7 Simple Substitutions to Make Sweet Treats Healthier

The holidays are quickly approaching and the aisles and aisles of Halloween candy are taking over every store I’ve been to lately. As a Fort Collins Nutritionist, I wanted to give you some strategies to make this year’s sweet season a little bit healthier with seven simple substitutions.

Your favorite cookies, pies, cakes, sweet breads, and more can all taste good and turn into healthy baking by making just a few simple tweaks. Here are seven of my favorite substitutions you can use when modifying recipes for healthier desserts:

1. Use applesauce for half of the butter or shortening called for in the recipe. This works especially well for sweet breads, muffins, and cakes.

2. Use whole wheat flour or a high protein gluten free flour blend in place of white bleached all-purpose flour. To maintain a similar taste and texture to what you’re used to, just swap half of the flour called for in the recipe. This works great to make healthy cookies (well healthy-er at least).

3. Instead of whole milk or cream, try almond milk or coconut milk. The thick coconut milk found in a can is a great heavy cream width= substitute that contains lots of medium chain fatty acids which get burned more like carbs instead of stored as fat.

4. When baking healthy desserts, recipes often call for salt. Try reducing the salt in your recipe by increasing spices like cinnamon or nutmeg to intensify the flavor or use just a pinch of salt instead of teaspoons full. You can usually eliminate half of the salt with very little change in flavor.

5. If a recipe calls for sugar, you have several options to eliminate the sugar high then crash that accompanies most sweet treats. It depends on the type of recipe, but you can usually cut the amount of sugar in your recipe by half with very little change to the taste and texture. You can also replace the sugar entirely with more healthy sweeteners like honey or maple syrup but keep in mind that the liquid proportions may be off. This will take some trial and error. Just remember– natural or not, sugar is sugar (and no sugar or sugar substitute is truly healthy)!

6. If a recipe calls for syrup (pancakes or waffles are a great example), try using pureed fruit like applesauce or cooked-down berries if appropriate instead of syrup which is pure sugar. Natural syrups like Grade B maple syrup are better choices than fake low-calorie or low-sugar recipes. Remember- always go for real food if you can! width=

7. Try swapping ice cream on top of pies or other desserts with plain Greek yogurt. It is full of protein and is low in sugar and low fat (if you get a low-fat variety). Drizzle the top with a bit of honey if its not sweet enough– this way you get to control how much sugar you’re using. Plain yogurt or Greek yogurt can also make a great dessert substitute on its own with some fruit or berries if you tolerate dairy. Try topping it with some homemade granola for a healthier dessert, snack, or breakfast.

Erin Harner

Erin Harner is an Integrative Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN), author, and speaker based in Ithaca, NY. Erin melds functional medicine and culinary nutrition to help her clients uncover their unique diet and confidently cook healthy nourishing meals that meet the needs of their whole family. Learn about Erin's services and connect on Instagram.

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