Brownies, Lightened Up

by in Cookies & Other Desserts, Healthy Recipes, Kid-Friendly, February 7, 2011
Ellie Krieger's Healthy Brownies Recipes
Ellie Krieger's Double Chocolate Brownies

I’m a brownie kind of girl — my friends and family can vouch for me. Luckily, you can lighten up this uber-chocolatey favorite easily. What’s the secret? Read on to find out.

The Nutrition Facts
Commercially-prepared brownies typically contain around 230 calories and 9 grams of fat each (for about 3 inches square). If you look at some store bought brands those numbers go up: Starbucks espresso brownies weigh in at 370 and 21 grams of fat, while their caramel variety has a whopping 580 calories and 36 grams of fat. The more gooey stuff you put on those brownies, the higher the calories go.

Go Simple
The goodness of brownies is all in the chocolate. So when you’re looking for a recipe, choose ones that call for the basics: flour, butter, sugar, cocoa powder and/or chocolate. Skip recipes with extra heavy ingredients like heavy cream and corn syrup. If you find a very simple recipe, you’ll find that it tastes even better than the boxed stuff where you’re paying more for a laundry list of additives and preservatives.

The add-ins also rack up calories — and fast: Keep mix-ins like peanut butter, nuts, caramel, chocolate chips, toffee, marshmallows to a minimum. If you must have one, choose heart healthy nuts or natural peanut butter and halve or quarter the amount listed. If you’re looking to enhance the flavor without calories, try espresso powder. It has minimal calories and a little goes a long way.

Cut The Fat
By popular demand, we’ve added some tips on how to cut fat (and add nutrition) to your favorite recipes.  These swaps will make your finished product a cakier, still-delicious treat.  Here are some easy ways to cut the fat in your favorite brownie recipe:

  • Trade half the butter for pureed fruits such as bananas, pumpkin, prunes or apple butter, or nonfat plain yogurt.
  • A half-cup of oil packs a whopping 960 calories, while applesauce has just 60 calories per half-cup, so replacing half the oil with applesauce can create huge fat and calorie savings.
  • Replace each whole egg with two egg whites or 1/4 cup egg substitute.
  • Get more fat-reduction ideas for all your baked goods >>

The Portions
Of course, controlling portions also helps you control calories. Prepare in mini muffin pans for perfectly portioned brownie bites or pre-slice into small (2-inch) cubes once the brownies have cooled. If you’ve made too much, freeze a batch for later (or share with friends or coworkers.)

Recipes to Try:

TELL US: How do you lighten up brownies?

Toby Amidor, MS, RD, CDN, is a registered dietitian and consultant who specializes in food safety and culinary nutrition. See Toby’s full bio »

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Comments (2,038)

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  2. Rachel says:

    You can substitute pumpkin purée for any added fats. It makes a lower-fat brownie that still has a good texture and has the addition of antioxidants and other key micronutrients that are naturally found in pumpkin.

  3. I use very little oil and add in 2 cups of shredded zucchini and whole wheat pastry flour-they are fabulous!

  4. Sara says:

    2nd the applesauce…
    did a taste test of applesauce and regular oil and applesauce tasted better (probably due to the sweetness)

  5. Diane says:

    All you are doing by substituting applesauce is increasing the amount of carbs – i.e. sugar . This does not make brownies healthier – in fact, they are less healthy. Better to make old-fashioned brownies from scratch using butter (yes, real butter – not vegetable oil, which is very unhealthy).

  6. Marge says:

    I use unsweetened applesauce in my brownies too. Or sometimes canned pumpkin, or baby food prunes. Using a produce-based substitute for fat is a great way to add extra fiber & vitamins to a recipe, while also significantly reducing calorie & fat content.

    I'm looking at the nutrition information on a 4oz serving of unsweetened applesauce – it contains 50 calories, 0 fat, 2 fiber. Oil (1/2 cup) contains 963 calories, 109g fat, 0 fiber. Butter (1/2 cup) contains 814 calories, 92g fat, 0 fiber. I'll take applesauce & few extra carbs any day over those numbers.

  7. Jennifer says:

    First let's get straight that a square is an equal sided thing, not "(2-3/4 inch by 7/8-inch square)". Second, that would be a whopping brownie if it was thick enough to be cut at 2 by 2 inches and be a cube "pre-slice into small (2-inch) cubes". Third, you never told me how to lighten up brownies, only to avoid box mixes, commercially made ones, recipes with extra ingredients like corn syrup and cream and to skip or reduce mix-ins. Gave a couple reference recipes (woohoo) and said "keep it simple". Gotta tell ya, I made SIMPLE brownies yesterday; Eggs, brown sugar, chocolate, vanilla, salt, butter and flour and they were anything but light. But, were I looking to lighten up that recipe, you were no help, giving no substitution suggestions aside from espresso powder. Comments suggest apple sauce, and that has been around for ages so I would have expected it in the article. But your article suggested skipping high calorie marshmallows (you have to eat a whole cup to get 159 calories) and if mixed in, can displace brownie batter to make your batter per brownie less, thereby making them less calorie and fat dense. Nuts, are clumped in as an evil, then sort of added back as an "if you MUST HAVE" many have good fats may raise the fat content and calorie count but will fill you up, add protein and raise the nutritional bar.
    Can't go lighter, but want a healthier brownie? Use half white flour and half oat or barley flour.

  8. Diane says:

    Marge – the recipe named on the photo (Ellie Krieger's) uses 1/4 c. canola oil & 2 Tb butter & says it yields 24 brownies. I could use 1/2 c. butter in the recipe & those 814 calories divided by 24 equals just under 34 calories per serving. I'll take 34 calories of a healthy fat over applesauce that goes directly to blood sugar. We need fats like this in our diets (in moderation) and they do not increase blood sugar. Why do you think so many people in our country are diabetic today? Way too much carbohydrates and not enough fats in our diets. Here is a link to an excellent and current article that explains it:

  9. Suz says:

    Have you ever tried making brownies with cold pressed extra virgin Coconut Oil? It is delicious and healthy for you too! And if you like coconut, mounds bars or almond joys, you will like this! I also add organic cold pressed ground flax seeds besides the nuts and no one can tell that they are there but they add fiber and good health to that delicious brownie! I also like to add dried cranberries or blueberries at times too for something different. There are so many great ideas here.,. I appreciate that you are all open to others ideas and willing to share!
    Have a blessed day and thank You.

  10. julie says:

    I tried the flourless brownie recipe on the Whole Foods website. It used black beans. It is really really good, and my celiac friend could have them. But they weren't dense/chewy like brownies. More of a gooey cake. But I definitely liked them, as did several of my friends. Here's the link if you want to try it out. I substituted half ot the butter with low fat ricotta once. Couldn't tell the difference between the all butter and that one, so I tend to do that when I make them to help decrease the amount of saturated fat.

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