photo of figs
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Find Figs to Cut Fat and Sugar

They’re more than the stuff of the Newton and that figgy pudding demanded for in the Christmas carol. The fig packs more fiber and more minerals than any other domesticated fruit, including calcium, iron, and potassium. Soak 8 ounces of fresh figs in water to soften. Puree with 1/4 to 1/3 cup of water until smooth. Substitute for up to half the fat in your recipe to cut down -- or replace -- the sugar.

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photo of date muffins
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Sugar Stand-In 2: Dates

Dates bring many of the same perks as figs, plus a natural sugar shot. Puree 1 cup of pitted dates with 1/2  to 1 cup of hot water to make a thick paste. You can replace up to half of the sugar asked for in your recipe with this mix. Because it’s not sugar, you might have to experiment to get the right texture. Dates also pair great with scones and muffins. Chop them into your batter for added zing. You can even add them to salads.

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photo of avocado puree
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Slash Fat With Avocado

Creamy avocado puree is a smooth stand-in for fatty butter, and it’s far better for you. This vegan cholesterol-buster can make your bakes less crumbly, too. Peel, pit, and mash them to make a puree. To keep them from browning, add 2 teaspoons of lemon juice for every cup. Swap 3/4 to 1 cup per cup of fat in your recipe. Avocados have more water than butter, so you may need to cut your oven temp by 25% and bake a little longer.

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Cocoa Nibs: The Pre-Chocolate Chip

Cacao nibs are crushed bits of cocoa beans that have been fermented, dried, and roasted. They quash cravings without the sugar. Even better, they come already chipped. They pack lots of antioxidants and a rush of flavonoids to boot. Sprinkle them freely in your batter and add crunch to your cake, cookies, and other baked goods.

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How to Pick a Flour

Few dispute that whole-grain and bean flours are better choices than refined white flour. The refining process strips most of the fiber and nutrients. The nutrients are added back, but not the healthy fiber. But don’t throw it away just yet. Different flour types will yield varied outcomes. Try a quarter-cup of whole-grain flour to 3/4 cup white instead of the whole cup of white. Tinker until you get the right ratio.

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Hold the Gluten: Use Oat Flour

For a gluten-free or low-gluten choice, pick oat flour. It adds more sweetness and flavor to your cookies, muffins, and crusts, too. It’s not an easy substitute for recipes that need gluten, such as yeast breads. And it might make the texture a bit crumbly or chewy. But there’s a gluten hack: Use oat flour for about 1/4 of the flour in your recipe. Add in a little more yeast to help your bread rise.

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Black Beans for Better Brownies

Switch out part of your recipe fat for pureed black beans, and your taste buds will be none the wiser. This surprise ingredient also brings fiber, potassium, and protein to your brownies and chocolate cakes. For lighter-colored foods, try cannellini beans or chickpeas (garbanzo beans).  

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Peanut Butter Powder

Bring the yummy peanut butter taste minus lots of the fat with peanut butter powder. It’s made by pressing out most of the oils in roasted peanuts and grinding them fine. Check out the difference:

Creamy peanut butter (2 tablespoons): 190 calories, 16 g fat (2.5 g sat), 7 g protein

Peanut butter powder (2 tablespoons): 50 calories, 1.5 g fat (0 g sat), 6 g protein

It’s a simple substitute for your baked goods. Sub the powder for 1/3 of the flour.

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Seedy Egg Substitutes

Want to cut cholesterol or eat more plant-based foods? Use chia seeds or flaxseed meal instead of eggs. For baking, these stand-ins won’t bring the leavening (volume and puff) that eggs do. To fix this, add 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoons of baking powder or soda to the recipe. It may take some trial and error to get just the right combo, but start with:

1 egg = about 2 teaspoons chia seeds + 1/4 cup water (let sit for 5 minutes)

1 egg = about 1 tablespoon brown or golden flaxseed meal + 3 tablespoons water (let sit for 5 minutes)

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Go Greek (Yogurt, That Is)

Stir in thick, creamy plain Greek yogurt instead of greasy oil in muffins and quick breads. Whole-milk or full-fat tastes best and is still better for you. It packs protein and less sugar than regular yogurt. But you can use 2% to cut back on fat if you want. (Stay away from nonfat. The texture and taste won’t sit right). Swap equal amounts for your fat. Then add 1/2 teaspoon of baking soda per cup of yogurt.

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Simmer Down the Sugar With Evaporated Milk

The evaporated vs. condensed milk debate rages when pumpkin pie time rolls around. One thing’s certain: Evaporated milk offers the rich texture without the too-sweet sugar. Most evaporated milk is made with 2%, but you can use any fat content. To DIY, heat up 2 1/4 cups of milk, and gently boil it to reduce to 1 cup. You can even go dairy-free with almond, oat, or soy milk.

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Pump Up the Spice

Cut the sugar your recipe calls for in half (or 1/3 if you don’t want to go that far). Just double up the spices. If your recipe calls for 1 teaspoon of cinnamon, add 2. Do the same with vanilla extract. Have fun and play with other spices, like allspice, cloves, or nutmeg, and extracts such as almond. All of them amp up sweetness.

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Sources | Medically Reviewed on 10/23/2019 Reviewed by Kathleen M. Zelman, MPH, RD, LD on October 23, 2019


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St. Louis National Public Radio: “'Oh, Bring Us Some ...’ Wait. What Is Figgy Pudding?”

Organic Authority: “Using Fruits to Replace Sugar in Your Recipes.”

T. Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies: “Naturally Sweet: Cooking and Baking Without Added Sugar.”

California Avocados: “Use Avocado as a Healthy Butter Substitute.”

Bon Appetit: “What Is Cacao, and How Does it Relate to Chocolate?” “Oat Flour.”

Epicurious: “7 Ways to Use Cacao Nibs,” “9 Ways to Cook With Powdered Peanut Butter.”

U.S. Department of Agriculture: “Peanut butter, smooth style, without salt,” “Peanut Butter Powder.”

The Washington Post: “More Healthful Baking with White Flour Alternatives.”

Cooking Light: “Can You Really Use Beans in Your Baked Goods?”

Shape: “Bean Dessert Recipes You'll Want to Make Every Day.”

Bob’s Red Mill: “How to Replace Eggs and Fat in Recipes with Flax and Chia.”

American Egg Board: “Leavening.”

The Kitchn: “5 Tips for Baking with Greek Yogurt.”

EatingWell: “Which Is Healthier: Greek Yogurt or Regular Yogurt?”

The Spruce Eats: “10 Ways to Use Low-Fat Yogurt.”

Serious Eats: “The Milk in Pumpkin Pie Debate,” “Everything You Can Do With a Can of Evaporated Milk.”

Real Simple: “The Best Substitute for Evaporated Milk.”

Mayo Clinic: “Recipe Makeovers: 5 Ways to Create Healthy Recipes.”

Reviewed by Kathleen M. Zelman, MPH, RD, LD on October 23, 2019

This tool does not provide medical advice. See additional information.

THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment and should not be relied on to make decisions about your health. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the WebMD Site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.