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Healthy Substitutions

Posted Jul 01 2008 12:00am

If you want to make your dishes higher in nutritional value, consider using these healthy substitutions in your recipes (especially in baked goods).  Sometimes I substitute the full amount called for in the recipe and sometimes I only substitute half.  It really comes down to texture, sweetness, and your personal tastebuds.  You’ll have to experiment to see how substituting affects your dish.

  • Applesauce is a good substitute for butter, oil, yogurt, and eggs.  (This can be especially useful for those who have food allergies/sensitivities.)  It’s also slightly sweet, so using it may allow you to reduce the amount of sugar in your recipe.  Be careful when choosing your applesauce, though–make sure you purchase one that is ALL apples.  Sounds obvious, but most fruit-based foods (jam and jelly included) are made with corn syrup.  Read labels of everything before you buy it!
  • Nut “flours” are finely-ground nuts; almond and hazelnut flours are the most common.  You can substitute up to half the amount of normal flour for nut flour.  I prefer the nutty taste in many baked goods and muffins, and nut flour has significantly more fiber, protein and calcium than white flour.
  • Whole-wheat flour has 3 grams of fiber in a 1/4 cup.  Refined white cake flour has 0.  The choice is clear…unless you are making a very delicate cake where the flavor of the wheat could interfere, such as angel food cake.  I often mix and match varying amounts of wheat and nut flour.
  • Honey and agave nectar are both very sweet and have more nutrients than white sugar, which has been refined to the point of being empty calories.  Beware, however:  honey and agave will make the finished product much more dense!
  • Sucanat has a rich, deep taste, and it has much more iron than white sugar.  I much prefer the flavor of sucanat.  Molasses are a close relative of sucanat–they’re the nutrients that are “left over” when refined white sugar is stripped and processed.
  • Mashed bananas, canned pumpkin, and other fruits and vegetables can be good non-dairy substitutes for butter, but they’ll obviously add a strong taste of their own.  Then again, who doesn’t love zucchini bread or Caribbean rum banana-chocolate cake?
  • Greek yogurt is the only yogurt I have in my fridge.  Unlike the vast majority of corn-syrup- and sugar-laden yogurts on the market, Greek yogurt is made of milk, cream, and cultures.  I love it as a substitute for sour cream–whether in a baked recipe or with guacamole and chips–and as a partial substitute for butter and oil.  Another caution, however:  yogurt is a dense ingredient and results in a dense final product.  If the recipe calls for sour cream, feel free to substitute yogurt for the full amount, but if the recipe calls for oil/butter, you probably don’t want to use only Greek yogurt as a substitution.

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