By Sophie Geoffrrion, nutritionist and co-founder of the HappyFitness Movement
As a pre-training snack or to celebrate a nephew’s birthday, you can’t miss with baked goods! Here are a few neat tricks to baking healthy muffins and light cakes yourself. Yes, friends, it is possible to lower the sugar and fat and raise the fiber in your recipes and still satisfy your sweet tooth!
The chemistry of desserts
When you think pastries, you often thing chemistry. Well-balanced, each ingredient interacts with the others to transform matter into a delicious little treat. For example, when baking cakes and muffins, the starch in flour absorbs the milk and egg proteins strengthen and become a solid consistency in the mix. Without including their (huge) contribution to the product’s great taste, the sugar and fat tenderize the crumbs and prevent it from drying out too quickly after it comes out of the oven. In short, all the elements in a recipe play an integral role. Healthy substitutions are possible, but don’t replace just willy nilly. Choose one or two substitutions from the ones we suggest below, then start experimenting!
Thanks to their chemical properties, all ingredients play a precise role in how well a recipe turns out.
1. Decrease the amount of refined sugar – what a great idea!
It’s no secret. Whether it’s to ward off cavities, maintain heart health, better manage weight or type 2 diabetes, we all have a vested interest in consuming fewer added sugar.
For a light cake or healthy muffins, modify the original recipe one of these ways:
- Replace ¼ of the amount of sugar, for example, with ¾ cup and not a full cup
- Replace 2 tablespoons of sugar with ½ teaspoon of vanilla to enhance flavour
- Replace the same volume of sugar with date purée which will also increase fiber and nutrients
- Replace 1 cup of sugar with a cup of unsweetened apple sauce and remove ¼ of liquid from the recipe
- Use pieces of dark chocolate, chopped nuts or dried fruit instead of sweetened chocolate chips
2. Who says that less fat means fewer calories?
Fat is energy dense meaning it contains a lot of calories for a small volume, so if you’re looking to lighten up a dessert, it’s better to decrease the amount of fat in the recipe. Furthermore, liquid vegetable oils at room temperature have more health benefits than solid fat (ex., coconut oil, butter, lard and shortening). It’s interesting to switch some of them with liquid options.
Good to know: oil is made from 100% fat whereas butter and margarine contain about 80% fat and 20% water. This way, if you replace 1 cup of butter with canola oil, use ¾ cup of oil and add ¼ cup of milk, for example.
Try one of these options to lower fat and consequently, calories:
- Replace ¼ of the amount of sugar, for example, if the recipe calls for 1 cup of sugar, use only ¾ cup
- Replace half of the oil or butter with unsweetened apple sauce, banana, avocado or butternut squash purée or Greek yoghurt
- To cut 1 cup of oil or butter, use 3 tablespoons of ground chia seeds thickened in one cup of water
- Replace a whole egg with two egg whites
3. Fiber makes you happy!
No joke – fiber is just awesome. It fills you up, helps keep you regular, maintains good gut health (bacteria is good!), promotes heart health and controls type 2 diabetes, etc. Who could say no to that?
To enhance a muffin (mostly) or dessert recipes, think about making one of these changes:
- Replace half or all of the all-purpose flour with whole flour
- Remove ¼ c of all-purpose flour and instead add ¼ ground flax seeds, oat bran or wheat bran
- Replace 1 cup of all-purpose flour with ¼ cup of almond powder + ¾ c of whole flour + ½ teaspoon of baking powder
- Replace 1 cup of flour with 1 cup of white or black bean purée in a brownie recipe
4. 100% plant
Want to explore the world of vegetarian cooking? Here are a few easy substitutions:
- Replace butter with vegetable oil or, to maintain the consistency of cookies in particular, with coconut oil
- Replace chicken eggs with chia or flax “eggs” (use 1 tablespoon of ground flax or chia seeds and thicken in 3 tablespoons of water)
- Replace cow’s milk with soya milk that contains the same amount of proteins, unlike other vegetable drinks
- Replace whipped cream with coconut milk whipped cream
These healthy muffins are just as delicious as light, little cakes for dessert!
In short, homemade muffins prepared in advance freeze easily and make an excellent breakfast or delicious snack. As for desserts, well… you’d be crazy to give them up! Lighten up your favourite recipes to continue benefitting from our favourite treats.
- BLAIS, Christina. La Chimie des desserts, Montréal, La Presse Publishing, 2007, 223 pages.
- “Greatist, The Ultimate Guide to Healthier Baking”, [online] http://greatist.com/health/healthy-baking-recipe-substitutions-infographic (consulted March 9, 2017)