2020 has been a year of uncharted territory. From virtual workouts to banana bread recipes, we all left our comfort zones and tried something different in order to adapt to our new normal.
For many, baking became the great escape from the stress of the coronavirus pandemic and political feuds—and we spent quite a bit of downtime experimenting in the kitchen.
With the cold air creeping in and holiday season in full blast, comforting sweets and treats are even more appealing right now. However, none of us want to be shopping for new pants sizes come January.
Here, our team of nutritionists share their go-to ingredient swaps for healthy holiday baking—and their favorite recipes to use them in. Preheat the oven, read up, and prepare to have your cake and prioritize your health, too.
1. Coconut Oil
This coconut-derived fat is the perfect substitute for other fats when aiming for healthier holiday baking. Swap it one-to-one for both solid fats (like butter) or liquid fats (like canola or vegetable oil), says The Vitamin Shoppe nutritionist Roseanne Schnell C.D.N. Use room temperature oil instead of butter, or heat it up to replace liquid fats.
“I love using coconut oil in my baked goods. Not only does it incorporate some easily digestible fats called MCTs (medium-chain triglycerides), but it adds a unique flavor profile,” says The Vitamin Shoppe nutritionist Rebekah Blakely R.D.N. “I think it adds just a touch of creamy sweetness, but, in most cases, the coconut flavor is undetectable.
When choosing a coconut oil for healthier holiday baking, Schnell suggests opting for a virgin, unrefined, cold-pressed oil like plnt brand Organic Extra Virgin Coconut Oil. This is the purest, least-processed form. However, if you want to avoid all traces of coconut flavor, opt for a refined oil, says The Vitamin Shoppe nutritionist Brittany Michels M.S., R.D.N., L.D.N. (The refined stuff also has a higher smoke point.)
Want to put coconut oil to the test? Whip up Schnell’s delicious Cinnamon Bun Protein Bites.
Cinnamon Bun Protein Bites
- 1 scoop Vthrive The Vitamin Shoppe brand Vanilla Grass-Fed Whey Protein or plnt brand Vanilla Plant Protein
- 1 cup gluten-free rolled oats
- ½ Tbsp Ceylon cinnamon
- 2 Tbsp plnt brand Liquid Coconut Oil
- ¼ cup plnt brand 100% Pure Raw Honey
- ½ cup all natural almond butter
- ½ tsp pure vanilla extract
- 1-2 Tbsp water, as needed
- Sea salt for sprinkling, optional
- Mix protein powder, oats, and cinnamon in a food processor and blend until a flour consistency forms.
- Add almond butter, coconut oil, honey, and vanilla extract to the food processor. Blend until a dough-like consistency forms. If dough is too dry, add one tablespoon of water at a time and blend until you reach the desired consistency. The dough should be firm but moist.
- Line a loaf pan with parchment paper. Fill the pan with the dough. Pat down gently and evenly using the back of a spatula. (If the dough sticks to the spatula, rub some coconut oil on it.)
- Sprinkle the top with sea salt, if desired.
- Place in the freezer for 30 minutes to set.
- Cut five vertical slices and four horizontal slices for 30 bites.
Though it may take a slightly more experienced baker to swap in honey for white sugar, honey is an excellent substitute for healthier holiday baking.
“Honey does not spike your blood sugar like white sugar does,” says The Vitamin Shoppe Nutritionist Karen Cooney M.A., C.N., C.H.H.C.
Blakely likes to cook with raw honey, in particular, since it’s less processed, contains trace minerals, and may offer seasonal allergy support. Because honey may lose some of these benefits when heated, Schnell prefers to use it in no-bake or low-temperature recipes.
That said, you can swap honey in for sugar in most recipes. Just keep in mind that honey is naturally sweeter than table sugar and will add significant liquid to your recipe.
Generally, you’ll want to cut the amount of other liquids by about one-fourth for every cup of honey you swap in, says Blakely. Plus, you’ll only need about one-half to one-third cup of honey for every cup of sugar. (Otherwise, your treat may be overly sweet.) Lastly, add a pinch of baking soda to your batter, because honey can keep treats from rising, she suggests.
These five melt-in-your-mouth recipes put raw honey front and center. Or, you can whip up Michels’ Chocolate Macaroon recipe.
- 2 cups unsweetened coconut flakes
- 1 Tbsp coconut flour
- ½ cup plnt brand Extra Virgin Coconut Oil
- 5 Tbsp plnt brand Organic Cacao Powder
- ¼ cup plnt brand 100% Pure Raw Honey
- ½ tsp vanilla extract
- ¼ tsp finely ground sea salt
- In a medium bowl, combine all ingredients and mix well.
