Healthy Aging Column – Modifying Recipes for Healthy Aging

As individuals age, they often encounter health problems that may encourage them to eat healthier and reduce some of the fat, sugar and overall calories in their diet. While it may look like the easy way to do this is to cut out desserts, it usually isn’t as easily done as it sounds.

Some older adults who have a sweet tooth and need desserts often decide to substitute artificial sweeteners for the sugar or change the kind of fat they use in a recipe. Unfortunately, they often end up with a dessert that isn’t very good. That results in either giving up trying to prepare healthy choices, resorting to buying expensive foods low in fat or sugar or buying more cookbooks with special recipes.

There are simple things that you can do to improve the nutrition and calorie content of your favorite desserts and still have a food that tastes good, looks good and that you enjoy eating.

The simplest thing to do that many people don’t even think about is just reducing the size of the portion you serve. There is no law that says a pie has to be cut into six pieces. Cut the pie into eight or even 10 pieces and you easily reduce the calories by 25 percent to 40 percent. This same rule works for cakes, cheesecake and cobblers.

Many of the super-sized muffins you purchase are actually labeled to serve three, but people rarely share them. If you actually have that super-size muffin pan at home, throw it out and get a standard-sized pan. A standard muffin is made using about 1/4-cup batter. The same is true with giant cookies. A standard cookie is 2-1/2 inches in diameter, not the 5- or 6-inch cookies available in bakeries.

A second way to reduce calories is reduce the sugar and fat in rich desserts. In fact, at higher altitudes, you may actually end up with a better product that the original recipe. Most recipes are developed for sea level.  At altitudes of 3,000 feet or more above sea level, rich desserts like chocolate cake may fall during the baking process. Cookies high in sugar and fat often spread out more than desired during baking.

This happens because the amount of sugar and fat needed at sea level actually causes foods baked at high altitudes to be too tender. You can generally reduce the sugar by 2 to 4 tablespoons per 1 cup and the fat or oil by a similar amount.

A third option is to combine sugar and artificial sweeteners. Because sugar does more than just sweeten a food, it is difficult to substitute sugar one for one with sweetener. Sugar makes food tender, gives them a good texture, keeps the food moist and browns food. Sweeteners only provide a sweet taste.

In most recipes, you can reduce the sugar by half the original amount and substitute sweetener for the other half. There are even new baking products on the market that already do this combining of sugar and sweetener for you. If you buy those products, remember the price of the sugar in those products ends up being five to 10 times more than if you do your own combination.

Colorado State University Cooperative Extension has fact sheets to help you modify recipes for health and make simple recipe adjustments for high altitudes. These are available by going to the CSU Extension Web site at and selecting Nutrition Resources, then going to fact sheets.

Additional articles on Healthy Aging are available at Select Family and Consumer, then Healthy Aging.

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by Luann Boyer, Family and Consumer Education Extension Agent

Colorado State University Cooperative Extension, Morgan County