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While many baking recipes depend on sugar for texture and moisture as well as taste, in most recipes you can reduce the amount of sugar by one-half. Lose one-quarter cup of sugar and you’ll save 195 calories. (iStockphoto)
While many baking recipes depend on sugar for texture and moisture as well as taste, in most recipes you can reduce the amount of sugar by one-half. Lose one-quarter cup of sugar and you’ll save 195 calories. (iStockphoto)

Holiday baking: Sacrifice calories, not flavour, with these ingredient substitutions Add to ...

The Question: I love to bake for my family and friends during the holiday season. Are there ingredient substitutions I can do that will make my holiday sweets healthier without losing great taste?

The Answer: Creating healthier recipes is easier than you think. Simple ingredient tweaks allow you to reduce unnecessary sugar and fat and, in so doing, plenty of calories too. If you indulge your sweet tooth each day during the holidays, those calorie savings could make a difference on the bathroom scale come Jan. 1.

It’s not just about calories, though. Ingredient substitutions can also deliver a nutrient boost to your baked goods. Why not infuse more fibre, protein, heart-healthy fats, vitamins, minerals and protective phytochemicals into your holiday menu?

Even better, these adjustments won’t sacrifice taste – your guests won’t even notice. Here are my 10 go-to ingredient cuts and swaps for healthier goodies, plus tips for where some work best.

Reduce sugar

While many baking recipes depend on sugar for texture and moisture as well as taste, in most recipes you can reduce the amount of sugar by one-half. Lose one-quarter cup of sugar and you’ll save 195 calories.

Replace sugar with fruit

Another trick to cut refined sugar: Swap it for natural sugars in puréed fruit. Replace up to 50 per cent of sugar with applesauce or puréed fruit, such as banana, pear, mango or dried dates puréed with water. Since fruit has a high water content, you’ll need to reduce the liquid in the recipe usually by one-quarter cup. Adding fruit means more fibre, vitamins and minerals, less sugar and fewer calories. One-half cup of mashed banana, for instance, delivers fibre, folate, potassium and magnesium for 100 calories and 14 grams of natural sugar. A pretty good trade considering the same amount of granulated sugar provides 387 calories, 100 grams of sugar and no nutrients.

Cut fat with fruit

Applesauce, mashed banana or prune purée can also replace half of the oil or butter called for in muffin and loaf recipes. If you can’t tell the difference by replacing half the fat, substitute more next time.

Use evaporated milk instead of cream

You’ll save plenty of fat, especially saturated fat, as well as calories by swapping evaporated skim milk for the heavy cream (1:1 ratio) that’s called for in some cake, scone and biscuit recipes.

Cut cholesterol with flax

To lose the 190 mg of cholesterol found in a large egg yolk, replace one whole egg with 2 egg whites or one-quarter cup of liquid egg whites. (Adults should consume no more than 300 mg cholesterol each day; if you have high blood cholesterol, limit your intake to 200 mg.) For vegan “egg whites,” whisk one tablespoon of ground flaxseed with 3 tablespoons of water; let sit for 5 to 10 minutes until the mixture has a thick, white consistency.

Sub avocado for butter

Avocado isn’t just for smoothies and dips, it’s also a great replacement for butter in baked goods. Replace half the butter that’s called for with an equal amount of puréed or mashed avocado. Some people like to replace all of the butter with avocado. Avocado’s creamy consistency provides texture plus you get plenty of heart-healthy monounsaturated fats, fibre, folate and potassium for fewer calories. One-half cup of puréed avocado has 184 calories, 17 g of fat (two-thirds as monounsaturated fat) and 8 g of fibre. That’s light in comparison to one-half cup of butter: 814 calories, 92 g of fat (two-thirds as saturated fat) and zero fibre. Use this tip in recipes such as brownies and chocolate cookies where cocoa masks avocado’s green tint. If you don’t mind the colour, use it in any cookie recipe.

Swap coconut oil for shortening

Both fats are solid at room temperature and work well in pie crusts and cookies. Coconut oil, however, doesn’t have the man-made hydrogenated oils – a source of trans fat – found in shortening. Coconut oil is high in saturated fat but it raises HDL (good) cholesterol in the bloodstream, not LDL (bad) cholesterol. It also contains medium chain triglycerides, fats that may promote satiety and increase calorie burning in the body. For baking, swap it one-for-one for shortening.

Trade beans for flour

To add fibre, protein and plenty of magnesium to holiday treats, substitute puréed black beans for flour (1:1 ratio). Works best in brownies and chocolate cake.

Replace flour with almond meal

To remove gluten, reduce carbohydrates and add protein, healthy fats and vitamin E, substitute almond flour/meal for all-purpose flour in baked-good recipes. You can buy it ready ground (Bob’s Red Mill makes it) or make your own. Simply grind raw blanched almonds to a fine flour using a food processor. Almond flour works well in cake, muffin, loaf and some cookie recipes. You’ll need to use slightly more leavening agent (e.g. baking powder, baking soda), since almond flour is heavier than wheat flour.

Add flavonoids

Incorporate citrus zest into recipes for cookies, muffins, pies, cakes and frosting to deliver anti-inflammatory flavonoids and extra flavour. You’ll also find flavonoids – phytochemicals linked to heart health – in dark chocolate. Use chopped dark chocolate (70-per-cent cocoa solids and higher) instead of milk-chocolate chips.

Leslie Beck, a registered dietitian, is based at the Medisys clinic in Toronto. She is a regular contributor to CTV News Channel.

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