One of my favorite hobbies is baking. I find it relaxing, even calming, and, of course, I love the end result: warm, delicious, gooey baked goods.

I know a lot of people associate baking and sweets as something that can't be incorporated into a healthy diet, especially when you want to lose weight, but I knew that I couldn't eliminate dessert forever, so I started to "healthify" my baking with lower-calorie and more nutritious ingredients so I could still enjoy these treats.

I used to be intimidated by baking because it's more of an exact science than cooking, but even with simple swaps and adjustments the recipes still taste delicious. Here's how I "healthify" my baking:

Start with a previously successful recipe
I’ve had plenty of cooking disasters, but I try to prevent this by using a recipe that I know turned out well before to guide my baking experiment. I then make small changes and substitutions with my measurements and ingredients. I increase my chances of an edible treat, and I don’t end up wasting food!

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Reduce sugar by a quarter
An easy way to cut calories from my baked goods without sacrificing taste is reducing the amount of sugar that the recipes calls for by one-fourth. Most of the time, I don't even notice a difference. Additionally, I'll substitute in a more nutritious ingredient that has some natural sweetness like flavored yogurt, applesauce, or prune puree.

Replace fats with healthy alternatives
Fat creates moisture and richness in a recipe, but it also adds loads of calories. Omitting all of the high-fat ingredients can yield boring and even inedible results, so I do keep some, but the rest I replace with nutritious and lower-calorie ingredients. For instance, if a recipe calls for a stick of butter, I'll use half of a stick and replace the other half with a ripe banana, canned pumpkin, or Greek yogurt. I've even used canned chick peas! Pretty much anything that adds moisture with a bit of texture works well.

Add fiber and omega's with flaxseed
In baking, eggs help baked goods rise and become light and fluffy. They're also needed to prevent the baked goods from crumbling or falling apart. However, if you're watching your cholesterol or simply want to reduce calories and fat, ground flaxseeds are a great way to add healthy fiber and omega-3 fats to your recipe. When mixed with water, they become great substitution for eggs in baking. Just combine one tablespoon of ground flaxseed with three tablespoons of water for each egg.

Next page: Taste-test the batter

Taste-test the batter
Once my batter starts to form, I give it a taste test, which ultimately guides the direction of my new recipe. Is the batter too thick? Is the flavor too sweet? Based on taste, I add more of the necessary ingredients to make the batter taste good. Basically, my thinking is: if the batter tastes delicious, the baked good will taste delicious too.

Try a new extract
A lot of recipes call for vanilla extract, but testing out different extracts is a great way to play with the flavors of a recipe without adding calories. Butterscotch extract adds a sweet, buttery flavor, and coconut, almond, and coffee are other tasty options.

Use miniature chips
I love to use chocolate and butterscotch chips, in my baked goods, and I discovered if I use mini versions and reduce the amount by half, I get more bang for my buck with a bonus of fewer calories. Mini and regular size chips have the same nutritional content, but by reducing the amount, I get tons of mini chips throughout the cookies, so it feels like I'm getting more goodness, rather than less.

Make smaller portions
When it comes to cookies, I can never eat just one. I make half batches of recipes, so I'm not constantly tempted by delicious treats hanging around my house. I'll also make smaller cookies by using a teaspoon instead of a tablespoon to scoop the cookie dough or use a mini muffin tin for small muffins.

Over the years, I’ve come up with all sorts of delicious "healthified" baked goods. Here are just some of my favorite treats:
Banana Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies
Oatmeal Raisin Bars
Peanut Buttery Bars
Cookie Friday Chocolate Chip Cookies
Chocolate Pumpkin Loaf

I hope you decide to get creative in the kitchen with these healthy tips and tricks. Happy baking!