The holidays bring many things—family gatherings, parties and traditions of all kinds—many celebrated with and around food. And the sweet smell of warm breads, decadent cakes and scrumptious cookies during the holiday season can be hard to resist. If you are in the mindset of “maintaining and not gaining” this season, there is good news. It only takes a few smart swaps to makeover your favorite baked goods—into lighter, healthier versions.
Here, Abbott registered dietitian and avid baker, Carolyn Alish, PhD, RD, shares some of her top swaps:
1. Get Creative with Flour
White flour is an old standby for most baking recipes, but white flour is a refined grain that lacks nutrition and fiber and can spike your blood sugar. Instead of white flour, try these substitutes. Hint: some are great gluten-free options!
Oat flour is an excellent source of fiber, both soluble and insoluble which fill you up, aid digestion, and improve colon health. Soluble fiber in particular, also helps to reduce the “bad” LDL cholesterol in your body. If you decide to make your own oat flour at home and you follow a gluten-free diet, make sure you purchase gluten-free oats. Although oats are naturally gluten-free, cross contamination can occur.
2. Swap Out Sugar
"Raw sugar, coconut sugar, date sugar and honey are often flagged as healthy alternatives to white sugar," says Alish, "but since they all have the same glycemic index, they will have the same effect on your blood glucose level. At the end of the day, they’re all sugar.
If you add dried fruit like dates and raisins, you will get the sweetness you crave without all the sugar. Or simply reduce the amount of sugar the recipe calls for by 1/3 or 1/2 and chances are you won’t miss it.
If you use honey, use 1/2 cup of honey per cup of sugar. For agave, use 2/3 of a cup for every cup of sugar and reduce the amount of liquid ingredients by 1/4 cup.
3. Replace Butter and Oil with Fruit
In recipes that call for butter or oil, substitute avocado which is rich in healthy, monounsaturated fat, cholesterol-free and has nearly 20 vitamins and minerals. Don’t have an avocado on hand? Try applesauce or any type of fruit puree.
4. Add in Vegetables
Sweet vegetables like pumpkin, butternut squash, sweet potato, zucchini, carrots and beets pack a powerful punch of vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, antioxidants and fiber. Shredded, grated or pureed, vegetables add a burst of flavor and moistness to your baked goods.
5. Throw in Some Seeds
Pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, flaxseeds and chia seeds are all excellent sources of minerals such as calcium and phosphorus for healthy, strong bones, and iron and zinc to strengthen the immune system. Seeds are also rich in heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids, and have been shown to lower blood pressure and cholesterol, improve blood vessel function, and reduce inflammation.
6. Use Greek Yogurt Instead of Cream
Greek yogurt is high in protein and a rich source of calcium, vitamin B12, magnesium and potassium—all of which are necessary for healthy, strong bones. Greek yogurt also contains probiotics, healthy bacteria that aid digestion, improve gut function and strengthen immunity.
Substitute whole milk or low-fat Greek yogurt when a recipe calls for sour cream, cream cheese or buttermilk.
Try one or all of these easy swaps and you’ll see how healthy and delicious baking can really be.