How to make healthier bakes

Victoria Taylor, senior dietitian at the British Heart Foundation (BHF), shares her tips for creating heart-healthy bakes, so you can have your cake and eat it…

Beetroot brownies

Baking doesn’t have to be bad for you, and healthy baking doesn’t have to taste, or look, terrible. Next time you’re in the kitchen, put these tips to the test and see if you can create something delicious and nutritious.

Top tips for making your cakes healthier

Often when you use healthier alternatives in recipes, the flavour or texture may differ. Keep an open mind, your tastebuds soon get used to the change and it is worth it when you reap the benefits! Just by making a few simple tweaks, you can make better-for-you bakes. Here are four tips to get you on your way:

  • Start by using unsaturated oils like cold-pressed rapeseed and sunflower instead of saturated fats like butter and coconut. Not only does this lower the amount of saturated fat in your bake, but it gives a lighter, moister texture. If you choose a baking spread to replace butter, check labels for trans fats. These hydrogenated fats should be avoided where possible.
  • Opt for wholegrain flour instead of white. While this may give a denser texture, the health benefits will be far greater. Wholemeal flour will increase the fibre content and make your cake feel more filling.​It also provides a lovely, slightly nutty, flavour.
  • Think fruit and veg have no place in a cake? Think again. They can add fibre and sweetness. Plus, fruit is a great way to keep your baking moist. Sweet vegetables such as carrots and beetroot, or fruit like apples and berries can also mean you don’t need to add as much sugar. Try this banana bread recipe next time you’re in the kitchen.
  • To finish your cake off, use a drizzle of glacé icing rather than butter icing. A light sprinkle of icing sugar can give the final touch – cut out stencils from greaseproof paper for a more professional finish. Knowing that you’ve produced a healthier version of a teatime treat will be the icing on the cake. You could also use a low-fat cheese topping such as quark - see our lighter carrot cake recipe for full instructions.

Healthy banana bread

Reduce the fat in your pastry

Picking the right type of pastry can make a big difference to the amount of fat in your baking. A third or more of shortcrust and puff pastry is fat. But there are things you can do to lower the fat content:

  • Using a sunflower spread (check the label for trans fats) rather than butter will lower the amount of saturated fat in your pastry
  • Popping just a top crust on your pies, rather than lining the entire dish with pastry, gives a traditional finish but provides far fewer calories.
  • Or you can plump for filo pastry, which gives a lovely, crunchy crust and looks great for small tarts.

Seeded wholemeal soda bread cut into slices

Better-for-you bread

Whether it’s the slice of toast in the morning, or the lunchtime sarnie, most of us eat more bread than any other baked product. If you pick your bread off the supermarket shelf without checking the label, your loaf could be hiding a lot more salt than you’d think as the amount of salt in shop-bought bread can vary widely.

By baking your own, you can keep an eye on what goes in your tin. The less salt you use, the better. You can also choose your flour – why not try spelt, barley, or oat? Or add some seeds and herbs to give interesting crunch and flavour.

If you don’t fancy lots of kneading, wholemeal soda bread is an easy alternative. Swapping a yeast-based recipe for one using bicarbonate of soda makes the whole process quick and easy - don't forget bicarb is a source of salt so you won't need to add too much more. It does mean the loaf needs to be eaten fresh, but it’ll taste so delicious with some hot, homemade soup that you’ll soon see that loaf turn into crumbs! Next time you feel like getting creative with dough, give these sesame flatbreads a go.

For more information on heart health...

Spotlight on… heart disease
The British Heart Foundation

This article was last reviewed on 24 June 2019 by Kerry Torrens.

A qualified nutritionist (MBANT), Kerry Torrens is a contributing author to a number of nutritional and cookery publications including BBC Good Food magazine. Kerry is a member of the The Royal Society of Medicine, Complementary and Natural Healthcare Council (CNHC), British Association for Applied Nutrition and Nutritional Therapy (BANT).

All health content on is provided for general information only, and should not be treated as a substitute for the medical advice of your own doctor or any other health care professional. If you have any concerns about your general health, you should contact  your local health care provider. See our website terms and conditions for more information.

Comments, questions and tips

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15th Nov, 2013
Moderation is key. Enjoying an occasional baked treat (even an unhealthy one) can fit into a healthy lifestyle. Everything fits, and ensuring the majority of you meals are healthy allows you one to occasionally indulge (keeping in mind portion control - binges are counterproductive). Editing recipes to make them healthier is great, it is just important to remember that even if a recipe is ''healthier'' is does not mean that one should eat these items freely!
9th Nov, 2013
@1cooking1: I agree with you, would prefer to use butter anyway, but actually if people are looking to reduce their sat fat, you can swap butter for oil (light olive, rapeseed or sunflower are some of the best ones) using this conversion chart Many US cake recipes use oil and it does give them a lovely light texture as well as having less sat fat if you use the right type.
6th Nov, 2013
Advocating plastic spreads over natural butter is ancient history in terms of dietary advice. Low fat spreads share 25 ingredients with paint. Sadly the paint is probably better for you.
8th Oct, 2014
It's ridiculous calling non-butter spreads plastic. As for sharing ingredients with paint, hydrogen peroxide, suitable for bleaching hair, is one molecule different from water. Judge each spread on its actual composition. Some are healthy.
13th Oct, 2014
There is no such thing as a healthy non butter spread, they have all been chemically manipulated to be in a form that is not natural to the ingredients, many of which are hazardous to health
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