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What Are the Best Tips for Making Low-Fat Icing?

Anna B. Smith
Anna B. Smith

Traditional icing recipes can be adapted into low-fat icing versions by determining the amount of calories contained in each ingredient, and either removing or replacing those that provide the most fat. Some ingredients can be exchanged easily for low-fat alternatives using a simple substitution of the commonly sold version for its sugar-free or fat-free counterpart. Other ingredients, which may not provide such quick solutions, can be replaced creatively by using a different type of food in addition to a low calorie thickening or thinning agent, as needed.

Cake icing is typically made from a blend of confectioner's sugar, milk, butter, and vanilla extract. Additional ingredients may be added to this combination to alter the taste, such as cinnamon, cream cheese, or pumpkin puree, among other choices. This sweet topping found on many beloved desserts can add between 250 and 350 calories to the cake or cookie, before calculating the calorie intake of the dessert food itself. By choosing a low-fat icing instead of a traditional cake topping, diners can reduce the portion of the calorie intake by as much as half.

A cake with low-fat icing.
A cake with low-fat icing.

The first step in creating a low-fat icing is to determine the source of the calories in the icing recipe. A standard cream cheese icing recipe can call for the use of milk, confectioner's sugar, cream cheese, vanilla extract, butter and milk. The calories contained within cream cheese are almost entirely fat, and can be significantly reduced by using a low fat or fat free type instead. These alternatives provide similar flavoring with a one-eighth to two-thirds reduction in caloric intake.

Confectioner's sugar may also be substituted for sugar-free alternatives that are low in fat. Artificial sweetener packaging and manufacturer's websites often provide recipes for individuals who regularly use their products. The artificial ingredients tends to cook or mix differently than the ingredient which it is replacing, such as sugar. When making low-fat icing using this type of sweetener, powdered gelatin or cornstarch are often required as added ingredients to the standard recipe. These products merely thicken the consistency of the icing and make it spreadable, similar to traditional, stiff cake maker's icing.

The second step in making a delicious low-fat icing is to eliminate unnecessary sources of calories. Butter can add a great deal of flavor to icing, though it can increase the amount of calories present in the dessert recipe by between 800 and 1600 calories total. This ingredient is easily removed and may be replaced by a sweetened extract, such as additional vanilla, rum, or lemon. Milk, similarly, is often added to icing to thin its consistency and make the mixture easier to blend and spread. The texture of the icing may be altered instead using small amounts of water worked evenly into the mixing bowl.

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Discussion Comments


@Scrbblchick-- I have to agree. I can deal with higher fat than more sugar! And frosting just calls for fat. It's a chemistry/science thing.

You can probably get away with a lower fat cream cheese icing since you can use lowfat cream cheese and use not as much butter, but you have to have something to bind the frosting together, and that something is, unfortunately, fat. It's inescapable.

There are a lot of great lowfat substitutes for a lot of different ingredients, but icing just isn't something that has a lot of good substitutes. Go ahead and use the butter and eat salad the rest of the day!


Now, butter doesn't merely add flavor to icing -- in a buttercream icing that isn't cooked, it's the base! Sometimes, you can use a lower fat butter substitute, but you generally have to increase the amount of powdered sugar you use to make the frosting stiffer, since whipped butter substitutes are a lot softer than regular butter.

Some companies make sugar-free icing, and it's lower in fat and calories, so I'd recommend using that. I don't know that it's worth the trade off of having to use a lot more sugar to make up for the texture you give up in using a butter substitute.

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    • A cake with low-fat icing.
      By: Lisa F. Young
      A cake with low-fat icing.