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Baking Light: Holiday Favorites With Less of What You Don't Need
from the National Women's Health Resource Center's e-newsletter, HealthyWomen Take 10

From sugar cookies to schneken, sweet potato pies to springerle, the holidays offer us plenty of opportunities to create and enjoy our favorite baked treats. But the pleasure of these delights is often overshadowed by worry about the calorie count and health impact these seasonal delights may hold.

This year, if you make a few wise ingredient substitutions, you can have your cakes (or cookies or pies) and not feel as guilty about eating them, too. You may need to experiment a little to find what works best in your recipes. Try these tips for healthier holiday desserts:

  • Choose canola. Substitute canola oil or margarine made from canola oil for the butter, margarine, oils, or other fat in recipes. You’ll decrease the amount of saturated fat, increase good monounsaturated fat, and improve levels of heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids.
  • Take the prune plunge. Yes, really--prune puree can get the fat out. Start by replacing half the fat in your recipes with prune puree, sold in stores as prune filling (some people use baby food prunes). You can also make your own puree by combining 8 oz. pitted prunes and 6 tbsps. hot water in a food processor until smooth. Prune puree works well in chocolate cakes, brownies, and spiced muffins/cakes/breads. When you use prune puree, you can also reduce sugar by half the amount of puree used.
  • Add applesauce, subtract fat. Replace half or more of the fat in baked goods with unsweetened applesauce. For boxed mixes, you can often replace all of the oil with applesauce.
  • Mashed veggies work well. Cooked or canned sweet potatoes and pumpkin stand in well for fat in dense cakes, muffins, scones and bread. Use three-fourths the amount of veggies to replace part or all of fat.
  • Dairy does it, too. Nonfat buttermilk, nonfat yogurt and skim milk work as fat replacements in muffins. Other healthier substitutions: use skim milk or evaporated skim milk instead of cream or whole milk; replace sour cream with plain yogurt; nix the cream cheese and use low-fat ricotta cheese mixed with yogurt instead.
  • Concerned about cholesterol? For each whole egg in your recipes, use just the whites from two eggs instead. That cuts cholesterol from 213 mg. to zero (daily recommended amount of cholesterol is less than 300 mg).
  • Sweeten with spice. Cut up to one-half the sugar in recipes and replace with sweet-tasting flavorings such as vanilla, cinnamon and nutmeg. When you reduce sugar, be sure to add an extra tablespoon of skim milk or fruit juice to keep the batter moist.
  • Other hints: When substituting for fat, lower the oven temperature by 25 degrees Fahrenheit and check the baking items several times.


Johnson GH, Keast DR, Kris-Etherton PM. "Dietary Modeling Shows that the Substitution of Canola Oils for Fats Commonly Used in the United States Would Increase Compliance with Dietary Recommendations for Fatty Acids." Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 107(10): 1726-1734, 2007.

Oregon State University Extension Family and Community Development. "No Fat Baking with Applesauce and Prune Puree." http://extension.oregonstate.edu Accessed 10/11/07.

University of Iowa Hospitals & Clinics. "The Colorful Plate Baking Substitutes." http://www.uihealthcare.com Accessed 10/11/07.


© 2007 National Women's Health Resource Center, Inc. (NWHRC) All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission from the NWHRC. 1-877-986-9472 (toll-free). On the Web at: healthywomen.org.

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