Savvy substitutions for healthier holiday baking

Written by Dr. Heidi Lescanec, ND


Are you and your family smitten with home baked goods? There are numerous tasty ways to elevate the nutritional content of your baking. The winter/holiday season of festing followed by resolutions to have a healthier year ahead is the perfect time to get savvy to some of the tricks of the wholesome food–trade or the “ better substitution scene”.

As a rule, when it comes to healthy balanced eating, I like to focus on the expansive concept of adding rather than taking away. If we have allergies or intolerances to certain ingredients, like wheat, gluten or dairy or particular plant-based diets then by all means we need to eliminate those from the roster and find satisfying alternatives. For many of us though, improving our baking might involve adding more nutrient dense foods into tried and true favourite recipes. This could look like tossing in omega3 rich chia seeds, protein packed hemphearts or using ground nuts or even cleverly sneaking in vegetables (like ground squash, beets, shredded zucchini). The delicious possibilities abound…

Below are some ideas for how to substitute some commonly used allergenic/ less healthful ingredients with some more nutritious/cleaner options.

“Better” Substitutions for Standard Ingredients:

1. Replace your Cane Sugars: Replace 1 cup of granulated white sugar with following quantities, and adjust liquids as below:
• 1 c coconut palm sugar : (straight substitution)*
• 1/2 cup honey: reduce liquids by 3 tablespoons add 1/4 teaspoon soda
• 2/3 cup maple syrup : reduce liquids by 4 tablespoons add 1/4 teaspoon soda
• 1 1/3 cup molasses: reduce the liquid by 5 tablespoons, add ½ teaspoon soda
• 1/4 cup fruit juice concentrate: reduce the liquid in the recipe by 3 tablespoons
• 1 1/4 cup brown rice syrup: reduce liquids by 4 tablespoons.
• 2/3 -1 cup date sugar (depending on how sweet you like it) and increase flour by 2 tablespoons if using 2/3 cup, 3 tablespoons if using 1 cup)
* Note that it will give your baked goods a caramel brown colour, much like adding molasses, however the flavour is much more mild than you might expect, lending a caramel-like taste. I use this interchangeably in recipes that call for regular sugar.

2. Go Gluten-Free :  to replace a flour that contains Gluten:  for every   1 cup of  a Gluten  Flour, replace with : 7/8 cup of Gluten Free Flour (eg Brown Rice, Sorghum, Quinoa, GF Oats OR a  combination of these flours, + 2 tablespoons Tapioca Flour + ¼ teaspoon xanthan gum.

*There are many commercially available “Gluten Free” Flour mixes which will have this combination already, often with added Potato starch.
Gluten-free flours burn more easily than regular, and don’t really brown -so catch them before they get too well done – you will know they are baked if you can insert a toothpick and it comes out dry.

3. Do Dairy- Free: (your lactose-intolerant /allergic or vegan friends will be impressed!)
Cow dairy Milk: 1:1 equal substitution with almond, soy, rice, hemp, or coconut
• Buttermilk: 1: 1 of the above + 1 Tablespoon lemon juice or 2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar
• Cow dairy Yogurt: 1:1 equal substitution with almond, coconut or soy yogurt
• Butter: 1:1 Earth Balance (if needs to be hard/ cut in as in scones or pastry dough), Coconut Oil if can be soft or melted (as in cookies, breads, pancakes).

4. Out of Eggs? (have an allergy or hosting a vegan friend? ) no problem!:

• 1 egg is normally about ¼ cup of liquid, so you can substitute with any of the below:

• 1 tablespoon finely ground flaxseeds or chia seeds blended with 3 tablespoon water or herb tea until frothy/thick (about 10-15 minutes)
*Rule of thumb is 1 part ground flax/chia to 3 parts liquid.
*If you make a large batch, will last approximately 3 days in fridge.
• ½ cup applesauce or mashed banana + ½ teaspoon baking powder
• ¼ c soft tofu, blended with the liquid in the recipe
• 1 teaspoon “Ener-G Egg Replacer” beaten with 2 tablespoon water or herb tea
• 2 tablespoon flour + 1 ½ teaspoon vegetable oil + ½ teaspoon baking powder beaten with 2 tablespoon water or herb tea