Everyone loves holiday cookies, but indulging in your favorite treats every time you see a cookie dish might leave you feeling less than festive. Instead, try making your favorite cookies healthier with these five tips for healthier baking.
Tip 1: Make them more heart healthy.
Swap out some of the butter, margarine or shortening for heart-healthy oils, such as canola oil or olive oil, or pureed fruit or even vegetables.
To replace fats with oil: For every tablespoon of butter you replace with heart-healthy oil, you eliminate at least 5 grams of saturated fat from your batch of cookies. (A batch of 2 dozen cookies made with 1 cup butter has almost 5 grams saturated fat per cookie.) You can often replace up to 50 percent of the butter in a recipe, but keep in mind that when you reduce the butter in a recipe you may lose some of its tenderizing and moisture-retaining properties. Cookies that use some oil in place of butter may be a bit crisper and may dry out sooner. To preserve the best cookie texture, be sure to store extra cookies in an airtight container.
To replace fats with pureed fruit or vegetables: Try using pureed fruit or even vegetables in place of some of the butter, margarine or shortening. Options include applesauce, pear butter, prune puree or even pureed pumpkin. Pureed fruit products, such as Lighter Bake, are commercially made pureed-fruit fat-replacers. Look for them in the baking aisle.
Using a fruit fat-replacer will give you a cakier, chewier or softer texture, so it works well in cookies that are naturally softer, such as oatmeal cookies or ginger molasses cookies. Just as when you’re replacing some of the butter with oil, it’s best to start with a small amount and experiment. Depending on the recipe, you may be successful replacing as much as half the butter with a fruit-based fat-replacer.
Tip 2: Replace unhealthy fats.
Consider replacing some of the butter with nontraditional cookie ingredients, such as nonfat plain yogurt, nonfat buttermilk or even fruit juice.
When you reduce overall fat in a cookie recipe, the resulting cookies can be dry; adding a “moist” ingredient helps keep the cookies satisfying. Try 1 to 4 tablespoons of a liquid ingredient in place of up to 4 tablespoons butter. You can even experiment with replacing some of the solid fat (butter, margarine or shortening) with some heart-healthy oil and replacing a little more of the solid fat with a nonfat liquid, such as yogurt, buttermilk or juice.
Tip 3: Add fiber to your cookies.
Try replacing some (or all) of the all-purpose flour with whole-wheat flour, whole-wheat pastry flour and/or oats. If you are used to the taste and texture of whole-wheat, some cookies are just as satisfying when made with 100% whole-wheat flour. Using whole-wheat flour in place of all-purpose flour gives your cookies about four times the amount of fiber in every batch. Or try replacing 1/4 to 1/2 cup of the all-purpose flour with whole rolled oats or oats that have been ground into a “flour.”
For more delicate-textured cookies or if you are still getting used to the taste and texture of whole-wheat, try using more finely milled whole-wheat pastry flour or mild-flavored white whole-wheat flour in place of about half of the all-purpose flour—you’ll still get the added benefit of extra fiber without the stronger wheat flavor.
Ground flaxseeds or flaxmeal can help add fiber to baked goods, and flaxseeds also contain alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), an omega-3 fatty acid linked to cardiovascular health. Try adding 2 to 4 tablespoons of ground flaxseeds (or flaxmeal) to a batch of cookies. The flavor of flax complements oat-based cookies or cookies that are highly spiced, such as ginger molasses cookies or snickerdoodles.
Tip 4: Keep sodium in check.
Some baked goods can be surprisingly high in sodium. Aim for no more than 1/2 teaspoon salt per batch of cookies. If you’re on a salt-restricted diet, try reducing the salt in a batch of cookies to 1/4 teaspoon.
Tip 5: Eliminate trans fats and other artificial ingredients.
Steer clear of ingredients that contain partially hydrogenated oil (or trans fats), such as margarine and most vegetable shortenings. Consider limiting other artificial ingredients, such as artificial food dyes.
One of the benefits of homemade baked goods is their simple list of ingredients. By making your own cookies, you can use whole ingredients and avoid most or all of the processed ingredients that are found in many packaged cookies.
Holiday cookies do look more festive when decorated with sprinkles or colored frosting—but try to keep ingredients as “natural” as possible. A little food dye now and then probably isn’t so bad, but if you’d like to avoid artificial ingredients, look for all-natural food dyes, such as red dye made from beets, available in natural-foods stores or online. Or try a drizzle of chocolate or a sprinkle of finely chopped nuts to give cookies extra appeal.