How to Adapt a Recipe to Make it Healthier

How to Adapt a Recipe to Make it Healthier

I’m often asked how much Sucanat to substitute for white sugar, or if whole wheat flour can be substituted one for one with white flour.  I decided to share a little bit about how I adapt “regular recipes” to make them healthier!  Please know that when I say “healthier”…I’m not talking low fat.  To me, healthier means real, whole food.  Click on the following links so read about how I feed my family and why I love real, whole foods!!  Be sure to also check out this entire series on Simple Steps Toward Healthy Eating.

Fats


  • If a recipe calls for vegetable or canola oil I switch it out one for one with melted coconut oil or melted palm shortening.  It’s a little bit tough to measure out solid coconut oil to an exact needed amount.  I just kind of “eyeball it”.  If a recipe calls for 1/4 cup of vegetable oil, I make my best guess at how much 1/4 cup of coconut oil (or palm shortening) is while I’m scooping it out…then I melt it down in a small saucepan on the stove.  If you are new to cooking/baking…you may prefer to melt it, then pour it into a measuring cup to be sure you  have the correct amount.
  • If a recipe calls for margarine (I gag and then) I switch it out one for one with real butter.  This means that if the recipe calls for 1/2 cup margarine, I use 1/2 cup of butter.
  • Usually butter and coconut oil can be used interchangeably.  For instance, when I make muffins…sometimes I use coconut oil and sometimes I use butter.  It depends on what I have on hand and what sounds good at the moment (coconuty goodness, or rich buttery flavor).  If you are unable to eat dairy, you can substititute coconut oil for butter in most recipes.
  • I almost always use melted palm shortening to fry foods (like french fries, onion rings, homemade corn dogs, etc.).  Palm shortening does NOT create the same freaky effects from frying that vegetable or canola oils create.  This means that foods fried in palm shortening (or coconut oil) are NOT unhealthy!
  • I use olive oil if a recipe calls for just a few teaspoons or Tablespoons of vegetable oil.
  • You can read more about the fats I prefer and why I prefer them here!!

Sugars


  • Sucanat (or Rapadura, which is the same thing…just under a different name) can be substituted one for one with white or brown sugar.  This means that if a recipe calls for one cup of white sugar…you can instead use one cup of Sucanat.  However, I generally cut the Sucanat down just a hair because the flavor is stronger…and because it is more expensive…and because wow…do we really need that much sugar?  :)  Sucanat, by the way, is dehydrated cane sugar juice and the healthiest form of cane sugar I’ve found.  You can read more about it  here.
  • Honey can be substituted for white or brown sugar, but I usually use 1/2 to 2/3 the amount the recipe calls for.  This means that if a recipe calls for one cup of white or brown sugar, I only use 1/2 to 2/3 cup of honey.  Honey has a rich flavor and is sweeter than sugar.  I have not found that substituting honey causes much difference in the consistency of a recipe, even though honey is a liquid and sugar is not.  If anything, I find that honey makes quick breads, muffins and cookies more moist…and that’s never a bad thing if you ask me!
  • Real Grade B Maple Syrup can be substituted for white or brown sugar, but I don’t often bake with it (ooh, except for Coconut Macaroons!).  I use maple syrup for liquid treats like Chocolate Milk and Smoothies and Ice Cream.  If a recipe calls for corn syrup, I use Grade B Maple Syrup instead, substituting it one for one.
  • You can read more about the sweeteners I prefer and why I prefer them here!!

Flours

To make things a little bit easier…I created a free printable “Healthy Recipe Substitutions” download.  Click the following link, print it off and keep it in your kitchen as a handy reference!

Healthy Recipe Substitutions

How do you feel about adapting recipes?  Are you good at making substitutions…or do you prefer to follow a recipe exactly?

This post was originally published March 9, 2011.

Like This? Bless Others By Sharing!
Share on Facebook239Pin on Pinterest731Tweet about this on Twitter5Email this to someoneShare on LinkedIn3Print this page

Comments

  1. Victoria says

    Right now I am making my daughter’s favorite banana bread recipe, and I did some substitutions. I put in WW flour instead of white, honey instead of sugar and butter instead of crisco. We’ll see how it turns out. I havent even put it in the oven yet.

    [Reply]

    Victoria Reply:

    My banana bread came out SOOO delicious!! My son said its the best he’s ever had. He is 4 s… I’ll take it though! LOL. My daughter will try some when she gets home from school.
    I forgot to add though that the recipe already had buttermilk in it, so I just
    soaked the whole wheat flour in the buttermilk overnight and then did the rest today.
    There were some really dry parts by this morning, because I dont think I mixed it well enough.
    Next time I will knead it a little bit and wrap it real tight or something.
    All in all, it came out great and I love it. It even tastes really buttery so you dont need to add anymore butter on it, but I did…

    [Reply]

  2. Elaine says

    Do you have a favorite recipe for homemade granola bars? I made a recipe this week (from a friend) for the first time–it called for 1/2 c. packed brown sugar and 1/4 c. corn syrup. I substituted the corn syrup for honey (equally). The end result was VERY sweet. Do you think I could sub both the brown sugar and the corn syrup for honey?

