Meal Planning

Healthier Recipe Substitutions for Baking

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Do you have old recipes that you just love but don’t feel like you can cook anymore because they aren’t healthy enough? You want to cut back on refined sugar and highly processed vegetable oil, but how can you give up your favorite recipes? Chances are, you answered yes to one of those questions and that’s why I put together this healthier recipe substitutions guide for you!

It is definitely doable to revamp old favorites. In fact, I just finished revamping one of my favorites. My Mom used to make delicious peanut butter cheerio bars that I loved! It took me 3 tries, but I ended up developing the recipe into a different bar that is still delicious and reminiscent of the old cereal bars.

In fact, this is by far one of the most common questions I get asked…”How can I make this recipe healthier?” So, today, I’m talking all about better substitutions when you are baking!

Healthier Recipe Substitutions for Baking

Oil Substitutions: Coconut Oil, Fruit Purees (Applesauce), Avocados

If you are wanting to replace the butter or oil in a recipe here are my favorite alternatives. I still use grass fed butter at home some, but typically I replace it with coconut oil when I’m baking or even cooking. If I can make something healthier then I always want to try. However, I definitely recommend replacing oils such as crisco and vegetable oil with healthier and less processed alternatives. 

A note on replacing butter: Another great idea to remember is you can just replace half of the butter if you want. For example, if your recipe calls for 1 cup butter, you could use 1/2 cup butter and 1/2 cup mashed avocado.

Coconut Oil:

If you love coconut, this is a good option for you. I can usually taste a hint of coconut in my baked goods when I do this, but I love it! Coconut oil is full of MCT (medium chained triglycerides) which are metabolized differently than other saturated fats. Additionally, some studies have linked coconut oil to an improvement in HDL and even a decrease in waist circumference as compared to other oils.

Substitution: Replacing butter or another kind of oil (such as canola or vegetable oil) in baking with coconut oil is really simple! I use a 1:1 ratio when replacing with butter or any kind of oil. If replacing with a liquid oil, simply heat the coconut oil so that it stirs in easily.

Fruit Purees (Applesauce):

Fruit purees can be used to substitute butter, applesauce being the most common. Banana puree is also a popular option (there are many banana breads that use this method.) I have done this most often in muffins with good results. I don’t do it much anymore because my favorite substitution these days is coconut oil.

Substitution: It’s a 1:1 substitution for replacing oils with applesauce and fruit purees.


Avocados are full of healthy fats and many have taken to replacing butter with avocado. This is another great healthy plant based option and just one more way you can work the benefits of avocados into your diet.

Substitution: It’s a 1:1 substitution, but you’ll want to increase your wet ingredients since the avocado doesn’t melt like butter. And you may also want to adjust the temperature on your oven down. Check out this great post on substituting with avocados by The Kitchn for more details.

healthier recipe substitutions

Flour Substitutions: Whole Wheat, Oat Flour, Nut Flours, Beans

Oh, white flour. ? Lacking so many nutrients, highly processed white flour. Bleached flour is especially processed as the bleaching process not only strips it of nutrients, but results in questionable byproducts. So, there are two kinds of white flour…bleached and unbleached. All of this said, bleached is the worst. However, I would urge you to avoid white flour altogether and choose one of the better options below. There are so many different flours and alternatives to choose from. Today, I’m just highlighting a few that I keep on hand and love to use. I’ve got a full post all about flours planned for another day. My main goal is to avoid the overly processed white stuff.

Whole Wheat Flour:

  • Whole Wheat Flour – This is traditional red whole wheat flour, though we don’t usually refer to it as red whole wheat, but instead it’s simply “whole wheat.” It’s the typical, dense whole wheat you think of that whole wheat bread is generally made of.
  • White Whole Wheat Flour – This is made of a different type of wheat. It’s lighter and generally better suited to baked goods such as muffins, cookies, etc than “whole wheat flour.”

