By Jennifer Copley (Last Updated 16 October 2012)
There are a number of low-fat and fat-free substitutes that can be used to replace high-fat ingredients in baked goods to create healthier treats.
One cup of butter in a recipe adds a whopping 1,600 calories and 177 grams of fat, and margarine and shortening often contain hydrogenated fats (trans-fatty acids), which may raise cholesterol even more than saturated fat.
Although people require some fat in their diets to be healthy, most of those in North America get far more fat and calories than they need, so reducing or eliminating fat from baked goods wherever possible is a good idea. Margarine, butter, and shortening can be replaced partially or completely with the following substitutions.
Applesauce and other fruit purees can be used to replace all of the fats in most baked goods, and at least 1/2 the fat in cookies. Good substitutions include:
- Applesauce – most cakes, muffins, gingerbread, cookies
- Mashed bananas – chocolate cakes, spice cakes, muffins, other quick breads
- Pureed peaches – spice cakes, muffins
- Pureed pears – coffee cakes, quick breads
- Pureed prunes – spice cakes, muffins, scones, chocolate cakes, coffee cakes, crumb crusts, brownies, cookies
Use 1/2 as much of the fruit puree as the total amount of fat called for in the recipe and then if the mixed batter looks dry, add a little more of the substitute. The exception is recipes that call for oil. In this case, substitute 3/4 as much of the fat replacer.
Cooked mashed squashes (such as pumpkin) or sweet potatoes can be used to replace all or a portion of the fat in most baked goods, and at least 1/2 the fat in cookies. Use 3/4 as much of the vegetable puree as the total amount of fat called for in the recipe (or the same amount if the required fat is oil) and then if the batter looks dry, add a little more of the substitute. Mashed squashes and sweet potatoes are particularly good in muffins, quick breads, gingerbread, fruit cakes and other dense cakes, and bars, especially if the recipe calls for cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, or cloves.
Fat-Free Dairy Products
Fat-free buttermilk or yogurt can be used to replace all the fat in most baked goods and at least 1/2 that in cookies. Dairy substitutes are particularly good in muffins, quick breads, cakes, chocolate baked goods, biscuits, and scones.
Use 1/2 as much of the substitute as the total amount of fat called for in the recipe (or 3/4 if the recipe calls for oil) and then if the batter looks dry, add a little more of the substitute.
Sweet Fat Substitutes
Jam, apple butter, prune butter, corn syrup, honey, chocolate syrup, molasses, and fruit juice concentrates can replace all the fat in many baked goods, as well as in sweet crumb toppings and crusts, and at least 1/2 the fat in cookies. Good substitutes include:
- Apple butter – bran muffins, spice cakes
- Chocolate syrup – all chocolate treats
- Corn syrup – most baked goods
- Fruit jam – muffins
- Fruit juice concentrates – carrot cake, fruit crisp crumb toppings (juices don’t work as well in scones or biscuits)
- Honey – muffins, cookies, scones, biscotti, oat bars
- Maple syrup – muffins, spice cakes, quick breads
- Molasses – quick breads, spice cakes, muffins, oat bars, certain cookies (spicy, whole wheat, or oatmeal)
- Prune butter – spicy muffins, cakes, quick breads
Use 3/4 as much of the substitute as the total amount of fat called for in the recipe if using a liquid sweetener such as honey, 1/2 as much if using a thicker sweetener such as apple butter. Exceptions include fruit juice (use 1/2 as much) and converting recipes that call for oil (use an equal amount). Reduce sugar by the same amount as the sweetener added.
Low-Fat Butter and Margarine
Reduced-fat margarine and butter can be used in place of their high-fat counterparts to cut the total fat content in most baked goods including pie crusts, cookies, and crumb toppings. However, if using margarine, be sure to choose one that does not contain hydrogenated fats. When replacing full-fat butter or margarine with low-fat variants, use 3/4 the amount called for in the recipe.
All the fat in an egg is located in the yolk. Two egg whites can be used in place of each full egg to eliminate fat from eggs.
Converting High-Fat Recipes to Fat-Free
Choose recipes that are more likely to maintain their textures when converted to low-fat or fat-free. Muffins, quick breads, dense cakes (i.e., carrot, chocolate, spice), and cookies that contain oats or other whole grains tend to convert well. Light, fluffy, tender cakes may not be as adaptable, though it is still possible to cut some of the fat without ruining them. With refined flour cookies, replacing just 1/2 the fat is recommended, as removing all of it may make them cakey or rubbery.
Add fat substitutes with the liquid ingredients rather than creaming them with the sugar (except for reduced-fat butter or margarine). When eliminating fats from fluffy cakes, to replace air lost from creaming, whip egg whites and fold them into the batter gently.
Fat-free recipes often require a shorter baking time and lower oven temperature than their high-fat counterparts. Reduce the oven temperature by 25 degrees Fahrenheit and test for doneness earlier than the recipe requires.
If converting a recipe from high-fat to fat-free causes the baked goods to become coarse or tough, next time the recipe is made, try adding 1-2 tablespoons of soy lecithin granules to improve the texture. This will add 4-8 grams of fat, but only 1-2 will be saturated fat, and the overall fat content of the baked goods will still be quite low. Soy lecithin, a by-product of soy oil production, is available at many health food stores.
- Woodruff, Sandra, RD. (1994). Secrets of Fat-Free Baking. Garden City Park, NY: Avery Publishing Group.
- University of Iowa Hospitals & Clinics. (2000). “The Colorful Plate: Baking Substitutes.”