Do you sacrifice eating cake in an endeavour to follow a healthier lifestyle or because you’re trying to lose weight or make lean muscle gains? Well if you learn how to make a healthy cake, you’ll never have to sacrifice your dessert again. Unfortunately, cakes are one of the main culprits to be cut from a healthy eating plan or weight loss regime. They also contain a multitude of ingredients that are highly processed and exceed the recommended guidelines in terms of fat, sugar and calories. So this begs the question, what foods should you avoid and what items can be substituted for healthier, more natural ingredients?
In this article, you’ll discover a world of tips and tricks to cut sugar, fat and calories from cake. In addition to that, I divulge some simple hacks to reduce the amount of processed ingredients that go into your wholesome cake. By reading this article, you’ll be educated on the healthier ingredients to include to make a yummy cake that’s not only significantly healthier than a normal sugar-laden cake, it will also satisfy the sweetest of teeth.
So whether you’re someone who needs or desires to have a low-sugar diet or low-fat diet, or simply wishes to eat more nourishing foods, then you’ve come to the right place. You too can now have your cake and eat it!
Eliminate or reduce
Cream: Creams of any type, especially heavy creams, are loaded with excess fat that causes the fat and calorie content of cakes to spike with even just a few dollops. Often cream is only added for decoration, so why not cut back on the amount of cream being used, or if the recipe allows, eliminate it altogether. Your heart will thank you for it!
Flour: Flourless cakes are becoming increasingly popular nowadays. If you’re looking to reduce carbohydrates, then a flourless chocolate cake could be just what’s needed to cut the carbs and cure your sweet tooth.
Tip: Some flourless cakes use extra oil to compromise for the lack of flour. Look for recipes with healthy purees, e.g. pumpkin puree, which help keep the fat and calorie count down.
Sugar: Often recipes call for an excess quantity of sugar, it’s certainly excess when you compare the sugar quantity in a slice of cake with your recommended daily allowance of sugar, which is a maximum of 5 – 10 teaspoons of free sugar per day. In many cases, you can easily reduce the sugar required in a recipe by 20 – 25% without affecting the taste.
Butter: Choosing low-fat butter can save a whopping 50% of fat and calories. Remember that butter is a fat-dense food, so these savings will significantly reduce the saturated fat and calories that a regular butter would contribute.
A slightly less orthodox alternative is to exchange equal ratios of butter for mashed banana, e.g. swap 1 cup of butter for 1 cup of mashed banana. The same principle applies to mashed avocado.
Chocolate chips: Swap chocolate chips for cacao nibs as they are less processed than chocolate chips and they are also lower in sugar and additives.
Cream: Heavy cream should be an ingredient that you should ban from entering your house. You’ll understand why if you’ve ever read the nutritional information on the packaging. Fortunately, you don’t need to eliminate cream altogether from your cake; instead, you can opt for low-fat cream alternatives. Even healthier substitutes for cream include greek yoghurt and milk, silken tofu and soy milk or cottage cheese and low-fat milk. When these are mixed in equal ratios, they can act as a healthy substitute for cream.
Tip: Reduced-fat coconut cream is not only a non-dairy alternative to cream, it’s also adds a delicious coconut flavour to your dessert.
Eggs: Eggs are often one of the healthiest ingredients in a cake. However, if you’re following a vegan diet or simply don’t have an affinity towards eggs, you’ll be glad to know that there are egg substitutes available. For each egg in the recipe, swap it for 1 tablespoon of flaxseeds mixed with 3 tablespoons of water and leave it to sit for 5 – 10 minutes. If you don’t like flaxseeds, then opt for 1 tablespoon chia seeds mixed with 3 tablespoons of water and let it sit for 15 minutes.
Flour: All-purpose flour or white flour is heavily processed when compared to wholemeal (whole wheat) flour. Consequently, it contains less fibre, iron, calcium and protein than wholemeal flour. Now is the time to ditch the white flour once and for all! With an abundance of flours to choose from, there’s no reason why you can’t find a flour to suit your nutritional needs.
Do you need to make a recipe gluten-free? Try swapping out 1 cup of flour for 1 can of black beans pureed. It also works well in brownies.
Tip: If you’re following a ketogenic diet or you’re simply trying to reduce carbohydrates in your diet, then opt for low carbohydrate flours, such as almond flour. It contains only 6.9g carbohydrates per 100g when compared to self-rising flour, which contains 75.1g carbohydrates per 100g. Beware that this will increase the fat content though.
Margarine: The war on whether margarine is more dangerous to health than butter persists. The argument may have been justified historically when margarine was observed to contain higher levels of trans fats as a result of the hydrogenation processing it endured. However, many margarine manufacturers have now eliminated this process or have found other ways to minimise the presence of trans fats in the ingredient. If choosing margarine, opt for ones free of trans fats.
While neither butter nor margarine are likely to present on any dietitian’s favourite list of foods, there are an abundance of substitutes that can significantly diminish the fat and calories while also acting as a margarine substitute in cakes. Options include:
- Greek yoghurt
- Mashed avocado
- Mashed banana
- Pureed black beans
- Pureed pumpkin
Oil: When opting for an oil, it’s best to choose one that is not hydrogenated, as these are high in trans fats (unhealthy fats). Instead, select oils that are not hydrogenated, such as extra-virgin olive oil and avocado oil. Substituting oil altogether is also a possibility and a simple way to slash the fat content from your cake. For each cup of oil, start by adding 1/2 cup of mashed banana. Another alternative includes swapping 1 cup of oil for 1/2 cup of applesauce mixed with 1/2 cup of coconut oil.