Substitution: You may end up needing to decrease the amount of flour a little as it is denser than white flour.

Oat Flour:

You can grind oats yourself to easily create oat flour. I usually use my nutribullet with the milling blade to do this. My favorite way to use oat flour is in pancakes (1/3 cup of oats, 2 eggs, 1 banana mixed together make 2-3 perfect pancakes for breakfast that actually leave you full), but it can be used in a variety of other baked goods as well.


Yes, surprisingly there are a variety of delicious baked goods that can be made with beans instead of flour! The substitutions are not as clear and it definitely doesn’t work in everything. My 2 favorite recipes using beans in baked goods are chocolate chickpea cupcakes and my flourless chocolate chip coconut cake.  Black beans can also be used in chocolate baked goods and there are plenty of delicious recipes for black bean brownies out there!

You don’t have to bake with whole beans either, you can actually buy chickpea flour though I think blending the chickpeas works just fine. Baking with beans is a lighter calorie, low fat option that gives you more protein.

Nut Flour:

Nut flours are gaining in popularity recently. Almond flour is likely the most popular option. You can either use them as your main flour or replace part of the flour with the nut flour. Similar to beans these will provide more protein; however, they are significantly higher in calories than bean flours. Additionally, nuts are a significantly lower carb option, but provide more fat.

healthier recipe substitutions

Sugar Substitutions: Honey, Maple Syrup

In general, we all know we should cut back on sweeteners. However, as you know I’m all about a life of balance and I love to bake delicious treats as much as the next person. My personal rules are that I limit how often I bake sweets and in general I do not use refined sugar. In fact, we haven’t kept sugar in the house for 4-5 years. So, my mind frame for choosing the following sweeteners is that they involve less processing than refined sugar and contain more nutrients.

I choose to avoid artificial sweeteners as I find them to be highly processed and some studies such as this one have shown they mess up our bodies natural metabolism. Similar to flours, looking into sugar alternatives opened up all sorts of options. So, I’m leaving you with my favorite 2 substitutions tonight and thinking another post might be in the works on this one as well! 


Honey is a much less processed option than white table sugar and contains more nutrients and even antioxidants and polyphenols. If you were to compare the nutrient composition of honey to sugar, the honey would show as being higher calorie and sugar. However, in general, you replace the sugar with 1/2 the amount of honey. Therefore, if we compare 1 tbsp of sugar (49 calories, 12.6 g carb/sugar) to 1/2 tbsp of honey (35 calories, 8.5 g carb/sugar), honey wins again!

Substitution: If a recipe calls for 1 cup of sugar, you will need 1/2 cup honey. You will likely need to adjust the liquids in the recipe as well since honey contains more water than sugar.

Maple Syrup:

Maple syrup, similar to honey goes through much less processing than sugar. Additionally, it contains nutrients, antioxidants and polyphenols. Maple syrup also boasts lower fructose content making it a favorite among many, including Dr Weil, a well known integrative physician. Finally, you can generally use about 3/4 the amount of maple syrup again, saving you calories and overall sugar content.

Substitution: Replacing sugar with maple syrup is not straight forward. It’s an attempt to balance sweetness and the extra liquid. In general, you can go anywhere from replacing 1 cup of sugar with 3/4 cup to 1 1/4 cup of maple syrup. Typically you will need to reduce your liquids by 1/3 to 1/2 cup for each cup of sugar replaced. Check out this useful article on Replacing Table Sugar with Maple Syrup by Cornell University.

healthier recipe substitutions

Creating Healthier Recipes

Once you get used to making substitutions and revamping old favorites, you’ll be surprised by how sugary or rich something you used to love tastes! I find myself preferring my healthier desserts these days. And, if you ever don’t know how to adjust one of your old favorites, you can always search for a new but similar healthier option. Sometimes just starting fresh and searching for recipes that already utilize the healthier recipe substitutions is the way to go. I hope this guide helps you to create healthier recipes!

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