Reducing Fat & Sugar in Holiday Baking

Some of my favorite holiday memories involve baking in the kitchen with family.  Whether it’s the aroma of my grandmother’s gingerbread cookies permeating the house or the mouth watering pecan pie my aunt makes every year, there are plenty of holiday sweets to go around. With the barrage of holiday treats during the holiday season, it can be difficult to hold back cravings. Here are a few tips to make holiday baked goods healthier by reducing sugar and fat.

Remember that baking is a science that requires proper care and precision. While sugar adds sweetness to foods, it also plays many other important functions in the baking process, including color, texture, structure, and as a stabilizer and leavener.


  • Cut it out!  Try using 1/4th the amount of sugar a recipe calls for. If the recipe calls for 4 tablespoons of sugar, use 3 tablespoons instead.
  • Naturally sweet! Try replacing sugar with natural liquid sweeteners such as honey, agave, or maple syrup.
    • Honey, agave, and maple syrup are sweeter than refined sugar, so you will want to use the ratio below when replacing sugar with any of these sweeteners.
      • For every cup of sugar, use 1/3  or 1/2 cup honey, agave, or maple syrup instead.
    • Honey, agave, and maple syrup contain liquid, so you want to make sure to reduce the amount of liquid in your recipe by about 25%.
    • To counter the acidity of these three sweeteners, try adding 1/4 to 1/2  teaspoon baking soda for every cup of sweetener that is used.
    • Since honey, agave, and maple syrup caramelize faster than sugar, make sure to reduce the heat on your stovetop or oven (by about 25 °F).
  • Puree Away!  Try adding pureed fruits such as raisins, dates, bananas, or yams for a bit of natural sweetness. Using purees can also help you cut down on fat in your baking too.

Fats play an important role in baking as well. They contribute to the flavor and mouthfeel of a product, and act as leaveners and tenderizers. Try some of the tips we have listed below to help you cut down on the fat in your recipe while still keeping the quality you expect.


If your recipe calls for… Try replacing with…
Whole milk Skim (fat-free) or 1% (low-fat) milk
Sour cream Non-fat sour cream or non-fat plain Greek yogurt
Cream cheese Low-fat ricotta or cottage cheese (pureed until smooth)
Heavy whipping cream Evaporated skim milk
Oil or butter (for cookie recipes) Replace half oil or butter with equal parts applesauce or plain low-fat yogurt
½ cup shortening 1/3 cup oil (olive, canola, or vegetable oil)
Butter Replace half butter with mashed bananas, pumpkin puree, apple butter, prunes, plums, or dates.

*Keep in mind that using fruit purees may make your product sweeter, and you may need to reduce baking time by 25%.

1 cup butter 3/4 cup oil (olive, canola, or vegetable oil)

The holidays don’t have to be stressful. Making small modifications to classic holiday staples can go a long way and can be just as delicious!

For more ideas for delicious holiday baked goods, check out some of our dessert recipes!


by Alex Bosse, Nutrition Education Professional