Healthy Baking Substitutions

healthy baking substitutions

Healthy Baking Substitutions

The Ultimate Guide to Healthy Ingredient Substitutions, Part 1: BAKING

The beautiful thing about food is that there are so many options available to us! Of course, what’s healthy for you is going to depend on your lifestyle, body, activity levels, preferences and so on. But, with some knowledge of healthy foods, we can easily health-ify our favorite recipes. Maybe you feel hesitant about changing recipes and “messing up” a good thing. And is it safe to tweak baking recipes? Isn’t it a pretty delicate science? Maybe you’ve learned about some healthy substitutions, but you just want more. Wouldn’t it be nice if those substitutions were just all written down somewhere?

YES. That’s why I’ve compiled this ULTIMATE GUIDE to Healthy Baking & Cooking Substitutions (keep an eye out for Part 2: Healthy Cooking Substitutions!)—from tons of awesome websites, recipes, and my own experience. Some of these you may already know, some may be surprising, and you may have ideas that go beyond this list! I’d love to hear those ideas and add them to this guide. For now, check out the LOADS of healthy baking substitutions that you can try.

Part 1: Healthy Baking Substitutions

Baking is definitely a science. It often requires more precision with ingredient amounts than general cooking. This makes it tricky to experiment with healthy substitutions, but it is possible to health-ify baked goods! Luckily, we learn from our experiences in the kitchen—and the internet allows us to learn from other people’s failures and successes. That’s how I compiled this mega-list of baking ingredient substitutions for all kinds of lifestyles! 

There’s tons of useful substitutions here, just remember that these are all suggestions based on what’s worked for me and other people. Some of these substitutions may not work well in all recipes and combinations. To find what works best for you or what works best in a specific recipe, it may take some experimenting!

Flour Substitutes

The most commonly-used flour in baking is enriched all-purpose (AP) flour, which (as the name implies) is pretty versatile. But, this is the most refined kind of flour and offers our bodies the least useable fuel. The wheat berry is stripped down to just the endosperm, and nutrients are lost in the process.

There are many different types of flour. We can find flours made from whole grains, nuts, and even beans, all of which contain more nutrients and fiber. And, some of these work well for gluten-free or low-carb lifestyles. (You can learn how to make some of these flours at home!) Because they’re made from different ingredients, some flours are more dense than others, and that makes substituting one for another a bit of a guessing game. But, luckily, we can draw on the experience of other healthy bakers to guide our own healthy baking!

Wheat

Whole Wheat Flour

  • Made from entire wheat berry, contains more nutrients.
  • Works in most any baking: cookies, brownies, breads.

Per 1 cup AP flour, sub:

  • 7/8 cup wheat flour.
  • Vegan & Vegetarian
  • Low-Fat
  • Higher Fiber
Oats

Oat Flour

  • Made from a whole grain.
  • Easy to make at home.
  • Good in most baking, results in slightly spongier texture.

Per 1 cup AP/wheat flour, sub:

  • 1 cup oat flour.
  • half oat, half wheat flour, for firmer texture.
  • Vegan & Vegetarian
  • Low-Fat
  • High-Fiber
  • Gluten-Free (if made from certified GF oats)
Almonds

Almond Flour

  • More dense, may require rising agent and shorter baking time.

Per 1 cup AP flour, sub:

  • 1/2 cup almond flour.
  • 1 cup almond + 1/2 tsp – 1 tsp baking powder/soda
  • 1/4 cup almond + 3/4 wheat.
  • Vegan & Vegetarian
  • Low-Carb
  • Higher Fiber
  • Gluten-Free 
Coconut

Coconut Flour

  • Very dense, may need to reduce baking time.
  • Pancakes, cookies, cakes.

Per 1 cup AP flour, sub:

  • 1/3 cup coconut flour + 1 extra egg per ounce (1/4 cup) of coconut flour added + extra dash of water.
  • Vegan & Vegetarian
  • Low-Carb
  • Higher Fiber
  • Gluten-Free 
Black Beans

Black Beans/Chickpeas

  • High in fiber, fudgier texture.
  • Black beans work well in heartier, darker baked goods, like brownies.
  • Chickpeas work well in blondies, like my Ooey-Gooey Cookie Bars.

Per 1 cup AP flour, sub:

  • 1 cup black bean or chickpea purée, depending on recipe
  • Vegan & Vegetarian
  • Low-Fat
  • High-Fiber
  • High-Protein
  • Gluten-Free 
Egg Substitutes (for Baking)

Eggs can be pretty important in baking recipes. They help bind baked goods together and give them a fluffier texture. Replacing them can be tricky, and it’s important to know that you might not be able to successfully replace eggs in every recipe. You can always experiment with egg substitutions, just be prepared for some differences in the texture of your baked goods. Egg whites and egg substitute are one low-fat option, but there are several other low-fat and vegan egg substitutes that you can try in your healthy baking.

