“Life is uncertain. Eat dessert first.” Ernestine Ulmer
AHEM! This Ernestine guy had better be talking about healthy dessert!
Okay, so it’s no secret to those of you who know me that I’m a
little bit a lot a bit of a health nut . I eat clean, I exercise regularly, I avoid GMOs, I take vitamins and I get plenty of Omega 3′s. And while I believe in eating a plant-based diet that limits added sugars, refined carbohydrates, and unhealthy fats, I also understand that we are all human– aka every now and then, you just need a gosh darn slice of cake! A little bit of dessert here and there is perfectly fine, as long as you can successfully include it in your diet. This means DON’T GO OVERBOARD! I find that many people finally get on track with eating well and working out for a few days…only to cave at the sight of something frosted or dripping in chocolate.
“I’ve been soooo good. I deserve it!”
But can you guess what happens next? They overdo it. I’m not saying that you should cut out sweets 100% of the time, but what I am saying is that you should be mindful of your behavior/mindset around sweets and make healthy choices that will still allow you to stay on track without feeling deprived.
So, what are the keys to healthy dessert eating?
Practice MODERATION and make SUBSTITUTIONS!
I obviously enjoy making desserts (just check out my recipe page), but the trick to most of my recipes is that they’ve been stripped of unhealthy ingredients and swapped out for healthier ones. My line of thought? Healthy or not, dessert is still dessert, BUT if you’re going to enjoy a treat, you might as well make it a little less guilty while still tasting just as sinful . Thankfully stealthy, healthy ingredients are my specialty (in fact, before I settled on the name “Pretty Fit Life” I was actually toying with the name “Stealthy Healthy Chef!”). If I had a dollar for every time someone asked me “You put WHAT in this?!” when I reveal my secret ingredient of choice, well, I’d be rocking a pair of these flashy little numbers on my next girls night out. So I don’t have these sexy shoes, but I do have something just a fabulous (okay, almost as fabulous). And the best part of all? It’s much cheaper than those shoes .
Below, I’ve put together a list of healthy vegan baking swaps so you can “healthify” some of your favorite dessert recipes. This way, you can let yourself indulge every now and then without all the extra guilt and calories. I promise…everything will taste so amazing you won’t even know the difference!
Vegan baking is a cinch with the right ingredients!
(Fats add flavor, texture, and moisture to baked goods)
- Olive Oil (spice cookies, cakes, breads)*
- Sesame Oil (spice cookies, cakes, breads)*
- Canola Oil (use w/liquid sugars)*
- Coconut Oil (adds richness, thickness, coconut-y flavor)
- Vegan Buttery Spread (Earth Balance)
- Avocado (great for cookies)
Fat Free Options!
- Applesauce (all natural, unsweetened)
- Pumpkin (use the 100% pure, canned kind NOT sugary pumpkin pie filling!)
- Banana (mashed or banana baby food!)
- Prunes (pureed or prune baby food!)
- Peanut butter replacer: Just Good Stuff Powdered Peanut Butter
Note: *1/3 up of oil = 1 stick of butter
(Eggs are used for moisture/binding/thickening or leavening: identify which of these agents you need & experiment!)*
- Flax (1T: 3T water= 1 egg)
- Banana (¼ c. = 1 egg)
- Applesauce (¼ c. = 1 egg)
- Canned Squash/Pumpkin (¼ c. = 1 egg)
- Tofu (silken & firm: ¼ c. = 1 egg)
- Soy Milk + Lemon Juice (¼ c. soy milk + 1T lemon juice= 1 egg)
- Soy/Coconut Yogurt (¼ c. yogurt = 1 egg)
- Cornstarch/Water (1 T cornstarch + 3 T water= 1 egg)
- Chia Seeds (1T chia seeds + 1T water = 1 egg)
- Pureed Beans (equal parts can stand in for eggs)
- Commercial Egg Replacer (Ener-G brand or Bob’s Red Mill- read directions for amounts)
- Bread crumbs, tomato paste, oatmeal, nut butters (for binding)
- Baking powder/H2O/Vinegar (1 tsp. baking powder + 1 tsp. water + 1 tsp. vinegar = 1 egg*)
- Baking Soda/Water (2 tsp. baking soda + 2 T warm water = 1 egg)**
- Baking Soda/Vinegar (1 tsp. baking soda + 1 T white/apple vinegar= 1 egg)**
- Lemon Juice + Baking Soda (2 T. lemon juice + 1 tsp baking soda= 1 egg)**
* If the egg is used as a leavening agent in a recipe, you will need to incorporate baking soda and/or baking powder in the recipe for your dessert to rise. Read my notes at the bottom of this post on baking soda and baking powder for leavening instructions.
**Use if this is only leavening agent– do not double up on baking powder/soda!
(amounts = interchangeable)
- Almond Milk
- Soy Milk
- Rice Milk*
- Coconut Milk (canned and carton)
- Vegan “Buttermilk”: 1 cup non-dairy milk (above) + 1 tsp. lemon juice or vinegar
*Rice milk tends to be best for soups/sauces as opposed to baking due to it’s low fat content/thin consistency
(interchangeable aside from exceptions below)
- Oat Flour
- Almond Flour*
- Peanut Flour
- Millet Flour
- Brown Rice Flour
- Buckwheat flour*
- Spelt Flour**
- Coconut Flour*
- Quinoa Flour*
- Buckwheat flour*
- Chickpea Flour*
- Xanthan Gum/Guar Gum***
*These flours will result in a denser product: mix 1/3 cup of any of these flours with 1 c. millet flour, 1 c. starch, and 1 tsp. xanthan gum for an easy gluten-free blend. The following are starches for gluten-free baking (potato starch, cornstarch, tapioca starch, & arrowroot)
**Spelt flour is not acceptable for those with Celiac disease
***These stand in for gluten as thickening agents. Xanthan gum is best for baking and is used in batter with high acidity. Guar gum is best for cold foods (pastry fillings, ice cream)
Whipped Topping Swap:
(Amounts will vary depending upon your recipe)
- Coconut Milk Cream (canned, full-fat!)*
- Cashew Cream (soaked + water )**
- Soy alternatives (Soyatoo)
- Tofu Cream (tofu + lemon + powder sugar + flavored extract + flour)***
- Agar Flakes (agar + water, salt, sweetener, extract)****
* Put a can of full fat coconut milk in the fridge overnight. Turn upside down so liquid comes to top, Turn right-side up, open & drain liquid. With an electric mixer, whip the hardened cream in a bowl with a little sugar & vanilla.