    [Reply]

    Laura Reply:

    Here’s my granola bar recipe: http://heavenlyhomemakers.com/homemade-chewy-granola-bars-without-corn-syrup. We LOVE it!

    [Reply]

  3. Jill says

    What is your take on agava nectar? I am trying to make healthier baked goods for my sons mid day and lunch snacks and am trying to cut back on the sugar. I tried the agava for the first time today and found the cookies became really dark before they were even done baking and coming together. The end result was very crumbly oatmeal cookie that would not stay together and was really dark….

    [Reply]

    Laura Reply:

    I’ve heard mixed reviews on the healthiness of agave. I choose to avoid it and instead use honey and sucanat and maple syrup: http://heavenlyhomemakers.com/the-most-nutritious-sweeteners

    [Reply]

  4. Erin says

    My daughter makes frosting for decorated cakes that calls for shortening. Is there something that could be substituted? I read that the melting point of Palm Shortening is 97degrees which seems low and her cakes would melt at a picnic. Any suggestions? She wants to decorate cakes professionally someday.

    [Reply]

    Laura Reply:

    I was going to suggest Palm Shortening – otherwise I’m not sure what would work well!

    [Reply]

    Erin Reply:

    Hi,

    This was timely. She made Birthday Cake this weekend for my now 7 year old and palm shortening worked dandy. And it’s been pretty warm here(80 in the house) and it hasn’t melted. So thanks!! No shortening-Yay.

    [Reply]

  5. patsy fromherz says

    have you ever tried making peanutbutter chips?

    [Reply]

    Laura Reply:

    No, but it’s on my list of things to try some day!

    [Reply]

  6. Susan Robinson says

    I’m curious about your use of coconut oil. Most health articles I’ve read say that any oil that is solid at room temperature is bad for you. Is there a reason that you use this oil? I know you must have researched this, so please enlighten me! You are the first site I check each morning. Thanks for all you do to help us eat better and live healthier!

    [Reply]

    Laura Reply:

    Here’s an article I wrote about coconut oil and why it’s good for you: http://heavenlyhomemakers.com/coconut-oil-why-it-is-good-for-you-and-where-to-buy-it :)

    [Reply]

    Janice Reply:

    Thanks, Laura, for your wonderful website. I found it while searching for recipe adaptations using gluten-free and sugar-free ingredients. I stumbled upon your article on coconut oil in the process, and found it to be excellent. Thanks for the information, and may God bless you!

    [Reply]

  7. Rachel says

    I’ve been using sucanat in recipes recently and the taste is wonderful!! Around here there are only two of us though and stuff lasts a little longer. I’ve noticed after 3 days the quick breads (recently made banana) started creating these little gooey string like things when you pull the bread apart or take a bite. Not sure why its happening. The only thing I’ve changed with my recipes is WH flour, sucanat, and coconut oil.

    Has this ever happened to you? Not sure if its the substitutions and what to do about it!

    [Reply]

    Laura Reply:

    I haven’t had this experience, so I’m not sure. Are you keeping the leftovers in the fridge? I would assume that would prevent this, maybe? :)

    [Reply]

    Rachel Reply:

    Good thought. I’ll try that. I haven’t been putting “baked good” in the fridge. :)
    I figured with all of those hungry eaters you may have not had that problem!

    [Reply]

    C. Dazey Reply:

    Sugar absorbs the moisture in the air (hydroscopic). Since the sucanat that I have seen is a larger crystal than regular white sugar, you are probably just seeing the sugar in a “liquidized” form. I don’t know positively, but that would be my best guess. Best wishes.

    Lacey Reply:

    My banana bread always does this too! However, I never use wheat flours or white sugar. It happens when I simply let the bananas do the sweetening! If I freeze some of the leftovers, they don’t usually do the ” gooey string” thing. I guess now I know: refrigerate or freeze.

    [Reply]

  8. Melissa says

    I was wondering if it would work to use virgin coconut oil in making a pie crust. Have you ever tried this? Since the coconut oil has such a low melting point, is it hard to work with it when making pastry?

    [Reply]

    Laura Reply:

    I haven’t tried it, but I do think it would work.

    [Reply]

  9. Paula Pattison says

    I am just learning about coconut oil (CO) and love finding your helpful site. On my first visit to Heavenly Homemakers, reading about the many benefits of CO, I came across a link in the “Comments” from a nutritionist who questions all the benefits of CO and now I am confused. Unfortunately, I cannot find the link again to research what he posted.

    Your help would be most appreciated. Thank you very much.

    [Reply]

    Laura Reply:

    I’m not sure what article you found in the comments, but here is a post I wrote about coconut oil and it’s nutritional benefits: http://heavenlyhomemakers.com/coconut-oil-why-it-is-good-for-you-and-where-to-buy-it. Hope that helps!

