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Healthy baking substitutes for guilt-free treats

At Healthy Cravings, we’re all about baking with weird things. There are black beans in our cookies. There’s maca in our brittle. We put chia seeds in almost everything.


We’ll be the first to tell you that using healthy baking substitutes requires a happy-go-lucky, “will try anything once” attitude - some things turn out perfectly the first time, and some recipes will need tweaking before they’re fit for guests/parties/picky children.




Image c/o Andrea Goh:


Below, some of our favorite ways to sub healthy ingredients for all kinds of recipes.

If you want to nix the WHITE FLOUR…



Image c/o Jonathan Lassoff -

For 1 cup white flour:

Sub 1 cup nut flour + ½ teaspoon rising agent.

We love almond meal for breads and cookies. Note: most nut flours are denser than your average white flour, which is why you must use a rising agent in conjunction. And you’ll probably notice that nut flours, which are less processed than white or wheat flour, have their own flavor - which we love.  


Use up to ⅓ cup coconut flour + a bit of water + 1 egg for every ounce of coconut flour.

Coconut flour is fiber-rich and tasty, but it absorbs liquid like a sponge. Most recipes you’ll find will call for only a bit of coconut flour, combined with something like almond flour. And keep an eye on your oven while your treats are baking: coconut flour can speed up the cook time by a few minutes.

Puree 1 cup black beans for chocolate recipes.

Beans, beans, good for your...brownies? If you’re making a dark or chocolate recipe that yields a dense, fudgy texture, black beans are truly the magical fruit. We can’t vouch for them, however, in the context of, say, bread.

To puree the beans, use a food processor or powerful blender and add a bit of water if necessary. You want a smooth consistency - otherwise, you’ll be able to detect the beans in the cooked recipe.

If you’re taking it easy on the SUGAR…


Image c/o Shaheen Peerbhai -

For 1 cup refined sugar:

Use 1 cup of unsweetened applesauce.

What’s that? Lunchbox underdog takes makes the cake? It’s true - applesauce can do wonderful things for your baked goods (and your waistline). Just make sure that you use an unsweetened variety - otherwise, you kind of defeat the purpose of getting rid of the sugar.

Also, because applesauce is wet and sugar is not, you’ll need to reduce the recipe’s liquid by ¼ c for each cup of applesauce you use.


Use ½ teaspoon vanilla extract in place of 2 tablespoons of sugar.

We’re not kidding. Vanilla tricks your tongue into thinking it’s tasting sugar. While we wouldn’t recommend subbing all the sugar in your recipe for vanilla extract, doing it for a half cup of sugar will spare you the calories and resulting belly aches.  

Pro tip: you can use the same healthy substitution with your coffee to dramatically cut calories without having to take your java totally black. (We get it - it’s hard to go back to basics when you’ve known the joys of caramel flavoring.)

Use 2 tablespoons powdered stevia or 1 teaspoon liquid stevia.

Plant-based stevia is a wunderkind in the health food world, as it’s approximately 1 gazillion times sweeter than sugar, ounce for ounce, and is very low-calorie. Plus, it won’t spike your blood sugar like most sweeteners.

Note that some people find that stevia has a distinct aftertaste - try a test batch before baking for guests.

If you want a healthy substitute for OIL OR BUTTER…


Image via Steve Johnson -

For 1 cup oil or butter:

Use applesauce for half the fat.

Subbing all applesauce makes for unsightly results, so use half applesauce or less along with your prescribed fat.

Mash up a banana.

A cup of banana in place of the oil/butter provides fiber, complex carbs, and potassium.

Use unflavored, unsweetened Greek yogurt instead of canola oil.

Canola oil is used widely because it’s odorless and flavorless - but it’s a highly processed oil and not the healthiest option out there. Greek yogurt provides plenty of moisture and cohesion without interfering with flavors.

If you want to do better than BUTTER…


Image c/o Farmanac -

For 1 cup of butter:

Use a cup of pureed avocado.

There’s almost nothing the sacred fruit can’t do - it’s creamy, heart-healthy, and adapts itself well to all kinds of recipes.  

Make a chia seed gel: mix 2-3 tablespoons chia seeds in 1 cup of water, and allow to soak for 15 minutes.

Again, we love chia around here: the tiny seeds pack tons of fiber, protein, and healthy fats. We suggest subbing half or less of your butter with chia for most recipes.


Try date or prune puree.

Far from the sexiest fruit on the block, the humble prune is actually quite versatile in baking. Submerge ¾ cup prunes or dates in ¼ cup boiling water, then puree with a food processor or strong blender. (The former will be your best bet, as these sticky fruits are quite tough and blade-averse.) This kind of puree will work best in chocolate, dark baked goods.

If you don’t want any EGGS in your basket…


Image c/o JFXie -

For 1 large egg:

Make a flax egg.

Vegans love this stuff - and rightly so!

To make one flax egg, mix 1 tablespoon freshly ground flax with 3 tablespoons water, and let soak for at least 5 minutes.

Make a chia egg.

Chia seeds do it all! Don’t say we didn’t tell you.

Put 1 tablespoon chia seeds in 1 cup water, and allow to gel for 15 minutes or so.

A treat is a treat is a treat, and we don’t see the point in taking the yum factor out of a treat. But if we’re able to add something healthful into any food, we’ll do it! And with these tried and true baking substitutes, no one will be the wiser - they’ll just be healthier.

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