How to Bake With Less Fat & Sugar

How can you make those sweet treats laden with butter and sugar a tad more healthy? Read on to find out the purpose of fat and sugar in a recipe, and how you can replace them with healthier options to keep those treats just as tasty.

Zucchini Bread

We all love a cookie, cupcake, or muffin but unfortunately, these tasty treats can come with a lot of added undesirable fat in the form of butter, sugar, and oil.  Knowing the basics of baking and what certain ingredients do in a recipe can open a wide variety of doors when you are looking to cut down on fat and sugar in a recipe.  Let’s go over the “culprit” ingredients to begin with and then talk about the “replacements”.

  1. Sugar has a few purposes when used in baked goods. It helps create flavor, color, tenderization, serves as a preservative, and helps the baked good rise.
  2. Fat provides flavor, color, moisture, richness, acts as a preservative, and helps to shorten gluten strands making for a more tender product.

Sounds like you really can’t do without either one, right?  Well this is not necessarily true.  When you remove one or the other you do have to replace them with something.  You will have slight changes in the final product but most people don’t mind and certainly feel better about putting healthier ingredients into their recipe for less sugar, fat, and calories.

First let’s start with fat.  When you replace oil and butter you can replace half of it with other ingredients such as applesauce, pumpkin puree, banana, or even avocado.  We don’t recommend COMPLETELY eliminating the fat in your recipe because you do need some.  With that said, opt for a healthy fat replacement such as virgin coconut oil or if you want a more neutral flavor, organic almond or avocado oil.  It will keep your product tender and retain more moisture.

Sugar can be a bit more complicated.  Of course you can always replace cane sugar with agave, honey, or maple syrup.  If you use any one of these sweeteners, you should reduce the amount you use by about a third AT LEAST.  These sweeteners are much more concentrated and you are adding more moisture to the recipe that wasn’t called for than if you were using cane sugar.

If you are looking to replace sugar, some ingredients can do double duty!  Mashed bananas are a favorite due to their inherent sweetness; and they act as a fat substitute as well by adding moisture and color.  Pumpkin and applesauce can also replace sugar due to their natural sweetness.  Banana and pumpkin tend to lend a more specific flavor profile, while applesauce is a little bit more neutral in flavor.

As you can see, fat and sugar replacements go hand in hand or can be interchangeable.  Fat and sugar have similar jobs in baking, so it makes sense that substitutes would be similar in nature.  To wrap things up, let’s look at a real recipe and how we would replace ingredients to cut back on the amount of fat and sugar.

Simple Vanilla Cupcakes·         2 cups flour

·         ½ tsp. salt

·         2 tsp. baking powder

·         ½ cup butter, softened

·         ¾ cup sugar

·         2 eggs

·         1 cup milk

·         1 tsp. vanilla


Healthier Vanilla Cupcakes·         2 cups flour or GF cup for cup all-purpose flour blend

·         ½ tsp. salt

·         2 tsp. baking powder

·         ¼ cup virgin coconut oil (melted)

·         ¼ cup applesauce

·         1/3 cup maple syrup

·         2 eggs

·         2/3 cup unsweetened almond milk

·         1 tsp. vanilla

There are a few more ingredients in the revised recipe to the right, but overall it has much less sugar and fat.  We scaled back on the amount of liquid being added due to the liquid sweetener and replaced half of the butter with oil and half with applesauce (more neutral in flavor).

If you find when you mix up your batter that it is too thin or too thick, you can always add a little more flour or liquid to it to achieve the right consistency.  If you are using whole wheat flour, just be careful not to over stir it because this will cause the gluten to develop too much leading to more dense, tough cupcakes.

The next time you make muffins or cupcakes, give it a try.  You may be surprised with how your final product turns out!

IMG_3018Stefanie Gates, chef, is a regular contributor to our blog and is a culinary advisor for PreviMedica. She enjoys developing recipes and creating cooking videos to share with our readers, as well as working one-on-one with our clients to teach them valuable cooking skills. You can learn more about her here.

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