablespoon of arrowroot + 3 tbsp of water for one egg.
    I always use coconut oil as a substitute for butter as I am allergic to lactose but also almonds, soy, gluten, etc. Every day I find new ways to replace ingredients and it all tastes even better :)

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