Substitutions for Healthier Baking and Cooking

by Gayle Cottrill

Canned food and boxed mixes have made cooking and baking convenient and easy for our busy lifestyles. However, many of these items are high in sodium and preservatives. Even some of our homemade recipes can call for high amounts of unhealthy ingredients. Choosing to cook from scratch or use healthy substitutes can help cut down on the amount of fats, calories, sugar, and sodium that usually saturate our diet.

To reduce calories and add more nutritional value to our food, there are many different types of substitutions that you can use. These substitutions aren’t always a one-to-one replacement, so it might take some experimentation to get the mix just right. Some replacement ingredients may still need to be used in addition to the original ingredient, but even small changes can add up and go a long way.

Here are some ideas for substitutions you can use in your own recipes:

  • Greek yogurt instead of mayonnaise or sour cream – I really want to try this in my mother’s banana bread recipe, which calls for sour cream. Greek yogurt has less calories and is higher in protein. It also mixes well with other flavors and could be used to make a flavorful sandwich spread instead of plain mayonnaise.
  • Coconut oil or fruit puree instead of oil or butter – There are many options for fat substitutions, especially when it comes to baking. This fall, I plan on using applesauce in my pumpkin chocolate chip muffins as that recipe has always made me cringe at the amount of vegetable oil it calls for. Other fruits that could work as fat substitutes are bananas, prunes, figs, and avocados.
  • Whole wheat or nut flour instead of plain, white flour – Whole wheat and the various nut flours offer more fiber and nutrients than refined flour. If you’re feeling adventurous and in the mood for brownies, try using pureed black beans instead of flour.
  • Honey or pure maple syrup instead of sugar – These two sweeteners offer different benefits, but both are better nutritionally than cane sugar. If you have a recipe you’re willing to experiment with, try one out.
  • Chia seeds instead of eggs – This is a popular substitute for vegan-friendly recipes. Like eggs, chia seeds are high in protein, but they also are high in fiber and Omega-3 fatty acids. One tablespoon of ground chia and three tablespoons of water, once mixed and set, can replace one egg.

When it comes to flavoring our food, many of us turn to salt or premade seasoning packets which are also high in sodium. Too much sodium in our diets can lead to a higher risk of heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, and kidney disease. Many flavored seasoning packets can be easily replicated with everyday spices and herbs. In addition to their aromatic and strong flavors, many herbs and spices are packed full of antioxidants and some have been used for millennia for medicinal remedies.

Ultimately, making things from scratch as much as possible allows you to control what goes into your food and into you. By substituting certain ingredients, you can enjoy a guilty pleasure treat even more knowing that you’ve made it as healthy as a cookie can be.