- Roll into one-inch balls and place on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Freeze until firm and enjoy!
3. Coconut Sugar
In recipes that call for cane sugar, an easy one-to-one swap for a healthier treat is coconut sugar, says Cooney.
“Nutritionally, one difference between coconut sugar and regular cane sugar is that coconut sugar has a lower glycemic index,” Cooney explains. “This means that it will have a lower impact on your blood glucose levels, making it a particularly beneficial choice for diabetics.” Plus, coconut sugar contains amounts of iron, zinc, calcium, and potassium.
Ready to make over a classic cookie with coconut sugar? Turn on your oven for some healthier holiday baking, and give Cooney’s Cinnamon Sugar Cookies a try.
Cinnamon Sugar Cookies
- 2 1/2 cups gluten-free flour (or flour of choice)
- 2 tsp baking soda
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- 3/4 cup plnt brand Organic Extra Virgin Coconut Oil
- 1/2 cup coconut sugar
- 1 egg
- 1/4 cup plnt brand 100% Pure Raw Honey
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 1/4 tsp salt
- Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Whisk together flour, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt.
- In a separate bowl, mix coconut oil and coconut sugar together. Then, mix in the egg, vanilla, and honey. Beat until combined.
- Combine dry ingredients into the wet and refrigerate for at least 20 minutes.
- Bake at 375 degrees Fahrenheit for 10 minutes.
Though honey and coconut sugar are great healthier holiday baking alternatives, if you’re hunting for a zero-calorie sweetener, stevia is your savior.
“If you’re looking for a sugar-free or reduced-sugar version of your baked goods, stevia is the alternative you want,” says Blakely. “It’s more natural than other calorie-free sweeteners and can be used in baking.”
Stevia is around 300 times sweeter than sugar, so it needs to be cut down considerably when baking, says Schnell. For that reason, Michels suggests swapping one teaspoon of stevia for every one cup of sugar a recipe calls for. Of course, though, you can always taste test to determine if you need more sweetness.
“I prefer to use part stevia and part natural sugar, as keeping a little bit of real sugar in there helps cut any bitterness from the stevia and helps make sure your creation still browns appropriately,” Blakely says.
You can find stevia in both a powder and liquid form and use them interchangeably, but Cooney usually opts for the less processed liquid version. Schnell recommends looking for a raw organic stevia or stevia rebaudiana leaf extract to keep your creation as natural as possible.
Michels loves using stevia to make Keto-Friendly Chocolate Fat Bombs, which require zero actual baking time but provide all the chocolatey goodness you crave.
Keto-Friendly Chocolate Fat Bombs
- 1-2 tsp The Vitamin Shoppe brand Stevia Extract
- 2 tsp plnt brand Organic Cacao Powder
- 4 oz cream cheese
- 4 Tbsp grass-fed butter
- 1/4 cup plnt brand Extra Virgin Coconut Oil
- Thoroughly mix all ingredients.
- Spoon two-tablespoon balls into six cupcake liners, freeze, and enjoy.
5. Black Beans
Don’t worry, we’re not telling you to make some kind of hybrid taco-cookie. In chocolatey recipes, Michels loves to swap one cup of black beans in for one cup of flour. This adds a ton of nutrients, like magnesium, calcium, and phosphorus, and gives baked goods extra richness.
“Black beans are chock full of fiber, making them helpful for digestion and for maintaining stable blood sugar,” Cooney says. “They tend to be lower in calories but more filling, because they take longer to digest. This means you’ll likely eat less and stay satisfied for longer.”
Dive into bean-based healthier holiday baking with Cooney’s favorite cookie recipe.
Chocolate “Bean” Cookies
- 1 cup canned black beans, rinsed and drained
- ¼ cup plnt brand Organic Cacao Powder
- 2 cupss quick cooking rolled oats
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 1/3 cup maple syrup
- ½ tsp baking soda
- ½ tsp baking powder
- 1 cup dark chocolate chips
- 2 Tbsp brewed coffee
- ¼ tsp salt
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Add all ingredients, except the chocolate chips, into a stand mixer. Mix until fairly smooth and starting to ball up.
- Fold the chocolate chips into the batter.
- Scoop out 12 cookies, roll into balls, and place on a cookie sheet with parchment paper or spray.
- Bake for 10 to 12 minutes and let cool on a rack.
Want more nutrition tips—for FREE? Book a consultation with any of The Vitamin Shoppe’s nutritionists today.