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Sneaky Swaps for Guilt-Free Baking

Yes, you can have your cake and eat it too, with a lot less guilt. Thankfully, there's an easy way to indulge in your favorite sweet treat with a few key ingredient swaps.

Natural Sugar Alternatives

A simple way to healthy up treats is by swapping out white sugar with natural sweeteners. Natural sweeteners contain extra vitamins and minerals that are lacking in processed sugar. Alternative sweeteners like coconut sugar, dates, honey, maple syrup, and stevia can easily be used as replacements for white sugar. The unique flavors of these natural sweeteners can complement other ingredients in your recipe (for example, honey and fruit in a blueberry scone pair wonderfully) and most can be found at your neighborhood grocery store. Some also are low glycemic, making them ideal for those with blood sugar issues. Here's a look at some sweet options, and how to use them:

  • Coconut sugar: High in B vitamins and high mineral content (potassium, magnesium, zinc, iron) and a low glycemic food. Substitute one for one with white sugar.
  • Dates Dates contain dietary fiber, iron, potassium, A, B and K vitamins. Substitute one cup date puree (puree one cup pitted dates with 1/2-1 cup hot water into a thick paste) for one cup of sugar.
  • Honey: Full of calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, zinc and selenium. Substitute 1/2 cup honey for one cup of sugar, reduce the liquid in the recipe by 1/4 cup, and increase the baking soda by 1/4 teaspoon. When baking with honey, lower the oven temperature by 25 degrees to avoid over browning.
  • Maple Syrup: A good source of zinc and manganese. Substitute 3/4 cup maple syrup for one cup of sugar and reduce by three tablespoons the other liquid content in the recipe for each cup of syrup used.
  • Stevia: A naturally sweet herb. For convenience, use Stevia In The Raw® Bakers Bag to substitute one cup of stevia for one cup of sugar. Otherwise, follow package directions for substitution guidelines..

Whole-Grain Chocolate Cake

A dense chocolate cake sweetened with coconut sugar.

Whole Grain Chocolate Cake

Photo by Nicole Spiridakis

Flour Alternatives

Another simple swap: Replacing all-purpose flour with whole grain flour. Studies have shown that whole grains help lower the risk of chronic diseases, such as coronary heart disease, diabetes, and cancer, and also contribute to body weight management.

There are many whole grain flours to choose from and they are excellent sources of minerals such as iron, potassium, phosphorus, and calcium. They are also complex carbohydrates, unlike refined flour, which has lost much of its fiber content.

Start by incorporating whole grains in your baking by replacing a cup of all purpose flour with a cup of whole grain flour, then experiment with proportions until you find your perfect combo of whole grain to white. Some flours, like rye or barley flour, are better used in smaller amounts while flours like whole wheat pastry or spelt can be used interchangeably for white flour. Many can be purchased in bulk, so you can buy just a little as you ease your way into more nutritious and delicious, baking.

  • Barley Flour: Slightly nutty in flavor. Swap out half of the all-purpose flour for barley flour.
  • Oat Flour: A light and delicate flavor. In your favorite cookie or muffin recipe, substitute half of the all-purpose flour for oat flour.
  • Rye Flour: Rye flour is best in a pie or pizza crust recipe; substitute 1/4 cup of all-purpose or whole wheat flour with rye flour.
  • Spelt Flour: A tender, mild flavor. Spelt flour is wonderful substituted one for one with all-purpose flour in most baking recipes.
  • Whole Wheat Pastry Flour: The best flour to ease yourself into whole grain baking. Substitute one for one with all-purpose flour.

Here's my recipe for light and fluffy pancakes made healthier with spelt flour, and sweetened with a touch of maple:

Spelt Pancakes

Spelt Pancakes

Photo by Nicole Spiridakis


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About Nicole Spiridakis

Current expat, coffee enthusiast, writer, baker, and traveler. Writing about life abroad and posting lots of real food recipes at Instagram: @cucinanicolina