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Healthier Baking

Who doesn’t love a good baked dessert?  Yet we hate all the calories and junk that are packed in those store-bought muffins, or pies, or cookies.

In baked goods, most of the calories come from three ingredients: butter (or oil), eggs and sugar. But this tasty trio is also where much of the flavor derives, and more importantly what keeps your muffins moist and your cookies from crumbling. So how do you reduce (or get rid) of these oh-so-essential ingredients without winding up with baked goods that look and taste like cardboard?

1. Fat adds moisture and richness. But per cup, butter adds 1,627 calories and 184 g of fat, shortening(really bad for you!) packs 1,845 calories and 205 g of fat, and even heart-healthy oil boasts 1,927 calories and 218 g of fat. Divided among a batch of four dozen cookies, that’s at least 34 calories and 4 g fat per cookie attributed to the oil (or butter) alone! Here is how I cut some of the fat when I bake:

Sometimes, I cut it all out, but realistically, cookies made with fruit purée will not get crispy and will have a cake-like texture; low-fat muffins tend to be dense. Most often, I substitute some of the fat with any of these  4 substitutes:

(1) Unsweetened applesauce, my favorite because it has a neutral flavor that works with everything!  It also adds moisture and fiber while cutting fat.  You replace cup for cup, and you will save at least 1550 calories and 184 g of fat per cup!

(2) Pumpkin puree, unsweetened, which adds great flavor to most baked goods and makes treats moist.  Here again,  you can replace at least half of the butter/oil/shortening with an equal amount of puree and save at least 1500 calories and 184 g fat per cup.  This substitution is best used in spiced breads, cakes or muffins, quick breads, pancakes and brownies.

(3) Prune purée: rich flavor that blends well with chocolate and spices. Replace at least half the butter, oil or shortening called for with an equal amount of purée (buy jarred prunes in the baby food aisle or make your own purée by mixing 6 Tbsp of hot water with 8 oz of prunes in a blender) and you will save at least 1365 calories and 184 g of fat.  This is best used in chocolate baked goods, brownies, gingerbread and spice cakes.

(4) Last but not least, bananas.  They add flavor, fiber and moisture, much like oil does. Use bananas in any recipe where their strong flavor won’t overpower more delicate ingredients such as citrus or berries.  Use 1/2 mashed or puréed banana for every cup of oil (if your banana isn’t very ripe, try peeling it and microwaving it for a few seconds to soften it for easier mixing) .  Bananas are best used in quick breads, coffee cakes and pancakes (bananas are dense, so they are not ideal in recipes for light and fluffy baked goods) .  Your calorie swap will be at least 1,575 calories and 184 g fat per cup!

2. Eggs have two primary roles in baking: leavening (helping baked goods to rise and become “fluffy” and light), and binding (preventing the baked goods from crumbling or falling apart). Eggs also lend a creamy texture and add moisture and richness to recipes. One large egg has 75 calories and 5 g of fat. But if want to reduce calories and fat of your recipe, here are 5 ideas that work:

(1)  Unsweetened applesauce can serve as a binder in recipes and, like eggs, keep baked goods moist.  1/4 cup applesauce equals one egg .  Applesauce is best used in brownies, cakes and quick breads and you will save 50 calories and 5 g fat per egg.

(2)  Vinegar and baking soda!  Ever make a volcano in science class? The acid in vinegar combines with the basic (alkaline) baking soda and creates a fizzy, bubbly mess. In small doses, that bubbling (created by the carbon dioxide formed by the baking soda when it comes in contact with acid) can be used to help cakes rise and stay light.  You can replace each egg with 1 teaspoon  baking soda and 1 tablespoon vinegar (apple cider vinegar works best) per egg and this works best in quick breads, cakes and cupcakes; you will  save 70 calories and 5 g fat per egg (vinegar and baking soda have negligible calories).

(3)  Ground  flax seeds are packed full of healthful  omega-3 fatty acids.  . They’re also a great source of fiber, which is why they are a good substitute for eggs. When flax seeds are ground and mixed with water, their insoluble fiber becomes sticky and gummy. Mixing ground flaxseed and water in a blender whips up a thick, creamy substance that adds fiber and Omega-3’s to baked treats. 1 tablespoon ground flaxseed and 3 tablespoons  water can be used per egg.  For best results, grind flaxseed in a clean coffee grinder, then mix with water in a blender until thick and creamy.  These are best used in baked goods that can handle flaxseed’s nutty taste, such as pancakes, waffles, muffins, carrot cake and oatmeal cookies, and even though you will only  save 10 calories and 1 g fat per egg, you are adding fiber and Omega-3’s to your diet and helping fight bad cholesterol!

(4)  Bananas, when mashed, add sweetness and help bind baked goods.  1/2 mashed or puréed banana is needed for every egg (if your banana isn’t very ripe, try peeling it and microwaving it for a few seconds to soften it for easier mixing).  This is best used in banana bread, other quick breads, muffins, cakes, waffles and pancakes (don’t use bananas in a recipe where they would overpower a subtler flavor, such as apple or citrus) and you will save  20 calories and 5 g fat per egg.

(5) Silken tofu for the adventurous ones among you.  This tofu has a creamy texture that, when whipped or puréed, is ideal for baked goods. Silken tofu is often sold in shelf stable boxes with the Asian foods or in the produce section.  1/4 cup of silken tofu (whip it in the blender or with a hand mixer until it’s smooth) equals one egg.  Use tofu in cakes, brownies, and custards, and you will save 37 calories and 2g fat per egg.

