Meet Your Ingredients: Healthy Butter Substitutes

Meet Your Ingredients: Healthy Butter Substitutes

Looking to add a boost of nutrition to your baked goods? Find out how and when to use some of these healthy butter substitutes.

Benefits of butter in baking 

Let’s get one thing straight: I have nothing against butter. 

And while I’m all for enjoying full-fat, butter-rich baked goods, I love when I can add an extra boost of nutrition by swapping in some whole food options in place of the butter (or oil). 

But first, let’s talk about why butter is so important, especially in baking: 

  • Makes cakes, cookies and other baked goods soft and moist, rather than dry and crumbly 
  • Coats proteins and starches resulting in tender crumb. You can imagine this by comparing brioche bread (which is made with butter) to a baguette (no butter). Brioche is soft and pillowy while baguettes are sturdier and chewier. 
  • Helps with leavening. When you cream together warm butter with sugar, the sugar creates little air pockets in the butter, which helps baked goods rise as they cook. (This is also why it’s important to use warm butter if the recipe calls for it)
  • Creates steam during baking. Butter is approximately 16% water (sometimes less). So, when cold butter is put into a hot oven, the water evaporates and creates steam. This is why you use cold butter when making puff pastry. 
  • Flavor. Buttery is an adjective that I love to hear when describing a biscuit, cookie, or pastry. I even like my pancakes to have a “buttery” flavor sometimes. 

Clearly, butter is important. However, there are ingredients that can replicate some of these properties. 

Options for healthy butter substitutes

Whether you’re looking to reduce the fat or calories in a recipe, or just wanting to add more whole ingredients into your treats, there are a few healthy butter substitute options to choose from: 

The first four are my favorite healthy butter substitutes and the ones we’re going to cover in this guide. If you’re curious about the others, I included links above. Simply click on the ingredient to be taken to a recipe or guide. 

One tip when using a lower fat option is to reduce the oven temperature by 25 F and increase your baking time to help retain some of the moisture.

This may take some trial and error to find the sweet spot of ingredient substitutions, cooking time and oven temperature. 

When to use healthy butter substitutes 

While we’ll talk more about how to substitute in these other ingredients, I want to first talk about when I’d recommend trying them out. 

In general, fat substitutes work best in denser baked goods like cookies, brownies, mug cakes and quick breads. They’re also good options for no-bake treats like healthier truffles and energy balls. 

There are probably many other instances where they work, but there are some times when I think it’s best just to use the real stuff. 

When not to use butter substitutes*: 

  • When butter is one of the main ingredients, especially for pastries like croissants. 
  • If butter is also key for the flavor of the baked good, for example butter cookies (I know, that one was probably obvious 😉 ). 
  • For tender baked goods like a fluffy layer cake, you may be able to substitute some of the butter or oil, but I don’t recommend substituting 100% of it as the texture will likely not be the same. 

*Note: for vegan baking however, there are likely great alternatives that aren’t necessarily lower in calories, like coconut oil, that you could try. I always refer to vegan blogs for making those types of swaps. 

Okay, now that we have the general guidelines for when to use them, let’s talk about how to use these healthier butter (or oil) swaps! 

How to use Greek yogurt as a healthy butter substitute 

Pouring maple syrup over Stack of super fluffy greek yogurt and blueberry pancakes

Greek yogurt is one of my go-to fat substitutes for muffins, quickbreads, and pancakes as it still keeps the final product nice and moist. Plus, I always love sneaking in more protein when I can! 

How to substitute it: for every 1 cup of butter, substitute ½ cup of plain Greek yogurt. In general, I recommend using a full-fat or at least 2% fat Greek yogurt as the fat will help keep the texture nice and tender. 

To start, I usually try replacing only half of the butter with Greek yogurt. For example, if the recipe calls for 1 cup of butter, I use ¼ cup of Greek yogurt and ½ cup of butter. 

As you get more familiar with using Greek yogurt, you may be able to play around with using even more yogurt and less butter. 

However, it’s generally not recommended to use more than 1 cup of Greek yogurt in a recipe. So, if yours calls for 1 ½ cups of butter, I wouldn’t use all Greek yogurt. 

Flavor and texture-wise, Greek yogurt will add a bit of a tang (similar to buttermilk) and has a lot of moisture that can result in a denser final product. 

Can you use regular yogurt? 

It depends on the recipe. Regular yogurt has more liquid than Greek, so you’d need to adjust the amount of liquid in the recipe. Whereas with Greek yogurt I find that there are very few if any adjustments I need to make to the other ingredients. However, if the recipe calls for oil, regular yogurt may work well. 

Recipes using Greek yogurt in place of all or some of the butter: 

How to use Banana as a butter substitute 

Whole wheat bourbon banana bread sliced

Bananas are a naturally sweet way to cut back on some of the fat in your sweet recipes. So, not only does it help reduce the butter, but you may even be able to cut back on the sugar as well. Just keep in mind that the more ripe the banana, the more sweetness and moisture it will add. 

Another benefit of using banana is getting a little boost of fiber and potassium. 

How to substitute it: mashed banana can be substituted in a 1:1 ratio, so for every 1 cup of butter you’d use 1 cup of mashed banana.

While this is a good starting point, I still recommend adding slowly, stirring, and seeing how the consistency is. Too dry? Add more banana. 

I’ve also noticed that when using bananas, I have best results when I keep at least a few tablespoons of butter in the recipe. 

For using bananas instead of oil, it’s recommended to use ¾ cup of mashed banana per 1 cup of oil. 

As banana has a strong flavor, make sure that the other flavors will go well with it. For example, banana in a chocolate chip muffin is good, but banana in a lemon muffin may be too overpowering. 

Recipes using mashed bananas in place of all or some of the butter: 

How to use Avocado instead of butter 

healthy avocado chocolate truffles

Avocados are rich in healthy fats and make for a great healthy butter substitute, especially in chocolate desserts or baked goods. It may seem odd, but trust me, with the other ingredients, chances are your family will never guess the secret ingredient. 

Using avocado in place of some, or all, of the butter generally results in a softer, but chewier consistency. Plus, you’ll be getting much fewer calories yet more healthy monounsaturated fats, B vitamins, potassium, and vitamin E. 

How to substitute it: for 1 cup of butter, substitute 1 cup mashed avocado, reduce oven temp by 25 F and increase the baking time slightly. 

As with the other options on this list, I recommend starting by only subbing out half of the butter with avocado. 

Recipes using avocado in place of all or some of the butter: 

How to use Applesauce as a butter or oil substitute 

Bowl of pumpkin-spiced applesauce

Applesauce is probably the first fat substitute i ever tried, and honesty, I wasn’t a huge fan. I ended up with cookies that had a weirdly chewy texture. But luckily, after using it more frequently, I’ve found some tips for using it in baking without ending up with an odd final product. 

However, just as with bananas, applesauce will add some natural sweetness so you may want to cut back on how much sugar you’re using by a couple tablespoons.

How to substitute it: for every 1 cup of butter, use 1 cup of unsweetened applesauce. However, for best results substitute just half of the butter.

Personally, I only use applesauce in cake-like recipes, such as muffins, quickbreads, and denser cakes like spice cake. If you use it in cookies, I’d love to hear how much you use for substituting as I find the texture gets either too cakey or oddly chewy. 

Recipes using applesauce in place of all or some of the butter: 

Have you used any of these healthier substitutes? I’d love to see your go-to recipes in the comments below! 

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About Kelli McGrane Headshot

I’m Kelli MS, RD, and my mission is to prove that eating healthier doesn’t have to be complicated or restrictive. Follow along to learn more about food and cooking, with an emphasis on breakfast and sweet treats!

About Kelli McGrane Headshot

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As a dietitian I understand that a healthy breakfast is essential for giving you the fuel you need to power through your day. Which is why on TheHealthyToast, you’ll find nutrition guides plus the best healthy breakfast recipes for every diet and lifestyle.

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