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Vegan, Paleo, Gluten-Free... Here's how to make cookies for every dietary need


How to make cookies for every dietary need

Deciding to follow a restrictive dietary plan is a daunting task, especially if you have to say goodbye to foods you love. Sometimes, it's health complications that force you to become gluten-free or moral reasons that convince you to go vegan. Maybe you want to lose fat, so you focus on low-fat foods or need to cut out sugar. Or you're on a muscle-building kick, so Paleo seems like a good option for its high-protein intake. Whatever your reasons, that doesn't mean your cravings die and get buried away forever. Sometimes you just want cookies. So without further a-dough, here's how to adjust your cookie recipes, according to your dietary needs.


Going vegan means giving up all animal products, including eggs and dairy, which are usually 2 key ingredient components in cookie recipes. But don't despair, since becoming more "mainstream," vegan communities are springing up everywhere, and you can find more and more appropriate ingredient substitutions for all your baking needs. 

  • Fat substitutes:
    • Shortcut: Vegan butter sticks or vegan vegetable shortening
    • Solid coconut oil or melt it to replace melted better
    • 1/2 parts mashed avocado + 1/2 part oil (your choice)
    • Apple sauce
    • Pureed prunes
  • Egg substitutes:
    • Shortcut: Commercial egg replacers
    • Ground flaxseed: 1 tablespoon flax meal + 3 tablespoons water for 1 egg (let sit 10 minutes)
    • 1 tablespoon corn starch dissolved in 1/2 cup soy milk, then heated (stove/microwave) until thickened for 2 eggs
    • Ground chia seeds: 1 tablespoon ground chia seeds + 3 tablespoons water for 1 egg (let sit 10 minutes)
  • Sugar substitutes:
    • Beet sugar
    • Raw sugar
    • Turbinado sugars
    • 3/4 cup Maple syrup for 1 cup sugar; reduce liquid ingredients by 3 tablespoons
    • 2/3 cup Agave nectar for 1 cup sugar; reduce liquid ingredients by 1/4 to 2/3 cup
    • 1 cup xylitol for 2/3 to 3/4 cup sugar
    • Agave nectar
    • Molasses
    • Dates
    • Ripe bananas
  • Milk substitutes:
    • Any dairy-free milk: almond, coconut, soy, hemp, rice, cashew (1:1 replacement ratio)
  • Chocolate substitutes:
    • Look for dairy-free commercial brands


If you have a gluten intolerance or are going gluten-free for other health reasons, this can make the world of baked goods seem like a lost treasure chest. But with more and more people discovering their bodies can't handle gluten, you have plenty of allies to help you cut your losses. 

  • Flour substitutes: 
    • Almond flour
    • Rice flour
    • Coconut flour
    • Buckwheat flour
    • Sorghum flour
    • Certified gluten-free oat flour
    • Superfine brown rice flour
    • Quinoa flour
    • Millet flour
    • Cornmeal
    • Nut meal
    • Bean/legume flours
    • All-purpose mixes
  • Starch substitutes (to combine with above flours) 
    • Tapioca starch
    • Cornstarch
    • Potato starch
    • Arrowroot starch


Paleo is a huge craze at the moment, emphasizing a low carbohydrate intake from non-starchy fruits and veggies, more meat and protein, more fiber, and the exclusion of dairy products, cereal grains, refined sugar, potatoes, processed foods, salt, refined vegetable oils and legumes. In other words, if you love steak but can do without the potatoes, you might be okay on this diet. Cookies, on the other hand, are another story. 

  • Flour substitutes: 
    • Coconut flour (1/4 to 1/3 cup coconut flour for every 3/4 to 1 cup grain-based or nut flour + up the egg and liquid count)
    • Almond flour or meal
    • Hazelnut flour or meal
  • Fat substitutes:
    • Coconut oil (unrefined, virgin-pressed)
    • Grass-fed butter
    • Clarified butter
    • Ghee
  • Sugar substitutes:
    • Raw honey
    • Pure maple syrup
    • Molasses
    • Mashed dates
  • Other substitutes:
    • Coconut milk
    • Pure baking dark chocolate
    • Pure cacao powder


If you're trying to minimize your fat intake without going insane from deprivation, just don't go for the processed food aisle, raiding the shelves of "low-fat" or "nonfat" options. Most are packed with extra sugar or artificial sweeteners to make up for lost flavor. And as everyone should know by now, sugar is a major fat culprit of our days. Instead, bake your own cookies, so you can make smart substitutions to lower the fat content of this classic treat. 

  • Fat substitutes:
    • Apple sauce
    • Plain yogurt
    • Mashed ripe bananas
    • Pureed prunes
    • Canned pumpkin
    • Squash
    • Sweet potato
    • Ricotta
    • Cottage cheese
  • Egg substitutes: 
    • 1/4 cup fat-free egg beaters for 1 egg
    • Egg whites only

Even if you're not following any of these specific diets, it can't hurt to try substituting healthier ingredients in your baking recipes, especially if they don't lose out on flavor. You might be surprised at how delicious some cookies can be, even with few ingredients. Here's a list of 3-ingredient cookies you can try today, many of which fall into these dietary categories. Diet or no diet, there's always a way to get your cookie fix—you just have to get creative in the kitchen!

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Chef Tips and Tricks

VIDEO: Salted Caramel Thumbprint Cookies

These salted caramel thumbprint cookies are easy to make and super delicious!


  • 1/4 cup / 50g of softened butter
  • 1 egg (divide the yolk and white)
  • 1/4 cup / 50g of sugar
  • Pinch of sea salt
  • 1 cup / 150g of flour
  • 1 cup / 100g of chopped nuts
  • Salted caramel
  • Melted dark chocolate


  1. In a bowl, mix together the butter, egg yolk, sugar, and salt.

  2. Add the flour and mix. Roll into a ball.

  3. Chill for 30 minutes.

  4. Remove from refrigerator. Divide the dough and roll into 1-inch balls.

  5. Dip each ball in egg yolk, and then roll in chopped nuts.

  6. Place on baking sheet (lined with parchment paper), and press your thumb into the center.

  7. Bake at 340°F/170°C for 12 minutes, or until golden.

  8. Remove from oven and let cool.

  9. Pour the salted caramel into the center groove,and drizzle with dark chocolate.

  10. Enjoy!

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