5 Surprising & Healthy Ingredient Substitutions for Desserts

Updated on February 1, 2020
Kelsi Nuss profile image

Kelsi is a writer from the Deep South who loves to give tips on health and well-being.

These Ingredient Substitutions May Sound Disgusting, But They're Deliciously Nutritious

I love to eat. If I could make a career out of smashing my face into that Coca-Cola chocolate cake they give you at Cracker Barrel when it’s your birthday (and be able to work some kind of wizardry where I’d never gain a pound), I’d be the happiest girl this side of the Mississippi River. And now that I’ve possibly betrayed what a southern-fried Alabamian I am, let's proceed.

Even though I hail from the land of sweet tea and cornbread, I also have this passion to be as healthy as I possibly can. That’s many of us in the Heart of Dixie, but I won’t insult you by ignoring the fact that we here in Alabama have a reputation for some of the best comfort food you’ll ever find on a restaurant menu, or out of the side of a wood-fired pizza food truck parked at the edge of the K-Mart parking lot.

But let’s get back to that chocolate cake.

With so many delectable edibles on tap around here, and being afflicted with a sweet tooth myself, I decided to start looking for some better ways to enjoy my favorite desserts without the side helpings of guilt and additional chins. I've done my research, and I’ve compiled for you a list of five ingredients that seem likely to ruin our sweets recipes but will actually inflate their flavor and health benefits instead of, you know, our derrières.

5 Healthy Ingredients You Can Add to Dessert Recipes

  1. Beans
  2. Avocado
  3. Zucchini
  4. Spinach
  5. Prunes

Now, let's proceed . . . to the nearest Cracker Barrel.
Now, let's proceed . . . to the nearest Cracker Barrel. | Source

1. Beans

Beans, right? There’s probably not an elementary school kid out there that doesn’t know a sweet little song or two about the magical fruit. But we’re adults here, and we know beans aren’t fruits (They are seeds, guys.), and we also know they are loaded with things that are amazing for us. Things that we, as adults, care about like iron, protein, vitamin B, potassium, and, let us not forget, fiber. They’re also low in fat.

Now you can get that beautiful bean goodness in your baked goods by subbing bean puree in place of butter or oil.

To prepare your beans:

  1. Cook and drain them first.
  2. Toss them in your food processor or blender and puree.
  3. Use your puree in place of your recipe’s call for butter or oil and in the same measurement, too.

So, if you need 1/2 cup of oil, throw in 1/2 cup of bean puree instead. If you need 2 tablespoons of butter, use 2 tablespoons of bean puree. Follow the recipe exactly as you would with your conventional ingredients from there on out.

The choice of bean is yours, but all the experts say to match your colors as close as possible, presumably to not repulse your dinner guests with, say, odd black specks in your fluffy white cake. Black beans for your darker, chocolatey desserts. Spice cakes can handle the power of the pinto. White beans go with everything.

No hard feelings, gross little cutie pie.
No hard feelings, gross little cutie pie. | Source

2. Avocado

There’s nothing quite like an avocado in its prime. It’s smooth, buttery, creamy cool and packed with vitamins and good fats. Of course, I can’t enjoy any of that because I detest avocados no matter how hard I try to like them. There is this interesting (and by interesting I mean sickening) chemical gag-inducing reaction whenever I attempt to soak up the benefits these guys boast. I’m not fond of this culinary kismet of mine. Why should I miss out?

Well, now I don’t have to because I have found a way to hide those nutritional bad boys by substituting them for butter or oil in a myriad of baked goods (The most highly recommended of which have dark chocolate and fudge-based recipes.) using a one-to-one ratio like before with the beans. One cup of mashed avocado in place of one cup of butter or oil revs up the nutrition facts of that fudge brownie recipe you pinned the other day.

Actually, avocado can be substituted for shortening, eggs, sour cream, and mayonnaise, too. It’s helpfully diverse for the avocadically challenged, and with the ability of seamless blending, we, too, can at least enjoy the benefits of this healthy superfood sporadically in our sweets.

I believe we've met.
I believe we've met. | Source

3. Zucchini

Continuing on with our mean green substitutions, here we have zucchini.

It’s low in calories and full of fiber, folate, potassium, vitamins A and C and good carbs. The way to harness the power of this summer squash is to peel, finely grate or shred, and then use it in place of oil. Again, you can substitute a one-to-one ration here. One cup for one cup and so on.

