There are plenty of options out there for improving the nutritional content of your meals without severely altering the flavor or appearance, or adding significantly to your preparation time. Here are a few suggestions that you can use when baking courtesy of With these changes we can turn an ordinary batch of brownies into a vegan, gluten-free treat that is lower in fat and calories.

Flax meal for eggs

This one’s an old vegan trick. Mix 1 tablespoon ground flax seeds (aka flax meal) with 3 tablespoons of warm water and whisk with a fork to combine. Now let it sit in the fridge for 5-10 minutes before subbing for 1 egg in any baked recipe.

Mashed bananas for fats

The creamy, thickening-power of mashed (ripe!) banana acts the same as avocado in terms of replacing fat in baking recipes. The consistency is ideal, and the bananas add nutrients like potassium, fiber, and vitamin B6. One cup (appx. 3 bananas) of mashed banana works perfectly in place of 1 cup of butter or oil!

Vanilla or Unsweetened Applesauce for sugar

Cutting sugar in half and adding a teaspoon of vanilla as a replacement can give just as much flavor with significantly fewer calories. Assuming the recipe originally calls for one cup of sugar, that’s already almost 400 calories cut out! Of course, you can’t sub this one in equal ratios, but next time you’re whipping up some cookies, try cutting 2 tablespoons of sugar and adding an extra 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla extract.

Alternatively, using applesauce in place of sugar can give the necessary sweetness as well, without the extra calories. While one cup of unsweetened applesauce contains only about 100 calories, a cup of sugar can pack in more than 770 calories. You can sub sugar for applesauce in a 1:1 ratio, but for every cup of applesauce you use, reduce the amount of liquid in the recipe by 1/4 cup.

Black beans for flour

Swapping out flour for a can of black beans (drained and rinsed, of course) in brownies is a great way to cut out the gluten and fit in an extra dose of protein. When baking, swap out 1 cup flour for 1 cup black bean puree (about a 15 oz. can).

We start with our recipe for Brown Brownies, a popular dessert recipe, and made the following substitutions:

  • Replace 1/4 cup unsalted butter with 3 mashed bananas

  • Replaced 1 cup sugar with 1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce, 1/2 tsp vanilla, and 6 Tbsp. sugar

  • Replaced 1/4 cup flour with 1/4 cup pureed cooked black beans

  • Replaced 2 eggs with  2 Tbsp. ground flax seeds (mixed with water)


Look at the nutritional difference per serving between the two recipes:


                                                            Original           Revised                Difference           Improvement


350 cal

240 cal

-110 cal



33 g

29 g

– 4g


Fat, total

25 g


– 10gg


Fat, Saturated

10 g

4.2 g



Fat, Mono

9.1 g

6.3 g

-2.8 g


Fat Poly

3.7 g

3.7 g




3.9 g

3.3 g

– .6

Loss of 15%



4.9 g

+2.1 g



27 g

20 g

-7 g



67 mg

1   Mg

–  67 mg



(The above analysis only covers the major nutritional elements of the two desserts, but bear in mind that the recipe containing the substitutions also provides more in the way of some essential vitamins and minerals, particularly magnesium and potassium, and vitamin B6.)

As you can see, just a few alterations to a recipe can have a fairly dramatic effect on the nutritional outcome. You don’t even need to employ all of these substitutions in a given recipe; just making one or two changes can help.  Try experimenting to see what works best for you and your family, and know that whatever you do the end result will be healthier food.