Healthier Cooking & Baking Alternatives

One of the main searches I do on a regular basis is how to improve my cooking and baking habits by using alternative ingredients that are healthier, lower in fat, sugar, sodium and cholesterol. As I continue on my culinary journey, I’m always learning new substitutions, and tricks to making food not only taste terrific, but making food be healthier to eat, and enjoy without all the guilt, and worry that I may be indulging in something that may eventually do me more harm than good.

Believe it or not baking has some of the best alternatives for substituting healthier ingredients to cut out the fat from the butter, and oil, as well as enhance sweetness without all the unwanted high calorie sugars.

Butter Substitutes: Some of my favourite butter substitutes are using ripe bananas, stewed prunes, applesauce, avocados, and coconut oil. For most baking recipes that call for 1 cup of butter you can replace 1/2 a cup if not the entire cup with these simple yet delicious, and healthier alternatives. Applesauce and bananas work wonders in breads, cakes, and muffins, that call for their particular flavour, if you don’t want to taste just the bananas or applesauce I suggest using 1/2 cup of butter, and replace the other half with a healthier alternative. Avocados and prunes are an excellent choice in cookies, brownies, muffins, cakes, and breads as well. There taste is a little more mild making them a great healthy choice.

Oil Substitutes: I don’t have any kind of refined vegetable oil in my house, those types of oils are highly processed, high in fat, and are mainly used for deep fast frying foods. You can increase your health by all together avoiding oils that have partially hydrogenated oil written on the labels. The main oils you should avoid using are: 

  • Soybean

  • Refined Grapeseed

  • Cottonseed

  • Safflower

As for cooking and baking with oils, it’s always best to use them as minimal as possible. With that said there are some better choices to choose from that will make cooking and baking with oils a tasty and nutritious experience, the key is choosing the right type to suit your needs best, and always spend that little bit extra to make sure you are getting the better quality.

  • Extra-virgin olive is a perfect solution for making the best richest tasting salads dressing, where as virgin olive oil is better suited for cooking dishes on the stove top like sauteing herbs and vegetables.

  • Canola oil is very low in saturated fats making this oil a good source of omega-3 polyunsaturated fats, which play a crucial and important role to having good health.

  • Flaxseed oil is rich with omega 3 fatty acids, its flavour gives a nice nutty tastes making it an excellent choice for stir fries, and some nutty baking like banana crunch muffins.

  • Coconut oil is among my favourite alternative to use in all types of cooking and baking dishes. It is very versatile since it has a high smoking point making it ideal for cooking, as well as a fragrant taste making it ideal for baking as well. You can purchase coconut oil in a flavorless option being more ideal for cooking with if you are not entirely satisfied with the flavour. Be sure to always choose a virgin coconut oil  as it has powerful antibacterial, antiviral and antifungal agents, making it the prime reasoning why I choose coconut oil in a great deal of my healthy cooking, and baking recipes.

Sugar Substitutions: Sugar has always been the one ingredient that more times than not makes me gasp, when my eye wonder down the list of ingredients, and I get to the amount of sugar required in a recipes. Can you imagine that most baking recipes call for at the very minimal 1 cup of some kind of sugar, and in fact a lot of the time it has way more than just that 1 cup since other ingredients have sugar already in them, such as chocolate chips, and icing or frosting. No wonder desserts are scary, well scary to think about in a calorie sugar world, but not scary to look at cause most of them make my mouth water. I have a list of stay away from types of sugars and a list of lets dabble types of sugar, we will start with the bad and end with the good.

Sugars to avoid are:

  • Sweet n’ Low, how many of you use this thinking its a great sweetener for diabetics and because it has zero calories? Now research shows that this type of artificial sweetener in fact has chemicals that can cause inflammation, hormonal imbalances, and chronic disease, such as diabetes, heart disease, and cancer, kinda awful since when it first came out, it was suggested as a safe sugar substitute for diabetics. Now you know so let’s change that if you haven’t already.