    [Reply]

  10. Renee says

    I want to make the switch from canola oil to palm shortening for frying, but I have a question. Can you save the extra oil to use next time? For example, when I fry corn tortillas to make tacos, I put enough oil in the pan to submerge the tortilla. When I’m done I put the leftover (cooled) oil in a jar and stick it in the fridge for next time. This maybe an extra horrible no-no, but it’s what mom did! Anyway, I don’t have a problem spending more money for healthy food for my family, but I’d hate to throw out the extra if I can reuse it.

    [Reply]

    Laura Reply:

    Yes, you could save the palm shortening for a future time no prob!

    [Reply]

    Renee Reply:

    Thanks! I just put in my order for a gallon tub…yikes.

    [Reply]

  11. Melissa says

    First off, your website is amazing…such a wealth of information! I’ve already spent hours browsing. Quick question…in a recipe that calls for both white and brown sugar (cookies), do you just exchange sucanat for both?

    A friend told me about Azure Standard awhile back, but I didn’t really get how it worked. You’ve convinced me to put together my first order. Thanks. :)

    [Reply]

    Laura Reply:

    Yes, I do use sucanat for both white or brown sugar in recipes. :)

    [Reply]

  12. Karen Dee Davidson says

    I use Sucanat a lot and never experienced the gooey strings. But, I live alone so stuff lasts me a very long time and I do put everything in the fridge. So, maybe that is the cure.
    I always use whole wheat pastry flour for almost everything. You don’t mention that. Is it not as healthy as regular whole wheat flour? Recipes seem to tturn out better for me as it is lighter. Do I don something wrong with the regular whole wheat?

    [Reply]

    Laura Reply:

    It’s just as healthy, so definitely a good choice. I grind my own flour, using hard white wheat, and just use that for everything because it’s easier. But whole wheat pastry flour (made from soft wheat) is a great choice and probably what I would often use if I didn’t have a grinder.

    [Reply]

  13. Carise says

    Love the margarine comment! I’m so surprised anyone would bake with that nastiness! REAL butter yields such a wonderful result.

    [Reply]

  14. Verna M says

    Whole wheat isn’t whole wheat any more..it’s a huge GMO product which has changed the whole structure. We’d be better off going totally wheat free or at least buying Organic. Sorry, when I see whole wheat listed in any recipe these days, I freak. lol. Just praying no-one is still eating this. Love the other recipes…take care.
    VM

    [Reply]

    Laura Reply:

    Yes, I agree and always use organic wheat. :)

    [Reply]

    Janice Reply:

    After reading the Wheat Belly Cookbook, I am also trying to get off wheat. Dr. Davis explains in the book how our present-day wheat came into being and the horrible effects the “new” wheat has on our bodies. I have bought many gluten-free ingredients, but now am trying to figure out how to make recipes sugar-free and gluten-free. Thanks for your website, Laura. It is wonderful!!!

    [Reply]

  15. Paula says

    Can you give more ideas of what Palm Shortening can be used for? How would I store a smaller amount in my cupboard if I were to purchase the gallon size. Does it have a stable shelf life?

    Would I just melt it and use it as a substitute or a recipe that call for canola oil?

    Sorry for all the questions.

    [Reply]

    LindseyforLaura@HHM Reply:

    http://heavenlyhomemakers.com/healthy-fats The link will lead you to a post Laura did that includes some ideas of what you can do with palm shortening.

    [Reply]

  16. says

    Brown sugar goes hard in my cupboard.I keep it in its original bag,then inside a plastic bag.How can I keep this brown sugar soft?

    [Reply]

    Jen Reply:

    If you add a few small, torn pieces of bread to the bag, your brown sugar will stay soft. It will even soften brick hard brown sugar within a few days. My grandma always did this, and it really works! I just leave the pieces of bread in the bag until it’s gone, and work around it when I need to use the sugar. The sugar sort of preserves it somehow, so the bread doesn’t get yucky or moldy.

    [Reply]

  17. says

    I’ve been reading your blog for a long time, so I do many of the same things you do. I hardly ever follow a recipe exactly. I usually swap out the flours & sugars for healthier versions, and I always cut the sugar a bit. Such great info!

    [Reply]

  18. BUSY MOM IN AL says

    Thank you for the printable download! Just what I needed.

    I want to try the melted palm shortening to make my mayonnaise recipe later today. Also, we make a ganache for cheesecake and might try the maple syrup instead of the corn syrup next time!

    Thank you!!

    [Reply]

  19. Michelle says

    Many years ago, you suggested using 3/4 c of whole wheat flour for every 1 c of white flour. This has been my standard in converting recipes. Most all recipes turn out great when I do this, and most people can’t tell that I use whole wheat either.

    [Reply]

  20. Kentucky Lady 717 says

    Thanks for this info Laura….printer not working now, hope to print it out later…
    I just purchased some COCONUT FLOUR from Tropical Traditions, can you tell me how to substitute to use that ? I have never baked with coconut flour, but decided to order some so I could get the free coconut oil….(just rec. my free Virgin coconut oil book yesterday too)
    I did notice a few recipes in it tho. But I guess I should check out your recipes online eh? I assume you bake with coconut flour too eh ? I will check and see. Hope you are having a great time at camp…..

    [Reply]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *