Satisfying your sweet tooth with a cookie or two (or three) doesn't have to sabotage your healthy-eating goals.
Top dietitians share clever baking tips to cram more vitamins, minerals, protein and fiber into your cookies — all while cutting calories and unhealthy saturated fat. Try these smart strategies next time you bake a batch.
Read more: 6 Delicious No-Bake Desserts for Every Diet
1. Use Whole-Wheat Flour Instead
Simply replace half a recipe's all-purpose flour for the whole-wheat variety, suggests Vandana Sheth, RDN and author of My Indian Table: Quick & Tasty Vegetarian Recipes. Since whole-wheat flour can be dense, consider buying white whole-wheat flour, which is a bit lighter, suggests Langevin.
When using whole-grain flours, you might need a little extra fluid to keep your dough moist. If your dough looks a smidge dry, add low-fat dairy milk or plant-based milk.
2. Sneak In Some Seeds
Tossing in healthy seeds like flax, chia or hemp will add more essential heart- and brain-boosting omega-3 fatty acids to your cookies. "These little seeds can be ground to become invisible in most baked goods," says Langevin. "Ground flax seeds are likely the easiest to hide."
If you don't mind the crunch of whole seeds, feel free to sprinkle them into your batter, too. The next time you make a lemon poppy seed cookie, sub in chia seeds for poppy seeds. This little switch will provide more fiber, protein, zinc and magnesium to your treats, says Langevin.
3. Replace Eggs
If you're concerned about the cholesterol content in eggs, Sheth recommends switching out eggs for a plant-based replacement like flax or chia seeds that provide binding, fiber and omega-3s minus the cholesterol. To approximate one egg, add 1 tablespoon of ground seeds to 3 tablespoons of water and let the mixture sit for five minutes, says Langevin.
Mashed banana is another amazing alternative for eggs. "This is a smart trick for adding more fruits to your day," says Langevin. Jam-packed with potassium, bananas are also a powerhouse of other nutrients including manganese, magnesium and vitamins B and C. And, since they're naturally sweet, you may even be able to reduce the amount of sugar in your recipe, adds Sheth.
4. Ditch the Butter
Swapping out butter in your baked goods is a great way to lower saturated fat content. If you're looking for plant-based butter alternatives, apple sauce and other puréed fruits or veggies like squash and pumpkin are great options. Not only are they low in fat and nutrient-dense, but they're also dairy-free, so they won't upset your tummy if you're lactose intolerant.
If dairy isn't your foe, try replacing butter with Greek yogurt. This simple low-calorie swap not only adds a wonderful, ooey-gooey texture to your cookies but also provides oodles of calcium and protein, says Sheth. And, like buttermilk, it lends a rich and tangy flavor, too.
But, if you just can't live without good ol' butter, Langevin suggests substituting only half the butter your recipe calls for with Greek yogurt. This way, you get that buttery flavor while slashing some saturated fat and calories.
5. Add Nuts
Chopped nuts add a wonderful crunchy nuance to your cookies while offering heart-healthy fats, vitamin E, protein and fiber, according to Sheth. Nut-based flours are another great way to get the same benefits. Adding a quarter-cup of ground almond flour to your batter won't significantly change your cookies' texture and will make your baked goods more filling, says Langevin.
You can also swap in a healthy nut butter. Thanks to its creaminess, almond butter can help keep your doughs and batters nice and moist.
When baking with nut flours, you may have to add more eggs to help with structure, so you don't run the risk of having your cookies fall apart.
6. Load Up on Oats
Think beyond oatmeal raisin cookies. Oats — a great source of fiber, iron and B vitamins — make for a healthy addition to any baked good, says Langevin. Plus, they lend a mild, nutty note and a heartier texture for more complex flavor. Bonus: Oats are naturally gluten-free — just make sure your package notes that since some brands process their oats with other gluten products, which can cause cross-contamination.
Use a food processor to grind your oats and substitute them for approximately half the flour in your recipe.
If you're out of oats, Langevin recommends tossing in some of last night's leftover quinoa instead. This gluten-free whole grain adds an even stronger nutty taste to your cookies as well as a boost of protein, vitamins and minerals.
7. Sack the Sugar
Literally. You can cut back on sugar by simply using one-fourth to one-third less in your cookie recipes, says Sheth. You can also try incorporating prune or date purée, apple sauce or mashed bananas, which add both natural sweetness and fiber.
You can also sub in honey or maple syrup, says Langevin. Since both boast a strong flavor, you don't need much.
That said, you can still use regular sugar in your recipes if you downsize your cookies for built-in portion control, says Sheth.