Healthy Baking, Informational Articles

What Is “Healthy Baking?” Clean Vs. Low-Calorie Baking

"Healthy Baking" recipes are all the rage, but what does that term mean? Learn more about "healthy" recipes and how it pertains to you.
Healthy baking ingredients are displayed on a table, including dates, oats, and almond flour.

This post may contain affiliate links. Please see my full disclosure for details.

Hi Bold Bakers!

WHAT YOU GET: In this article, explores what the term “healthy baking” could mean and offers advice on how you can narrow your search for recipes that fit your diet in the future.

Have you ever scoured the internet searching for healthy baking recipes only to find that the recipes may not be what you were looking for? I’ve definitely been there. That’s why I’m going to analyze that catch-all term of baking “healthy,” and what it can mean to help you know if a recipe fits your definition of healthy!

Disclaimer: This blog does not provide medical advice. This blog post is meant to provide general information and open a discussion surrounding health and food. The following information, and any link to other websites, should not be considered medical advice. If you or another person has a medical concern, please contact your health care provider or seek other professional medical treatment.

The Confusing Definition Of “Healthy”

The word “healthy” has a broad definition, which can be confusing. If we pull out the Merriam-Webster dictionary, we get the basic definition: “beneficial to one’s physical, mental, or emotional state.” For this article, I’m only going to focus on the physical part of health — although I know my mental health improves after eating a sugary treat! 

That definition can be confusing because it can mean many things. To some, being healthy might mean watching one’s calories and staying on a “diet” to lose or maintain weight. Others may interpret that as eating more clean and unprocessed foods to improve their health from the inside without changing their physical appearance. Although I find those to be the most common interpretations of healthy baking, there are so many more ways it can be defined, and none is the “correct” way to interpret it. 

I also want to note that “guilt-free recipes” can be categorized in the same way, but I want to stress that, if eaten in moderation, you shouldn’t feel guilty for treating yourself with dessert, healthy or not.

Healthy baking ingredients are displayed on a table, including maple syrup, nuts, oats, and dates. Clean Vs. Low-Calorie Baking

Clean Baking

  • Made with more natural, unprocessed ingredients
  • Unprocessed foods tend to have more nutrients than their processed counterparts
  • The caloric value of clean foods is not necessarily lower than the processed alternative
  • Examples of clean baking substitutions:
    • Replacing sugar with honey or other unprocessed sugars
    • Replacing all-purpose flour with whole wheat flour or other unprocessed flours
    • Replacing butter with coconut oil

Low-Calorie Baking

  • Usually targets calorie-rich foods in baking and replaces them with lower-calorie substitutes
  • Examples of low-calorie baking substitutes:
    • Replacing butter or oil with light butter, light margarine, applesauce, yogurt, pureed pumpkin, etc.
    • Replacing sugar with a zero-calorie sugar substitute such as Splenda, Stevia, Swerve, etc.

How To Interpret What “Healthy Recipe” Actually Means

In my opinion, the best way to determine what a recipe means when it has the word “healthy” in the title is to analyze the ingredients and the calorie count. Ingredients listed above, under the clean baking section, probably constitute a clean or cleaner baked good. 

The amount of calories that constitutes a low-calorie dessert is subjective. I consider something approximately 100-150 calories a serving or less to be low-calorie, but depending on your diet, it can be different for everyone. Websites such as MyFitnessPal are a quick and easy way to calculate a recipe that doesn’t have a calorie count.

Why Misinterrpreting “Healthy Baking” Is A Problem

There’s no clear-cut line regarding what is clean vs. low-calorie or anything else that might fall under the “healthy baking” umbrella. I’ve found that if a dessert is labeled healthy, it probably means it’s better for you in one way or another than the original. For example, a “healthy cupcake” recipe could mean it has fewer calories or is made with cleaner ingredients than a standard cupcake (or sometimes both). 

Misinterpreting what a recipe means by “healthy baking” is an issue because someone may be watching their weight and find a “healthy brownies” recipe that they think will help aid their weight loss, but those brownies could have the same amount of calories or more as their counterpart. If people believe they are eating healthy but see no progress, they’ll naturally be confused. Also, if a recipe is labeled “healthy,” it may cause people to eat more of it than they would if it wasn’t labeled healthy as they thought this treat was beneficial for them.

Just because a food is healthy in one aspect of your health doesn’t mean it’s an all-around healthy food. Let’s think about one of my favorite cereals, Honey Nut Cheerios. Every box says this cereal “can help lower cholesterol as part of a heart-healthy diet.” And yes, this is actually true! The soluble fiber from oats is scientifically proven to reduce LDL (bad) cholesterol, which can help reduce the risk of heart disease and heart attacks. 

That being said, each cup of Honey Nut Cheerios contains 12 grams of sugar, about ¼ of the sugar a person should consume daily. Therefore, someone who is diabetic or prediabetic should probably avoid foods with that much sugar, but you should always consult a doctor first. 

Searching For Your Definition Of Healthy

Instead of searching for “healthy recipes,” try being more specific to your needs. If you’re trying to lose weight, try searching “low-calorie desserts” or “desserts for weight loss.” If you want to find clean desserts, search for “clean-eating desserts” or “unprocessed desserts.” 

The word healthy has way more definitions than what I’ve covered, so feel free to be even more specific when finding recipes to meet your needs. If you have diabetes, heart disease, or any other illness that may prompt you to eat differently, search for recipes that suit your diet.

Learn More About The Science Of Baking!

Notify of

most useful
newest oldest
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
1 year ago

Hi Gemma, LOVE your recipes. You’re my GoTo gal. And I really hate when someone sends you their revisions! But this is more like a request/suggestion for help. Have you ever baked (or cooked) with Wheat or Corn Resistant Starch? (Not cornstarch as we know it. I buy it in bulk at an online health food store.) I am diabetic. Diabetics are all about carbs. This stuff adds tons of fiber, yet has the consistency of flour. Supposedly you can substitute 1/4 of flour with Resistant Starch. And it lowers the carb value dramatIcally. (Yes! I can have bread again!)… Read more »

Jill Howard
Jill Howard
1 year ago

Loved reading this article. I am definitely going to try some of the suggested substitutions next time I bake!

About Us

Meet Gemma

About Us

Meet Gemma

Hi Bold Bakers! I’m Gemma Stafford, a professional chef originally from Ireland, a cookbook author, and the creator of Bigger Bolder Baking. I want to help you bake with confidence anytime, anywhere with my trusted and tested recipes and baking tips. You may have seen one of my 500+ videos on YouTube & TikTok or as a guest judge on Nailed It! on Netflix or the Best Baker in America on Food Network. No matter your skills, my Bold Baking Team & I want to be your #1 go-to baking authority.


Weeknight Family Favorites Chapter from the Bigger Bolder Baking Every Day Cookbook