3. Sugar is necessary in baked goods because it prevents the flours from creating gluten, which would yield tough, chewy cookies and cakes. When baked, sugar caramelizes,  adding color and a rich flavor to cookies, and helps cookies get crispy. However, sugar contains 775 calories per cup, and it quickly adds up.  In pie fillings, cakes and cookies, you can usually reduce the amount of sugar in a recipe by up to half. Start by reducing sugar by 1/4 cup. If the recipe works, try reducing another 1/4 cup. Your family won’t notice, and the cookies will turn out about the same.  Of course, you need to get rid of all your refined sugars and go for natural  sweeteners like molasses and honey abound. There are a lot of other and healthier/more naturel sweeteners available on the market for baking.

4.  Here are two other little tricks that work great to lighten your baked goods:

(1) Use miniature chocolate chips in your cookies and reduce the amount by half. Though mini chips and regular size chips have the same nutritional content, by reducing the amount, you’ll get more, smaller chips throughout the cookies. Calorie swap will be 1,050 calories per cup of chips you eliminate, or about 22 calories per cookie. Try to get the most % of cocoa in your chips.

(2) Make smaller cookies!  Sounds so simple, but it works!  A standard batch of chocolate chip cookies is supposed to yield 5 dozen cookies (each made with a tablespoon of dough) that each contain 110 calories and 6 grams of fat. Does your cookie dough yield 60 cookies? Use teaspoons instead of tablespoons to scoop cookie dough.

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If you know me, you know that I love a glass of wine a few times a week, sitting outside and enjoying the evening, or having a relaxing time out with friends.  Some say alcohol is good for you, others say we ought to stay away from alcohol. I thought I’d give you the scoop today.

First of all, alcohol is metabolized differently than other foods and beverages. Under normal conditions, the body gets its energy from the calories in carbohydrates, fats and proteins that need to be slowly digested in the stomach—but not when alcohol is present. When alcohol is consumed, it gets special privileges and needs no digestion. The alcohol molecules diffuse through the stomach wall as soon as they arrive and can reach the brain and liver in minutes. This reaction is slightly slowed when there is food in your system, but as soon as the mixed contents enter the small intestine, the alcohol grabs first place and is absorbed quickly. The alcohol then arrives at the liver for processing. The liver places all of its attention on it and as a result, the carbohydrates (glucose) and dietary fats are just changed into body fat, waiting to be carried away for permanent fat storage in the body…OUCH!

Alcohol is a diuretic, meaning that it causes water loss and dehydration. Along with this water loss we lose important minerals, such as magnesium, potassium, calcium and zinc. These minerals are vital to the maintenance of fluid balance, chemical reactions, and muscle contraction and relaxation… DOUBLE OUCH!

Alcohol contains 7 calories per gram and no nutritional value. OUCH AGAIN…

Alcohol affects your body in other ways, increasing the amount of acid that the stomach produces, lowering our inhibitions and producing a lot of other nasty side effects.

The list below breaks down the number of calories in typical alcoholic drinks. 


Serving Size


Red wine

5 oz.


White wine

5 oz.



5 oz.


Light beer

12 oz.


Regular beer

12 oz.


Dark beer

12 oz.



3 oz.



3 oz.


Long Island iced tea

8 oz.


Gin & Tonic

8 oz.


Rum & Soda

8 oz.



8 oz.


Whiskey Sour

4 oz.


Now, having said all of that, I still love my glass of wine, and I really have no desire to give it up.  So if you are like me, here are six little sipping tips to help you stay healthy while drinking responibly-this last word being operative here!

1. Never come to happy hour hungry.

“Skipping lunch to compensate for the calories you plan to drink is not a good idea,” says Molly Gee, RD, weight-loss counselor and researcher at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston. “Alcohol does not satisfy hunger.”   Arrive with a growling belly and you may find yourself downing a few handfuls of bar nuts (about 600 calories), or worse, falling prey to the cheese-covered nachos—all yucky nonfoods.  Besides, drinking on an empty stomach enhances the negative effects of alcohol. Eat how you normally would during the day, work in some extra exercise, and munch a piece of fruit before you go to take the edge off.

2. Be mindful of mixers.
Hard liquor runs 100-200 calories per shot, but add a sugary or creamy mixer (nonfood filled with High Fructose Corn Syrup) and you’ll double or triple the calories.  If you are going to mix liquor with anything, opt for club soda, instead of fruit juice or regular soda.  Or, skip mixers altogether and sip a light beer (one-third the calories of regular) or a glass of red wine (just over 100 calories). Incidentally, light beers have always been low in carbs.  And red wine has a lower glycemic index than white wine.

3. Make the cocktail your dessert.
If you can’t resist a piña colada or daiquiri, drink seltzer during your cocktail hour and savor the mega-calorie libation instead of dessert.

4. Enjoy alcohol every other round.
Alternate each alcoholic beverage with seltzer or water. It’ll cut down on calories and help you keep count of how much you’re drinking. And because alcohol has a diuretic effect, the water will hydrate you. Or order a glass of water along with your cocktail. You’ll sip the hard stuff more slowly.


5. Focus on the conversation, not the cocktails.
When you find yourself alone at a fête, you may swig more swiftly out of anxiety or a need to look occupied. “Food and drink become substitutes for conversation; don’t fall into that trap,” says Gee. “If you don’t want to look like you’re standing there doing nothing, drink seltzer.”

6. Go for volume.
A platter of healthy food can satiate you more than a couple of high-fat morsels; it’s the same way with cocktails—remember the volumetrics principle? The taller the drink, the longer you’ll have it in your hand and hopefully drink a little less… Make it last by adding lots of ice!

Do you have any other tip to share? 

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