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10 Ways to Cut Calories in Baking Recipes

How to lighten up your holiday recipes without sacrificing taste.
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic - Expert Column

I know, the holiday season comes once a year, so why bother to cut calories in your cake, cookie, and pie recipes? I've heard this sentiment many times. But hear me out. All I'm suggesting is that you consider making some small, simple changes to rid your baking recipes of excess calories -- the calories the dish doesn't really need to taste great.

Depending on the recipe and the taster, most of these healthier changes can be made without anyone noticing. Using half whole-wheat flour, for example, will be more noticeable in a pound cake (with a light-colored batter) than in a gingerbread cake.

So if you're able to cut excess calories fairly easily in most baking recipes, why not do it? It could make the difference between gaining a little weight over the holidays and not gaining a little weight. Say you cut 150 calories per serving from your favorite holiday treats. And say you enjoy about one serving per day of these treats for 15 days during the holiday season. Technically, that's one pound of weight gain prevented! That one pound saved can quickly become two pounds if you usually eat one treat a day for 30 days, or if you have two per day for 15 days (you get the picture).

I'll give you more specifics below, but there are three basic methods to cut calories in baking recipes:

  • Use less sugar. You can cut calories simply by using less sugar, or by substituting a no-calorie sweetener for part of the sugar. Just keep in mind that some people are more sensitive to tasting artificial sweeteners than others, and that some baking recipes depend on sugar for texture as much as taste.
  • Use less fat. For every gram of fat added to a recipe (and there are about 13 grams in a tablespoon of oil or butter), you add 9 calories. The trick here is knowing the magical minimum of fat is for the particular recipe you're using. Keep in mind that when you take fat out, you often have to replace it with another moist ingredient (like fat-free sour cream, applesauce, light cream cheese, or orange juice).
  • Eat smaller servings. Of course, you can also cut calories by being satisfied with a smaller serving. This is where fiber comes in. If you increase the fiber in appropriate recipes -- by using whole-wheat flour, by adding high-fiber fruits instead of higher-calorie add-ins like chocolate, or by using fruit purees in place of some of the butter or oil -- it's easier to be satisfied with a smaller portion. You may also tend to eat less of a goodie when it's served in bite-sized portions.

10 Ways to Cut Calories in Baking Recipes

Here are 10 tried-and-true tips to help make your holiday baking recipes healthier.

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