I’ve found some mixed opinions regarding moisture here. Some find that using this ratio makes cakes a touch less moist then usual, so gradually increasing the amount of shredded zucchini in your recipe until you get just the right amount will take care of that problem. Don’t take this information and run with it at first by overloading your recipe with zucchini because it is quite the hydrated vegetable, and it releases water as it bakes. It’s just about preference here. On the other hand, if you find your recipes are too soggy using this ratio, gradually lessen the amount of zucchini you use or press the grated zucchini with a paper towel to remove some excess water before mixing it into your other ingredients.

Use this substitution pretty much everywhere—cakes, cookies, breads, pies and bars.

Top-shelf zucchini martini, please.
Top-shelf zucchini martini, please. | Source

4. Spinach

I’m going to start with one word: spinookie. Go ahead. Google it.

It's lean. It's mean. It's iron, niacin, zinc, protein, fiber, vitamins A, B6, C, E, and K, thiamin, calcium, magnesium, copper, potassium, phosphorous and manganese all wrapped up in a green cookie package. It’s wonderful. It’s rich. It’s radioactive.

The spinookie, though given a name that sounds more akin to a strange, erm, lovemaking position than it does a dessert, is actually part of a revolution in the world of eating. Spinach is an amazing ingredient that is truly beneficial for baked goods. I know it’s actually an addition to recipes and not a substitution, but come on. One look at that cookie and you might agree that spinach belonged on this list.

The potential for morphing your sweets into strange green colors aside, spinach is a champion food that only betters the recipes it touches. Add one or two cups of pureed spinach to your wet ingredients and cook like normal. This goes for breads, muffins and cakes, both regular and pan.

Earlier, I came across picture of a green velvet cake. Reviews said "delicious at Christmas dinner" (which I believe, but I suspect they may have used it mainly to scare the children).

5. Prunes

Prunes are like beans in the sense that they have a reputation, and that reputation, however positive it is for our bodies, is still unappetizing. Anything that draws the attention from your food to the functionality of your bowels is, well, you know. But we’ll move on from the little prune’s big promises of regularity.

Pureed prunes make amazing substitutes for butter in recipes for richly flavored desserts like chocolate and spice cakes. Use pureed prune baby food or channel your inner Betty Crocker and puree it yourself using a food processor or blender. If you take that route, make sure the prunes are pitted, and pour in 1/4 cup of hot water for ever 3/4 cup of prunes that you puree.

Send your pureed prunes in for your butter using our handy dandy one-to-one ratio, and your body will thank you. Unless, maybe, you eat the entire cake.

Toilet Humor
Toilet Humor | Source

As For Me

These ingredients don’t scream delicious desserts. There’s a reason you don’t go to a restaurant and order a slice of spinach cream pie or avocado cookie cake. They’re not on the menu. They just don’t go.

But they do.

Health doesn’t have just one look. It doesn’t have just one face. It isn’t achievable by adhering to only one strict set of standards.

Am I saying that as long as you swap out your butter or your oil for a spinach leaf and some avocado mush that you will be able to eat nothing but tasty green cookies all day and be the epitome of health? No. But you know that.

It’s all about moderation. Enjoy your sweets because, as it goes, life is on the shorter side. And if you’re going to enjoy a slice of cake every now and then, and I hope that you do, why not enjoy one that strives to be a better version of itself through healthy (and delicious) substitutes?

As for me, I’ll take a tip from these sweets. You never know where taking a chance on new and better ingredients for life will lead you. We could all be just one daring ingredient combination away from greatness.

Just ask the spinookie.


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    • Yemmiganur Krish profile image

      Madugundu Krishna 

      3 years ago from Bengaluru

      my taste food is chocolate cake.

    • Kelsi Nuss profile imageAUTHOR

      Kelsi Nuss 

      3 years ago from Auburn, AL

      Thank you for sharing, Becky! I love trying new recipes so I'll check them out. I've also heard that applesauce is amazing to bake with, though I haven't tried it myself yet.

    • Kelsi Nuss profile imageAUTHOR

      Kelsi Nuss 

      3 years ago from Auburn, AL

      Peach, that sounds amazing!

    • Becky Katz profile image

      Becky Katz 

      3 years ago from Hereford, AZ

      I have an awesome recipe for zucchini bread that tastes delicious. My husband does not like zucchini and he likes this bread. I have also subbed pumpkin, applesauce and pineapple that has been pureed for the zucchini in this recipe. It is on my hubpage.

      I also have a chocolate applesauce cake that is totally delicious. It is my favorite cake in the world. The applesauce adds so much flavor to the chocolate. It is on my page too. I imagine that you could add different fruits and veggies to this recipe as well, but apples are so good for you. I am not trying to promo my page, but I know you will love the recipes.

    • peachpurple profile image


      3 years ago from Home Sweet Home

      i had read a recipe of hot chocolate cake with zucchini


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