Swap the Butter in Your Baked Goods With These Healthy Alternatives

Baking calms the mind and feeds the soul, but sometimes key ingredients — like unsalted butter — are scarce in your home or in stores. If this is the case, or if you're just looking to go more plant-based, never fear: omitting some or all of the butter from your favorite recipes is easier than you might think, and can also reduce calories, cholesterol, and fat. Here are healthier alternatives that bakers can use instead of butter to make light and delicious baked goods. You probably already have them in your pantry! And bonus: these alternatives are great for vegan bakers, too.

  • Applesauce: Often used to replace oil in recipes, applesauce can be used as a butter alternative, and works best in cake-like recipes (like this vegan banana apple chunk bread). Replace half the amount of butter in your recipe with applesauce; if the recipe calls for one cup of butter, use half a cup of butter and half a cup of applesauce. If you don't mind a denser, more moist bread, replace all the butter with applesauce to cut even more calories and fat.
  • Avocado: Substitute half the amount of butter in a baking recipe with mashed avocado (it works well with cookies and quick breads like these pumpkin apple muffins); use the same method as you would when using applesauce. Using avocado not only lowers the calorie content, but it also creates a softer, moister baked good, and is perfect if you want to omit the dairy. You can also use avocado in place of butter to make vegan "buttercream" frosting.
  • Earth Balance: Replace all the butter in the recipe with Earth Balance spread to reduce saturated fat and cholesterol. You can also use Smart Balance rather than Earth Balance to save more calories. Note that Original Smart Balance is now dairy-free!
  • Canola oil: In certain recipes, replacing butter with oil works well, especially if the recipe calls for melted butter. Fiddle with your favorite recipes to figure out when canola oil works instead of butter; when baking chocolate chip cookies, I've had success substituting half a cup of canola oil for half a cup of unsalted butter. Although slightly higher in calories, canola oil is much lower in saturated fat, cholesterol, and sodium.
  • Yogurt: Replace half the amount of butter in your cookie recipes with half the amount of yogurt (non-dairy works, too). For example, if the recipe calls for one cup of butter, use half a cup of butter and one quarter cup of yogurt. You'll reduce the calories and the saturated fat. Play around with using more yogurt and less butter to see if you still like the taste and consistency. Try this recipe for protein banana bread made with soy yogurt.
  • Prune purée, mashed banana, or mashed sweet potato: Prune purée, mashed banana, or mashed sweet potato makes a low-calorie and low-fat alternative to butter. Whatever amount of butter the recipe calls for, replace it completely with either of these three. This option works well in recipes that involve chocolate and cinnamon.

Additional reporting by Lauren Harano