Often, I'm asked what can be used in recipes that cut fat and sugar yet maintains moistness, sweetness and flavor as with the original ingredients. In our Health Sciences & Research kitchen we've been experimenting with healthy options and the following is what we've discovered are the best options and many of our taste testers couldn't even tell we used substitutes.
Since our Research Center is now located in the high Andes of Ecuador, the challenge in baking is that nothing comes out like the recipe because adjustments have to be made for the 8,000-feet elevation—everything takes longer to cook or it cooks but comes out extremely dry and hard.
A gourmet cook I am, a baker I am not—it's taken adjustments and patience but the end results have been well worth it! Therefore, if you live at high altitude, don't get discouraged simply add more moisture as listed below and allow for longer cooking times. These substitute suggestions are all Gluten—and Nightshade-FREE.
White (yellowish) or Orange Sweet Potatoes
Loaded with potassium...AND...if you include the skin they're full of fiber too. They're rich in healthy carbs, which are a main source of energy, especially during physical exercise, as we age, and for those with chronic immune disorders.
Substitute: For a dessert recipe, choose mashed sweet potatoes made with a little fat-free milk or milk alternative (almond, coconut). In cake and quick bread recipes, use half a cup of cooled mashed sweet potatoes in place of a quarter-cup flour plus a quarter-cup milk, or milk alternative, and/or butter. Bake sweet potatoes and puree (with or without skins) in a food processor and make a thick paste—an excellent fat and sugar replacement in baking. Use this puree, about half a cup cooled to replace quarter-cup sugar and quarter-cup fat (butter, shortening, lard or oil). If using orange sweet potatoes, you may need to bake a couple minutes longer to allow for liquid evaporation. The result: MOIST, MOIST, MOIST.
A great source of beta carotene—a type of vitamin A important for maintaining good vision and healthy immune responses.
In older adults, foods rich in beta carotene helps improve strength and physical performance.
Substitute: Finely grate raw carrots (I use my small food processor) and stir them into any batter including for cookies, quick breads, muffins, brownies and cakes. Works best in recipes that require minimum of 30 minutes baking time to allow carrots to soften. Start with a half a cup shredded carrots and if you like the consistency you can use more next time for added texture. NOTE:
For recipes that are no-bake, you can still substitute but steam shredded carrots until very soft, cool, mash and add to batter.
Spinach provides hefty amounts of health-enhancing plant nutrients such as alpha lipoic acid, folate and iron—known to improve insulin sensitivity in people with Type 2 diabetes. Substitute: Whenever you want a lovely green color in your dessert (like the mint chocolate fudge bark, or spinach roulade pictured), add spinach. Include up to half cup of fresh baby spinach. For a super-charged smoothie, add spinach and a bit of peppermint leaves or dash of extract and your vanilla smoothie has that fresh green color and taste full of nutrients.
Pumpkin and/or Squash
Pumpkin, in particular, whether canned puree or freshly baked, is an amazing source of vitamin A. This orange gourd is credited by researchers and scientists for its vast array of health benefits including anti-inflammatory, anti-carcinogenic and anti-diabetic properties.
Substitute: To cut "bad" fats and calories in cookies, cakes, brownies or quick breads, use a quarter-cup of pumpkin puree in place of a quarter-cup butter or shortening.
If you, like me, are concerned about your eye health, zucchinis are one produce you'll definitely want to include as much as possible in your diet. Zucchini contains good amounts of carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthine, which play an important role in reducing age-related macular degeneration and other eye disorders.
Substitute: Coarsely grate raw zucchini, then squeeze out as much liquid as you can. Add the zucchini into any batter, especially quick breads, muffins and brownies where moisture is necessary. Begin slowly with half a cup. Again, if it works well and maintains its moisture in your recipe then adjust for more or less the next time.
Some of the health-enhancing benefits of corn may surprise you because it's had such a bad rap because of GMO varieties. The fiber in corn is believed to act as a probiotic, meaning it can potentially boost the beneficial bacteria in your gut—just insure the corn is organic.
Substitute: Especially in desserts, corn goes well with any berry flavor. When making a berry-filled dessert such as in strawberry shortcake (or try making it as trifles), blueberry muffins or raspberry crepes—add a half-cup either fresh or thawed frozen corn into the batter. If you're a real foodie like I am, pan-char the corn first to caramelize and further sweeten the kernels—the taste is amazing. If you do the caramelizing, you can avoid one to two tablespoons of sugar in the recipe. To create a smoother texture, I blend the corn in a food processor after caramelizing then add; experiment to see which method works best for your particular recipes.
If you're looking for a powerhouse of nutrients, you can't beat beets. They're high in digestion-promoting fiber and loaded with immune-boosting vitamin C. They're also credited in helping those with low blood pressure as well as to fight inflammation…AND…they do wonders for liver health.
Substitute: I use beets in so many dishes to replace nightshades, for instance. They transform a light-toned recipe like New York-style cheesecake into an appetizing reddish-pink tone. Add the liquid ingredients of your cake or cheesecake recipe to a blender or food processor along with half a cup of cooled, well-cooked diced beets and puree until velvety smooth. If you have inflammation and are avoiding nightshades, you can find my award-winning recipe for Mock Tomato Sauce on my website at www.gloriagilbere.com under recipe tab.
One of the vegetables in the cruciferous family, cauliflower contains glucosinolates—credited to help prevent cancer. It's high in vitamin C, which additionally reduces inflammation and boosts immunity.
Substitute: To cut "bad" fats in a recipe as in frosting, steam chopped cauliflower, drain well and puree in food processor until it reaches a velvety-smooth texture. Use in place of either butter or shortening and the milk or cream in frosting. You can blend a spoonful of puree one at a time into powdered sugar until it reaches a thick, desirable consistency. If you're completely avoiding sugar, try what I use which is powered Lakanto, available directly from the manufacturer or retailers online. It's my go-to substitute for sugar of any type; white, brown or powdered. No calories or carbs and doesn't affect blood sugar or feed yeast.
A Vegan List of Substitutes—Healthy for us All:
- Unsweetened applesauce for butter;
- Avocado purée for butter;
- Almond or Coconut milk for dairy milk;
- Coconut ice cream for ice cream;
- Olive or Coconut oil for butter;
- Coconut milk for cream;
- Nutritional yeast for cheese;
- Mashed bananas for bacon fat.