The Skinny on Fat: Substituting for Oils and Butter

website skinny fat

I was twelve years old and as round as a basketball. 

Then, to my surprise, adolescence kicked in, lengthening my body’s height, which thinned my waistline.  Suddenly boys thought I was interesting, and I began to think they weren’t so bad, either.

So, when Keith asked me if he could walk me home from school, I said, “Yes.”  I don’t recall what we talked about, if we talked at all.  I do, however, clearly remember that pivotal moment when we stopped at the center of the bridge to watch the trucks rumble past underneath.

We had been standing side by side, when he suddenly stepped in front of my view, facing me.  Since I only came to his chest, I had to look up to see his face.  He smiled down at me and slowly lowered his head.  I was about to receive my first kiss, and the only thing I could think was “But I have gum in my mouth!  You can’t kiss someone with gum in your mouth!”

I learned, though, that yes, you can actually be kissed while you have gum in your mouth!  But more than that, my first kiss subtly reinforced to me the notion that no fat was good.

The reality, though, is that not all fat is bad.  My husband just told me about a recent study that was published which actually revealed that people with a little bit of fat on their bodies live longer and healthier than skinny folks.  Go figure!

The purpose of fat in baking

And when it comes to baking and cooking, fat plays a pivotal role.  In cooking, fats such as butter, oil, and shortening add flavor, help transfer heat, are needed to deliver certain vitamins into our bodies, and bind foods which normally would not mix well.  In baked goods, fat makes the difference between a crispy or chewy cookie, between a light or dense cake, and between a hard or flaky scone.

What’s important to remember is that you don’t need to use as much fat as any recipe calls for, nor do you have to use the fats which aren’t as good for you or which you’re allergic to and can’t eat

You can cut down the fat

I’ve learned that most recipes call for twice as much fat as you really need, so if you simply want to cut down on the fat, just reduce the amount in any recipe by ¼ to ½ and check if you can taste or see the difference.

You can substitute “good” fat

If you’re trying to decrease your use of the “bad” fats such as butter, feel free to substitute a “good” fat.  The “good” fats such as olive oil or avocado oil or safflower oil, essentially plant based fats, are easily substitutable in recipes.  As well, if you have a dairy allergy, the vegan “butters” work very well in traditional recipes.  What you need to remember, though, is that liquid fat should be replaced by another liquid and a solid fat by another solid.  If your recipe calls for you to cream butter and you try to replace it with canola oil, you should expect to have some problems with the substitution.

You can eliminate the fat

For anyone who does need to avoid fat altogether, though, you, too, can still bake those goodies you long to eat.  Fruit and cooked vegetable purees work wonders in many recipes, as does yogurt or buttermilk, presuming you have no dairy allergy.  The tip to keep in mind when using such substitutions is to use ½ as much of these products for the amount of fat called for in a recipe.

Paula’s Low Fat Date Bread Recipe


1 cup finely chopped dates

1 cup boiling water

1/2 cup Agave or honey

1/4 cup egg whites or 1 tbsp ground flaxseed mixed with 3 tbsp water 

2 tbsp plant based oil

2 1/2 cups 100% whole wheat flour or 2 cups whole grain gluten free flour blend

1/2 tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp salt

1/2 tsp gluten free baking powder

1 cup your choice of finely chopped nuts, mini chocolate chips, or dried fruit*

Baking Instructions:

1.  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Prepare a 9 x 5 loaf pan to your liking. (I would use “If You Care” parchment paper, but you can spray it with Pam spray or coat it with butter or oil.)

2.  Cover the chopped dates with the boiling water and let sit for at least five minutes.

3. Mix the flour with the baking soda, salt, and baking powder.  Stir in the nuts, chips, or fruit.  Set aside.

4.  Add the Agave, egg whites, and oil to the date-water mixture.

5. Quickly mix the dry ingredients into the wet and pour into prepared loaf pan.

6.  Bake for 40-45 minutes until a toothpick inserted into the center of the bread comes out clean.  Bread will be golden brown.

* Since I have a nut allergy, I like to use the Enjoy Life allergen free mini chocolate chips, but I have occasionally added other chopped dried fruit like apricots and dried plums.


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