Healthy baking recipes are a great way to get creative in the kitchen. Finding ways to enrich both the nutritional content and the deliciousness of your baked goods and desserts can be fun, and lets you focus more on what you can add to a recipe in terms of taste and texture (as opposed to what you can cut out).
“There are nutrient-rich ingredients that you can incorporate into baking in a way that doesn’t take away from [the final product], but adds to it and makes it more satisfying,” Rachael Hartley, R.D., certified intuitive eating counselor and owner of Rachael Hartley Nutrition, tells SELF.
A lot of recipes do this naturally—think about nuts in brownies and cookies, berries in muffins, or oats in cookies and fruit crisps. Abbey Sharp, R.D., of Abbey’s Kitchen, tells SELF that she loves baking with nut butters and seeds like flax, hemp, and chia. The fat, fiber, and protein in these ingredients can make for baked goods that are more filling and provide a steadier stream of energy, Sharp explains.
It can also be fun to play with alternative flours, like whole wheat, oat, or almond. Hartley likes mixing those in with all-purpose flour to create some textural and nutritional variety. Sharp looks for “creative ways to use naturally sweet foods to add body, texture and flavor,” like ripe bananas or dates.
Unless you’re dealing with a food allergy or intolerance, though, there’s no need to make any particular ingredients, like white flour or sugar, off-limits in healthy baking recipes. “I really believe that all ingredients—including sugar—are just tools in the [baker’s] tool box,” Sharp says. “No need to label them good or bad.” Sugar, for example, can be key to achieving a certain structure or texture in some baked goods and desserts, Sharp says, so eliminating it is not always the right move.
And don’t forget that it’s OK for a recipe to be 100 percent about deliciousness and 0 percent about nutrition. “Sometimes the healthiest thing that you can do is really to eat the thing that you want!” as Hartley puts it.
A note about the word healthy here: We know that healthy is a complicated concept. Not only can it mean different things to different people, it’s a word that’s pretty loaded (and sometimes fraught), thanks to the diet industry’s influence on the way we think about food. At SELF, when we talk about food being healthy, we’re primarily talking about foods that are nutritious, filling, and satisfying. But it also depends on your preferences, your culture, what’s accessible to you, and so much more. We selected these recipes with those basic criteria in mind, while also trying to appeal to a wide variety of nutritional needs and taste buds.