Chia seeds

Chia Seeds

  • Works well in many recipes, like cookies, muffins, and cakes.

Per 1 egg, sub:

  • 1 Tbsp chia seeds + 1 cup water, let sit 15 minutes.
  • Vegan & Vegetarian
  • Paleo
  • Low-Carb
  • High-Fiber
Flaxseeds

Flaxseeds

  • Works well in some cookie, muffin, and cake recipes.

Per 1 egg, sub:

  • 1 Tbsp chia seeds + 3 Tbsp water, let sit 5-10 minutes.
  • Vegan & Vegetarian
  • Paleo
  • Low-Carb
  • High-Fiber
Bananas

Banana, Mashed

  • Creaminess helps it act as a fat substitute.
  • Adds natural sweetness, best when very ripe, may want to reduce sugar in recipe.

Per 1 egg, sub:

  • 1 medium banana, mashed.
  • Vegan & Vegetarian
  • Paleo
  • Low-Fat
  • Natural Sweetener
Applesauce

Applesauce

  • Creaminess helps it act as a fat substitute, good for cakes, brownies, muffins.
  • Adds natural sweetness, may want to reduce sugar in recipe.

Per 1 cup egg, sub:

  • 1/4 cup unsweetened applesauce + 1 tsp baking powder
  • Vegan & Vegetarian
  • Paleo
  • Low-Fat
  • Natural Sweetener
Tofu

Silken Tofu

  • Blend into vegan brownie batter for thick, fudgy brownies.

Per 1 egg, sub:

  • 1/4 cup blended silken tofu
  • Vegan & Vegetarian
  • Low-Carb
  • High-Protein
Soy Milk

Soy Milk

  • Not an egg substitute, but works well as a vegan egg wash!
  • Brush onto bake goods like crackers for a buttery, flaky effect.
  • Vegan & Vegetarian
  • Lower Fat
  • High-Protein
Butter (& a Few Oil) Substitutes

Butter is one of the most tricky ingredients. In some recipes it needs to be solid, like when creaming ingredients or making some frostings. In others it needs to be softened, or even melted. Butter gives recipes airiness, flakiness, and a moist texture. It makes baked goods light and airy. Some of these substitutes will change the texture and flavor of recipes slightly, but can still be delicious! And, as always, not all of these substitutes will work in every recipe. It will take some trial and error to get the textures and flavors how you like them!

coconut oil

Coconut Oil

  • Solid fat with a high melting point, like butter. Works well in most baking recipes.
  • Healthy substitute for shortening.
  • Refined & triple-filtered varieties have little to no coconut taste.

Per 1 cup butter, sub:

  • 1 cup coconut oil
  • Vegan & Vegetarian
  • Paleo
  • Low-Carb
  • High Temperature Baking
ghee

Ghee

  • Strong buttery, nutty flavor.
  • More moisture than butter, may need to alter recipe’s liquid/flour amounts.
  • Works well in cookies and breads.

Per 1 cup butter, sub:

  • 1 cup ghee
  • Low-Carb
  • High Temperature Baking
almond butter

Nut Butters

  • Almond, cashew, and peanut butters contain natural oils and fats that work well in baking.
  • Result in more dense baked goods.

Per 1 cup butter, sub:

  • 1 cup nut butter
  • Vegan & Vegetarian
  • Paleo
  • Low-Carb
Flaxseeds

Flaxseed Meal

  • Can substitute all or some of the fat, depending on recipe.
  • Works in muffins, cakes, cookies.
  • Causes faster browning; may have to reduce flour.

Per 1 Tbsp butter, sub:

  • 3 Tbsp flaxseed meal + 1 Tbsp water (allow to sit 5-10 mins)
  • Vegan & Vegetarian
  • Paleo
  • Low-Carb
  • Gluten-Free
  • High-Fiber
Chia seeds

Chia Seeds

  • Sub for half of the butter in a recipe. Can sub for all, will take some experimenting.
  • Don’t sub chia seeds for eggs & butter in same recipe!

Per 1 cup butter, sub:

  • 2-3 Tbsp chia seeds + 1 cup water (allow to sit 15 mins)
  • Vegan & Vegetarian
  • Paleo
  • Low-Carb
  • Gluten-Free
  • High-Fiber
Bananas

Banana, Mashed

  • Adds creamy texture and sweetness.
  • Add to batter slowly, monitor consistency & flavor.
  • Works well in brownies, cookies, and (of course) banana bread.

Per 1 cup butter, sub:

  • 1 cup mashed bananas
  • Vegan & Vegetarian
  • Paleo
  • Low-Fat
  • Natural Sweetener
Applesauce

Applesauce

  • Adds sweetness, cuts calories.
  • Works well in cakes, sweet breads, muffins, boxed mixes.
  • Can work as a substitute for oil in some recipes.

Per 1 cup butter/oil, sub:

  • 1 cup unsweetened applesauce
  • Vegan & Vegetarian
  • Paleo
  • Low-Fat
  • Natural Sweetener
prune

Prune Purée

  • Best in dark baked goods, like chocolate cookies, chocolate cake, or fudgy brownies.

Per 1 cup butter, sub:

  • 3/4 cup prunes + 1/4 cup boiling water, puréed
  • Vegan & Vegetarian
  • Paleo
  • Low-Fat
  • High-Fiber
Pumpkin

Canned Pumpkin Purée

  • Adds natural sweetness and yummy, pumpkin flavor.
  • Works well in breads, muffins, boxed mixes.

Per 1 cup butter, sub:

  • 3/4 cup pumpkin purée
  • Vegan & Vegetarian
  • Paleo
  • Low-Fat
  • High-Fiber
Avocado

Avocado Mash/Purée

  • Similar consistency to butter at room temperature.
  • Creamy fat, subtle flavor.
  • Good in desserts like brownies, chocolate cake, muffins, icing.

Per 1 cup butter, sub:

  • 1 cup avocado purée
  • Vegan & Vegetarian
  • Paleo
  • Low-Carb
  • High-Fiber
Greek yogurt

Greek Yogurt

  • Full-fat works best.
  • Works well in cakes, breads, cookies.
  • Also can sub for canola oil (3/4 cup Greek yogurt for 1 cup oil).

Per 1 cup butter, sub:

  • 1 cup Greek yogurt
  • Low-Carb
  • Low-Fat Options
  • High-Protein
Milk, Cream & Other Dairy Substitutes

If you live a non-dairy or vegan lifestyle, the prevalence of dairy in baked goods might make it seem like your options are limited. But, fortunately, there are several quality substitutes for milk-based ingredients in our baking!

Milk Substitutes

Nut Milk

Nut Milks

  • Nut milks like almond and cashew milk can work just as well as dairy milk in most baking recipes!

Per 1 cup dairy milk, sub:

  • 1 cup nut milk
  • Vegan & Vegetarian
  • Paleo
  • Low-Fat
Tofu

Silken Tofu

  • Blends up into a thick, creamy milk substitute that’s perfect for a vegan pudding!
  • Vegan & Vegetarian
  • High-Protein

Buttermilk Substitute

Soy Milk

Soy Milk & Lemon Juice

  • Use soy milk to make a vegan buttermilk alternative.

Per 1 cup buttermilk, sub:

  • 1 cup soy milk + 1 tsp lemon juice
  • Vegan & Vegetarian
  • Low-Fat

Cream Substitutes

Coconut

Coconut Cream/Milk

  • Plant-based fat with all the thick, creamy texture of dairy cream.
  • Coconut cream will be creamiest, and full-fat coconut milk will be creamier than lite!

Per 1 cup dairy cream, sub:

  • 1 cup coconut cream, or full-fat coconut milk
  • Vegan & Vegetarian
  • Paleo
  • Low-Carb
Greek yogurt

Greek Yogurt

  • Lighter, lower-fat, protein-packed sub for heavy cream.
  • Works well in frosting and cheesecake recipes.

Per 1 cup heavy cream, sub:

  • 1 cup Greek yogurt, may vary depending on recipe
  • Low-Carb
  • Low-Fat Options
  • High-Protein
Coconut Whipped Cream

Coconut Whipped Cream

  • Vegan & Vegetarian
  • Paleo
  • Low-Carb

Chocolate Chip Substitute

Cacao

Cacao Nibs

  • Roasted bits of cocoa beans that are ground and eventually turned into chocolate.
  • Less processed, no dairy, no added sugars!
  • Vegan & Vegetarian
  • Paleo
  • Low-Fat
  • Low-Sugar
Sugar & Sweetener Substitutes

Last but not least, we’re delving into the different sugar and sweetener options that we can use in our baking. Lots of recipes will call for sugar or a sweetener of some kind, and that’s part of what makes baked goods so delicious! But, there are several ways that we can reduce the sugar used in some recipes or make use of sugar alternatives. We can absolutely enjoy sugary treats, and sugar itself is no “bad,” we just want to be aware of what we’re consuming. When we eat too much sugar, our bodies can’t process it all, which leads to negative consequences like gaining weight, storing more fat on our bodies, and insulin resistance. If we know our options when it comes to sugars and sweeteners, we can make an informed choice about which fits into our lifestyle.

The most well-known form of sugar is table sugar (sucrose), often labeled “cane sugar” because it’s extracted from sugarcane. But, plenty of other forms of sugar exist: brown sugar, coconut sugar, and sticky sweeteners like honey, maple syrup, and agave. All of these can be used in baking, but they can each function a bit differently in recipes. [So you know, brown sugar and coconut sugar can generally substitute for cane sugar at a 1:1 ratio (sub 1 cup for 1 cup). With other options, their sweetness/texture differences can alter that ratio.] It’s also important to know that all of these do still contain sugar and calories. Then there are also artificial and natural no-calorie sweeteners, which are far sweeter than sugar and may alter the taste of baked goods slightly.

There is SO much to say about different sugars and sweeteners, their health differences, and potential concerns, but this is not the time or place for it. You can learn more in my Sugar & Sweeteners 101 videoFor now, I’m breaking down how to substitute for sugar in baking recipes and offering the substitution ratios for some sugar alternatives: sticky sweeteners, natural no-calorie sweeteners, and some naturally sweet flavorings. I do encourage you to educate yourself about sugar and sweeteners, so you can make the best choice about what works for your lifestyle! 

Sticky Sweeteners

This category includes honey, maple syrup, molasses, and agave. Each of these has a slightly different composition, so they’re each processed a bit differently by our bodies. For example, table sugar (sucrose) contains 50% glucose and 50% fructose. Glucose can be used by the body for energy, while fructose is much harder to process—especially from concentrated sources like the dreaded high-fructose corn syrup. HFCS is 55% fructose, yet agave contains up to 80% fructose. This doesn’t make agave “bad,” it’s just important to be aware that, like all sugar sources, eating too much of it will be tough on the body.

For perspective, let’s compare 1 tablespoon of each of these sugar options:

  • Table sugar (12g): 48 cals, 12g sugar
  • Honey (21g): 64 cals, 17g sugar
  • Maple syrup (20g): 52 cals, 12g sugar
  • Molasses (20g): 58 cals, 11g sugar
  • Agave (21g): 60 cals, 15g sugar

So table sugar is the lowest in calories and one of the lowest in sugar, but it’s also the lowest by weight. Because of this, we generally need to use more table sugar to achieve the desired sweetness. Molasses is the lowest in sugar, yet it’s higher in calories. Both honey and agave are more calorie- and sugar-dense, so we can use less of them in recipes. Maple syrup is similar to table sugar, but it also has elements of maple flavor and sweetness. This means we can still use a bit less maple syrup in recipes as a sugar replacement and achieve the same sweetness!

Honey

Honey

  • Sweeter than sugar, adds distinct honey flavor.
  • Makes moist, dense baked goods. Causes faster browning.

Per 1 cup sugar, sub:

  • 2/3 cup honey
  • Reduce total liquids in recipe by 1/5.
  • Reduce oven temp by 25°F. 
Molasses

Molasses

  • Not as sweet as sugar.
  • Gives dark color and deep flavor to baked goods, common in gingerbread.

Per 1 cup sugar, sub:

  • 1 1/3 cup molasses
  • Reduce liquid by 5 Tbsp per cup of sugar replaced.
  • Add 1/2 tsp baking soda for each cup of molasses used.
  • Replace no more than half of sugar in a recipe with molasses!
  • Reduce oven temp by 25°F.
Maple syrup

Maple Syrup

  • Less sweet than sugar.
  • Grade A golden brown; Grade B darker, thicker, stronger flavor.

Per 1 cup sugar, sub:

  • 3/4 cup maple
  • Reduce liquid by 3 Tbsp per cup of sugar replaced.
  • Reduce recipe oven temp by 25°F.
Agave

Agave Nectar

  • Very sticky, make use of parchment paper!
  • More neutral taste, but may alter the taste of goods when baked. Consider substituting just 1/3 or 1/2 of the sugar in a recipe.

Per 1 cup sugar, sub:

  • 2/3 cup agave
  • Reduce liquid by 1/4 cup per cup of sugar replaced.
  • Reduce recipe oven temp by 25°F.

Natural No-/Low-Calorie Sweeteners

There are several no-calorie sweetener options out there, but you will have to decide which is right for your body and lifestyle. Some are artificial sweeteners, like Splenda, which are synthesized from chemicals in a lab. Others are natural sweeteners, like stevia, which are made or extracted from sources in nature. There’s a lot of controversy surrounding sweeteners and which to use. Some people don’t like using certain sweeteners (especially in baking) because they feel there’s an aftertaste. And, there’s loads of debate about the effects these sweeteners can have on our health. Studies about artificial sweeteners have shown some potential negative health consequences, which are worth learning about, but this research hasn’t been conclusive enough to deem these products unsafe.

By learning what you can about them, you can make an informed decision. For the purpose of this guide, I’m talking about how to substitute sugar with natural no- or low-calorie sweeteners. These can be better options for people who are monitoring calorie intake or those on a low-carb diet. But, we should still consume them reasonably and not overdo it. In addition to making baked goods sweet, sugar also adds texture and volume. Replacing it may result in some textural differences, you may need to adjust the baking time, or consider using half sweetener and half sugar in a recipe.

Stevia Leaf

Stevia Leaf Extract

  • Found in liquid, powder, and granulated forms.
  • 250-350x sweeter than sugar, but it’s also more expensive.
  • There are also baking blends (often stevia + sugar and/or other sweeteners).

There are different brands & types of stevia products, so the conversion rate will vary. Refer to their packaging or their website for exact conversion rates! And, always sweeten to taste.

**You can use stevia to make sugar-free powdered sugar!

Erythritol

Erythritol

  • Sugar alcohol, 6% of the calories of sugar, 70% of the sweetness.
  • Not broken down by the body, so does not spike blood sugar or insulin.

Per 1 cup sugar, sub:

  • 1 cup erythritol (+25% more if needed, because it is slightly less sweet than sugar)
Monk fruit

Monk Fruit

  • Natural low-calorie sweetness that comes from a small subtropical melon.
  • Available as monk fruit juice concentrate (15-20 times sweeter than sugar) and powdered monk fruit extract (150-200 times sweeter than sugar).

Again, there are different brands & types of monk fruit products, so the conversion rate will vary depending on which brand you use. Refer to their packaging or their website for exact conversion rates! And, always sweeten to taste.

Naturally Sweet Flavorings

One of the best ways to cut down on sugar without buying expensive no-calorie sweeteners is to maximize natural flavors. There is so much potent flavor and sweetness that exists naturally in the foods we eat, and we can use that to our advantage in healthy baking!

Applesauce

Applesauce

  • Use in cookies, muffins, breads.
  • Mashed banana is also a great sugar substitute!

Per 1 cup sugar, sub:

  • 1 cup unsweetened applesauce, reduce liquid in recipe 1/4 cup per cup applesauce added
  • Vegan & Vegetarian
  • Paleo
  • Low-Fat
  • Natural Sweetener, No Sugar Added
Dates

Dates

  • Soak dates & blend; natural, sticky sweetener sub.
  • Great in denser baked goods, energy bites, and smoothies!

Per 1 cup sugar/sticky sweetener, sub:

  • 1 cup soaked dates + 1/4 – 1/2 cup hot water, blended into a purée
  • Vegan & Vegetarian
  • Paleo
  • Low-Fat
  • Natural Sweetener
Vanilla

Vanilla

  • Not a sugar replacement; can reduce sugar needed in a recipe.
  • Use in cookies, sweet breads, brownies, cakes.

Per 2 Tbsp sugar, sub:

  • 1/2 tsp vanilla (can sub for more sugar, but will need to experiment with the taste)
  • Vegan & Vegetarian
  • Low-Fat
Fruit puree

Fruit Purée/Compote

  • A simple and natural substitute for maple syrup or honey as a topping!
  • Try it on pancakes, waffles, or glaze onto sweet breads and muffins.
  • Vegan & Vegetarian
  • Paleo
  • Low-Fat
  • Natural Sweetener

There are tons of healthy ingredients that we can experiment with in our favorite baking recipes. The key is being willing to experiment! Try some things out, see what works, and keep an open mind to new flavors and textures in baked goods. Every recipe is different, so substitutions won’t always work exactly the same from one recipe to the next. Embrace the process! Slowly but surely, we start to learn what works and can even predict what might work!

If you have other healthy baking substitutions that work in your life, I’d love to hear about them. Leave me a comment on one of our YouTube videos! Check out my Healthy ’90s Snacks remakes video, where I health-ify 5 classic ’90s snacks, and use some of these healthy substitutions in the process!

Healthy ’90s Snacks – Dunkaroos, Slurpee, Cosmic Brownies, & MORE!

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