Sugar: While the option to reduce sugar may not be feasible or desirable, there are endless varieties of ingredients that can be utilised as a substitute for sugar. Sweeteners are a common sugar alternative, and stevia is a natural sweetener that is often used as a means to reduce sugar in food. Since sweeteners can be up to 300 times sweeter than sugar, it’s advisable not swap equal portions of sugar for sweeteners. Instead, try swapping 1 cup of sugar for 1/2 cup of stevia. If you’ve never substituted sugar with stevia before, then you could use even smaller ratios, e.g. if the recipe requires 1 cup of sugar, swap 1/2 a cup of sugar for 1/4 cup of stevia.
Another substitute for sugar is applesauce. Swap equal portions of sugar for applesauce to reduce sugar and calories. A 100g serving of applesauce contains approximately 68 calories and 15g sugar, whereas 100g serving of sugar contains 387 calories and 100g sugar.
Other sugar replacements include:
- Vanilla essence
Cacao: A healthy alternative to milk chocolate is cacao; this ingredient is lower in sugar than chocolate and can be sprinkled over the top of a cake as a powder, or even cacao nibs can be used to decorate the dessert too.
Opt for fruit: Instead of topping your cake with calorie-dense, processed ingredients such as chocolate, cream and icing, instead decorate your cake with naturally sweet fruit that’s low in calories and high in antioxidants and nutrients. Dessicated coconut is a healthier alternative and less-processed food than sugar sprinkles and sweets. My favourite fruits to add include strawberries and cherries.
Tip: Choose fresh fruit over canned fruit if possible; canned fruits often contain syrups which cause a surge in the sugar content. Additionally, fresh fruits often contain a greater nutrient content.
Add some nuts: Sliced almonds are a popular addition to many cakes and provide a decadent appearance, while offering a healthy source of fat. Crushed nuts sprinkled over the top of a cake also adds a welcome crunchy texture to the cake.
Tip: If you’re trying to make your cake as healthy as possible, some toppings to avoid include icing, buttercream, cream, sweets, chocolate, spreads and biscuits. Alternatively, simply reduce the quantity that you use on the cake.
Syrups: Syrups are often laced in sugar. If you’re planning to drizzle some syrup over your masterpiece, try opting for low-sugar or Skinny syrups which have reduced sugar and calories present.
I could nearly write a standalone article purely on sugar substitutes, there’s just such a variety available! When I learned about all these healthy alternatives to reduce sugar content in my diet, I didn’t stop there. I discovered an unending list of food swaps and wrote an article to help others, like you, to make more wholesome food choices. But don’t take my word for it, have a look yourself and see: low calorie food swaps – cut 100+ calories a day.
- Cakes made with healthy ingredients can constitute part of a healthy diet when consumed in moderation
- Flourless cakes are a ketogenic-friendly alternative to regular cakes
- Eggs can be substituted for either flaxseeds or chia seeds mixed in water
- Evidence proves inconclusive as to whether butter or margarine is the healthier alternative
- Sugar substitutes include applesauce, stevia and vanilla essence
- Cake toppings can be reduced or eliminated to significant slash calories, fat and sugar
We are fortunate to live in an era where people are developing a propensity for healthy foods that are lower in sugar, fat and salt. While some restaurants and supermarkets are beginning to offer a limited selection of healthy desserts and foods other than fruit salads and rabbit food, there’s a lengthy road ahead before we can have our choice of restaurants that offer healthy yet tasty foods that incorporate food swaps, such as those listed above. At least now we have the knowledge to make our own healthy cakes at home, so we don’t have to completely sacrifice our cake.
I used to wing it when weighing ingredients in the past. It never worked out for the best in any scenario, whether it was a mountain of extra pasta that I cooked (sound familiar?) or a cake that tasted dry or bland, or even inaccurately tracked macros that sabotaged my progress.
I finally became serious about making recipes correctly and following a food plan when I invested the best £9 of my life in a Salter Arc Digital Kitchen Scales. Now not a meal goes by that I don’t have my trusty scales beside me, and every recipe I’ve made since couldn’t be faulted for the lack of proper measurements.
Butkas, K., 2016. Substitutes That Help Cut Calories And Fat In Your Baking. [online] Aurorahealthcare.org. Available at: https://www.aurorahealthcare.org/patients-visitors/blog/substitutes-that-help-cut-calories-and-fat-in-your-baking
Eggleston, K., 2020. Why Whole Wheat Flour Is The Right Choice For Healthy Eating. [online] The Spruce Eats. Available at: https://www.thespruceeats.com/whole-wheat-flour-vs-white-flour-2238373#:~:text=One%20of%20the%20main%20differences,from%20white%20flour%20during%20processing.&text=It%20also%20has%20more%20iron,other%20nutrients%20than%20white%20flour.%EF%BB%BF%EF%BB%BF%EF%BB%BF
Link, R., 2017. The 10 Best Substitutes For Heavy Cream. [online] Healthline. Available at: https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/heavy-cream-substitutes#section2
Sassos, S., 2020. The Healthiest Cooking Oils, According To A Registered Dietitian. [online] Good Housekeeping. Available at: https://www.goodhousekeeping.com/health/diet-nutrition/g32108013/healthiest-cooking-oils/
Warwick, K., 2020. Butter Vs. Margarine: Which Is Most Healthful?. [online] Medicalnewstoday.com. Available at: https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/304283#summary