** One c. raw cashews soaked overnight/drained. Blend with 1.5 c. water (add more or less depending upon desired texture), 2-4 T sweetener, dash of salt.
***1 package mori-nu silken tofu, juice from 1 large lemon slice, 1-2 tablespoons powdered sugar, ¾-1 tsp almond, vanilla, or maple extract, & 3-4 T whole wheat flour (if you’d like it thicker). Whip/blend VERY well.
**** Mix 2 & 2/3 c. non-dairy milk with 2 T agar flakes (boil, simmer 7 minutes, cool, refrigerate until firm). Blend with 3 T water, 1/8 tsp. salt, add a few drops of your choice of flavored extract, and sweeten/flavor to taste–stevia, cocoa powder etc…
Check out more agar recipes here
Say Goodbye to Sugar!
(Amounts you use depend upon your own personal sweet tooth preference)
- Dates (soaked/blended)
- Bananas (mashed or sliced)
- Raisins (soaked/blended or whole)
- Stevia (calorie-free, 300x sweeter than sugar, liquid or powder)
- Dextrose (a.k.a glucose is 30% less sweet than sugar)*
- Xylitol (33% fewer calories than table sugar)
- Coconut Sugar (NEW: low GI, low fructose, natural, high in nutrients)**
- Maple Syrup**
- Brown Rice Syrup**
- Spices, Citrus Zest
- Nut Extracts (adds an indulgent aroma)
- Baby Food (banana, prune, plum, apple and other sweet fruits)
*Dextrose= Is a natural sugar found in fruits/starches. The body can readily absorb it & use glucose for energy & to power cells.
** While these are a less processed, natural option, they are still high in calories (Dextrose included). Use sparingly!
*** Honey is not for strict vegans. As mentioned above, use sparingly!
What about Agave?
You may have noticed that agave isn’t on my list of sugar swaps–that’s because there has been a lot of research out there lately that suggests it’s not quite as healthy as you think (you can blame the marketing companies for that). I’ve highlighted some of these recent claims below.
- 20 calories per teaspoon
- 1.5 times sweeter than sugar
- Won’t spike blood sugar (low glycemic index)
- HIGH in fructose (Agave ranges from 55%-90% fructose–high fructose corn syrup -HFCS- is 55% fructose!)*
- Chemically processed (similar production to that of HFCS)
- Doesn’t stimulate/shut off appetite hormones
- Can lead to overeating, lowered metabolism, & lower insulin sensitivity
- Raises uric acid levels (chronic low-level inflammation that leads to cardiovascular disease, cancer, stroke, arthritis, early aging)
- Can decrease HDL levels, increase LDL, contribute to high blood pressure, high blood sugar, elevated triglycerides, fatty liver disease
- Linked to increase visceral fat & obesity
- GI tract doesn’t absorb fructose easily and sends it to your liver (overloads, scars, develops triglycerides)
*Fructose is found in fruit and honey, which is healthy and fine because it is accompanied by fiber, vitamins and minerals – but it is not meant to be consumed in largely concentrated forms like agave.
You can also read more about the dangers of agave here.
Vegan Baking Tips and Tricks: Baking Soda vs. Baking Powder:
(These are chemical leaveners used to make baked goods.What you use depends on other ingredients)
Baking Soda = Best for cookies
- When baking soda (100% sodium bicarbonate) is combined with an acidic ingredient (vinegar, lemon juice, chocolate, molasses, yogurt) CO2 is released, thus forming bubbles in the batter.
- When heated, these bubbles expand and cause the finished product to lighten/rise (& give baked goods a nice brown color!)
- Recipes with baking soda must be baked immediately or they will fall flat!
- Baking soda can be mixed with some cornstarch and cream of tartar to replace baking powder.
- Baking soda will leave a bitter taste unless counteracted by an acid.
Baking Powder = Best for cakes and biscuits
- Baking Powder (sodium bicarbonate + cream of tartar + starch) contains an acid and a base and has a neutral taste.
- Available in single-acting (which must be cooked immediately) or double-acting formulas (which can stand at room temperature for a bit).
- Baking powder cannot replace baking soda because it already contains an acid (cream of tartar).
(Powder & soda might both be used because you may have enough soda to neutralize acidic batter, but not to lift batter. A little baking powder can do this job. If you use just baking powder however, it could be too acidic. Both together also give the batter a bit of a tangy taste—good for cookies!)
Hopefully you’ve discovered some surprising new ingredients from my lists above, and I hope I’ve inspired you to get a little crazy and experiment the next time you’re in the kitchen. Remember, eating healthy doesn’t mean eating bland or depriving yourself. It just means you need be smart and you need to be willing to get a little more creative with your cooking .
Staying on track with your healthy diet while still being able to indulge in sweets?
Now THAT’S what I call having your cake and eating it too .