  • Aspartame: How many different products do you think has aspartame in the list of ingredients? I would say a huge majority, it’s not only in soda’s, its in cereals, cookies, candy, granola bars, even “sugar-free” gum.  I can’t stress enough how much better it is to make as much of your own food as possible so you know exactly what you are eating. I know time doesn’t always allow for this to be a reality when our schedules are so busy, but you are what you eat, and if you take some time to at least buy better quality food it will pay off. 

  • Refined Sugar: How many of you use refined sugar in your baking? I use too until I realised many years ago that it has no good facts about it what so ever. A refined sugar has been striped of all its good minerals and vitamins, making your body resort to using your stored vitamins and minerals to break it down, than it causes your blood sugar to spike, and weaken your immune system, all leading to illness and disease.

Sugar’s that can be used:

  • Splenda: This low-calorie sugar works well in your baked goods, and it tastes just like sugar. It has been said to be safe on humans showing no research that suggests that it is harmful to use. I have used Splenda from time to time, since it is a diabetic safe sugar, but I still prefer other choices.

  • Truvia: This is a sugar made from a plant called Stevia Rebaudiana, comes from Paraguay and Brazil. Truvia, tastes just like sugar, and won’t cause spikes in your blood sugar, making it a healthy option for diabetics and people with family history of diabetes.

  • Agave Nectar: This is a very popular sugar substitute, made from the core of an agave plant. Agave nectar is sweeter than table sugar, so the less is more factor is a nice bonus. Agave nectar also offers beneficial vitamins, minerals, and a lower glycemic index than table sugar, meaning that it won’t cause  a spike in blood sugar levels.

  • Honey: This natural sweetener has gotten a bad reputation from time to time, but the truth is coming to the surface. Honey tastes up to 50% sweeter than regular table sugar-making that less is more situation intriguing once again. Honey has a good list of beneficial properties including niacin, riboflavin, thiamine, vitamin B6, and free-radical fighting antioxidants just to mention a few, than we have the fact that honey in its raw form does great wonders for your gut improving gut-friendly bacteria. This natural sugar substitute has a low glycemic index helping your body keep sugar levels in check.

  • Pure Maple Syrup: I love using pure maple syrup in my baking as a substitute for sugar, because it tastes sweeter than regular table sugar, meaning I can use less, it has a great flavour that compliments many baking recipes, and pure maple syrup is all natural with no artificial ingredients.  Make sure when substituting maple syrup that its pure 100% pure maple syrup, not the maple syrup that has a whole bunch of I don’t know what type of ingredients.

  • Xylitol Sugar: I like using Xylitol as a substitute in my recipes, because its 100% natural sweetener that is derived from North American Hardwood, it has no after taste, no artificial addictive, low-calorie, low carb, and diabetic safe. This sugar is very versatile being ideal when used in coffee, baking and cooking.

Egg Substitutes: Eggs are always good in our diets because they provide us with protein and vitamin D, which are both essential to having a balanced and healthy diet. None the less some people just can’t eat eggs, whether it’s because of an allergy, health diet such as someone who is a vegan, and does not consume any animal products or products that are animal based which includes eggs. I myself enjoy baking and cooking with out eggs from time to time to eliminate extra fat from my recipes, and sometimes if you really want the truth I run out of eggs. I do so much baking and cooking, plus my husband loves having eggs for breakfast, even though he doesn’t know that I cut it in half by adding half egg whites only, but that’s another story, any how, eggs come and go in my house as fast as they came in. Having good quality egg substitutions on hand to accommodate different types of recipes is always useful.

