A harsh reality: baked goods are hardly ever healthy. Usually loaded with carbs, sugar, and fat, they’re called guilty pleasures for a reason. But just because cakes, cookies, and pies are basically comprised of everything considered sinful, doesn’t mean you have to swear off of them completely.

Coconut is the answer. It’s already a well-known fact that coconut oil has endless uses, from moisturizing to oil pulling. But this tropical ingredient comes in a few other forms that can make baked goods a little healthier without totally compromising taste and texture.

Coconut Flour

All-purpose flour has been pretty much demonized by the health-conscious for its high carbohydrates and low nutritional content. For some people, the gluten is bad news, too. Try experimenting with coconut flour as an alternative that’s gluten-free, low-carb, and rich in fiber, protein, and beneficial fat. It’s made from dried and grated coconut meat and may have a very mild coconut flavor that can work well for sweets like cakes, muffins, cookies, and pies.

Substituting any flour for all-purpose involves a steep learning curve since the proper conversion varies from recipe to recipe. Beginner bakers are better off looking for coconut flour–based recipes instead of trying to wing it—and nowadays, these aren’t hard to find. But if you’re up to the challenge, start by using 1/4 cup to 1/3 cup coconut flour for 1 cup all-purpose flour. Increase the liquid ingredients to equal the amount of coconut flour since it’s super absorbent. More eggs are also necessary to bind everything properly without the gluten, but the exact number depends on the recipe.

Coconut Sugar

Let’s get one thing straight: sugar is sugar. That means even coconut sugar, made from coconut tree sap, has just as many calories and carbohydrates as the regular white stuff; and it can still spike blood sugar and turn into fat after a binge. But obviously sweets wouldn’t be what they are without sweetener, so let’s not pretend there’s any way around using sugar in some shape or form when whipping them up. Since coconut sugar is less processed than plain old sugar, it is a slightly better option. It also gets bonus points for containing some inulin, a dietary fiber that feeds the good bacteria in the gut.

Compared to other sweeteners like maple syrup or stevia, coconut sugar is a much more practical substitution in baking. Sub it in for regular granulated sugar at a 1:1 ratio.

Coconut Oil

Butter and lard might seem irreplaceable given their role in making goodies so golden, flaky, and moist. However, dairy is increasingly recognized as an inflammatory food that leads to acne and stomach problems in some people, and lard just isn’t an option for those on a plant-based diet.

So, what’s a person to do if they want to achieve pastry and pie-crust perfection? Coconut oil to the rescue! Since it stays solid at temperatures below 76 degrees Fahrenheit, it can create little pockets of moisture in dough just like butter and lard do. You can also melt it to use in any recipe that calls for straight vegetable oil.

We know what you’re thinking: a hint of coconut might be okay for say, macadamia-nut cookies, but you’re not sure how you feel about tropical-tasting blueberry pie. No problem—opt for organic refined coconut oil, which is virtually odorless and flavorless.

Ah, coconut—always there when we it. Now if only we could figure out how to turn it into ice cream. Oh, wait … we already have.

About the Author

Dana is a Los Angeles–based freelance writer and editor with a focus on eco lifestyle and beauty—from vegan cooking to natural, cruelty-free skin care. Also a wildlife enthusiast, naturalist, and advocate for conservation and environmental stewardship.