First egg replacement on my list works as one of the best for when you are baking pretty much anything from cakes, to muffins to cookies, it is a Ground Flax Seed & Water mixture. 1 tbsp. of ground flax-seed mixed with 3 tbsp. water equals a substitution for 1 egg. I haven’t tried the substitution with anything that called for more than 2 eggs, but I don’t know it works amazing for many baking recipes that call for 1 or 2 eggs. Other common ones I like to use are:

  • 1 tsp baking powder + 1- 1/2 TBS water + 1- 1/2 TBS oil

  • 1 TBS cornstarch + 3 TBS water for each missing egg

  • 1/2 banana, mashed (medium size) + 1/4 tsp baking powder

For when you are cooking meals for breakfast, lunch and dinner, actual store-bought egg replacers work well, and not to mention they are quick and easy to use. 

Now for some simple switch a roos you can make in your diet to add some better nutritious without any fuss, that is easy, and for the most part enjoyable. We all buy the basic produce every week, and use them in our cooking, but without knowing it there are better choices right side by side each other in a grocery stores, that you could be making instead of the usual that you have grown accustomed too.

First most of us try to add something green to our plates, but that something green doesn’t count if its ice burg lettuce, it literally has no nutritionally value making it a poor choice when you toss it into your grocery cart. Instead opt for a bag of baby spinach, baby kale or arugula. I suggested baby spinach and kale because the younger leaves are more tender and have better flavour, making it an easy more enjoyable transition.

I am sure we have heard about the potato switch. Instead of the regular potato switch it up for a beta carotene filled sweet potato also loaded with beneficial fibre.

It is becoming more obvious how much meat is not an actual necessity in our diets each day. Yes I know that they still offer great nutrients and vitamins, but you can get them in many different ways as well. Instead of a big greasy beef burger try out some many great vegetarian burgers made with beans and chickpeas, your still getting all the great proteins, but your leaving behind the unwanted saturated fats and unnecessary digestion problems.

One of my biggest transitions was switching from white pasta and bread to whole grain pasta’s and breads. It’s not that I didn’t like the whole grain it was just that I had been accustomed to eating the white pasta and bread for so long, but as soon as I adjusted, which only took about a month, I was very grateful that I stuck it out. My digestion improved along with my waist line. I didn’t feel as heavy, and full after a meal, and I had better energy to get through my day.

Use fresh herbs and seasons instead of package dry ingredients. I know we are not all gourmet cooks, neither am I, but I love to cook, and mostly I love to eat good food that is not only good for me, but tastes good. Why compromise on the taste of your food if its easier to make it great. For instance every week by a small bunch of fresh herbs that you can use in your cooking, make suer to have fresh lemons, limes,garlic, and ginger in the fridge, since they are main staples in many dishes. Also vinegar such as rice vinegar or balsamic vinegar is a good sodium substitution, so before you reach for that salt shaker, drizzle a little vinegar in your dishes instead. I make my own dried herbs in the fall every year, and for some people who is not an option, which is fine, so maybe buy herbs that are organic in small amounts so they don’t loose their flavour, and you are getting quality ingredients. 

I am sure I could keep this list going longer, but I am starting to have concentration  failure so this will be the last on the list for now, but I will be sure to add some here, and there as time goes by. I think everyone tries their best to do what they can do, with the time they have, and that is always understandable, but we all have the choice to decide if our health will come first or last, so with that said, I try to encourage people to put down the pre-packaged canned and boxed food, that mostly contain ingredients that are no good for us, and try to make a few simple dishes at least a couple of times a week until cooking has found a place in your schedule, then never look back. Even if you try to make meals that have less boxed and canned food your going to make a difference. Instead of buying canned fruits and vegetables, buy them frozen, they are still quick and easy to use, but they are still more nutritious with no preservatives. The truth is once you start eliminating boxed and canned foods, and using more fresh ingredients you will really see that it takes no more time to cook something simple, fresh and delicious than it takes to follow instructions off a box. I know you will see, taste and feel the difference. Remember you don’t have to be a labelled chef to be good at cooking, and enjoy good food, so give it a try at least and see where it takes you, Ciao for now.