~ This Healthy Whole Wheat Banana Bread is loaded with wonderful flavors! So rich and moist – no one will ever even guess that it’s healthy! Great for breakfasts or snacks and absolutely delicious toasted – it even freezes well, too! ~
This Recipe Is: • Freezable • Make Ahead • Vegetarian •
When you just wanna wrap your family in a great, big, loving hug, is there any better way to do it than by greeting them at the door with the welcoming scent of fresh-baked banana bread?
And this banana bread takes a comforting hug to the next level. Because this is no ordinary banana bread, that’s for sure! With this loaded-up bread, you’ve got:
- deep, tempting banana flavor
- sweet, caramel-y chopped dates
- lots of crunchy pecans dotted through and through, plus a generous sprinkling of toasty pecans on top
- comforting background notes of vanilla and cinnamon
Secretly Healthy Banana Bread
Of course, since you’re doing something nice for your loved ones, you want it to be nutritious and actually good for them, too!
Because, believe it or not, lots of banana bread recipes out there aren’t actually very healthy at all. Just because they happen to have some bananas thrown in there doesn’t automatically make them nutrition superheroes.
Not to worry! For this Healthy Whole Grain Banana Bread, we’ve used:
- a fraction of the butter or oils you’ll often find in classic banana bread recipes (you won’t miss all the extra fat and calories!)
- lots of fruit – from the antioxidant-rich dates to the applesauce we sub for most of the fat, to (of course!) sweet bananas
- nutrient-rich, fiber-filled white whole wheat flour (you won’t notice a difference!)
Why We Use White Whole Wheat Flour in This Whole Wheat Banana Bread
Are you wondering why we went for white whole wheat flour (as we do in most of our baked goods now), instead of “regular” whole wheat flour?
Well, white whole wheat flour is essentially the same as “regular” whole wheat flour, in terms of its nutrition and how it performs in recipes. In fact, they can generally be used interchangeably.
But, we think the white version has an edge. Let me explain …
According to the Whole Grains Council, despite its light color (similar to white, all-purpose flour), white whole wheat flour isn’t bleached or refined. It’s simply made from a different type of wheat than “regular” whole wheat flour. Sheela at The Kitchn adds that “regular” whole wheat flour is typically made from hard red wheat, while white whole wheat flour is made from (you guessed it!) hard white wheat. The hard red wheat used to make “regular” whole wheat flour tends to have a more prominent, nutty taste (which pickier eaters sometimes don’t like). The hard white wheat used to make the white whole wheat flour gives a notably milder, sweeter flavor (and lighter color).
So … we get all the same nutrition and the same performance out of white whole wheat flour. But, it has a more neutral flavor, which means that people who aren’t used to eating a lot of whole grains or who are extra-picky about whole wheat products … probably won’t even notice! Seriously.
We find that white whole wheat flour goes absolutely undetected when we use it in our baking. Nutrition win!
I truly don’t think that anyone will know that this gorgeous loaf of Healthy Whole Wheat Banana Bread was made with whole wheat! They won’t even think twice. (They’ll be too busy reaching for a second slice!)
And now that white whole wheat flour is readily available in most grocery stores these days, it’s practically all we use in our recipe development anymore.
Can You Use ONLY Applesauce (Instead of Oil) in This Banana Bread Recipe?
You might also be wondering why we didn’t completely eliminate the oil in our recipe, as you sometimes see in various low-fat, healthy banana bread recipes. Why did we keep that tiny smidgen of oil?
Sure, you sometimes can completely slash fats like canola oil from your quick bread recipes, subbing in something like applesauce or another fruit puree to replace all of the oil.
BUT, after a lot of testing through the years and a lot of different quick breads, we’ve found that leaving just a tablespoon or two of oil in the recipe often makes a slight but noticeable improvement in the texture of the final bread.
So, that’s become a typical go-to strategy for us: including just a little bit of oil (like coconut oil or canola), instead of the large quantities of butter or oil you often find in classic quick bread recipes. Using only a little still allows us to keep the fat and the calories reasonably in check. But that tiny bit also helps to create an incredible recipe that nobody is going to accuse of being “too healthy.”
Works brilliantly here, and in some of our other favorite muffin and quick bread recipes, like our Cherry-Chocolate Zucchini Bread, Healthy Pumpkin-Chocolate Chip Muffins, and Healthy Apple Cobbler Muffins.
More Ingredient Tips
Applesauce – While we’re talking applesauce, here are a couple more handy hints:
1) I just hate it when a jar of unsweetened applesauce goes bad in the fridge before I can use it up! (You know how I get all twitchy about food waste!) Instead, I like to buy the individual, lunch-box-sized applesauce cups. That way, you’re opening just one little cup to make a loaf of this banana bread (instead of opening an entire jar). Bonus – you can snack on the couple extra, leftover spoonfuls of applesauce while your bread’s baking and you’re tidying up the kitchen!
2) Be sure to buy plain, unsweetened applesauce that doesn’t have any added sugars, sweeteners or flavorings.
Bananas – As with most all banana breads, this bread is best made with overly ripe bananas. You know … those brown-speckled ones that’ve been sitting on the counter too long, and nobody wants to eat anymore. As bananas ripen, their starch converts to sugar. That’s why the over-ripe ones taste much sweeter (and, arguably, also more banana-y) than bright yellow or still-slightly-green ones. Not great for slicing on cereal, maybe … but perfect for banana bread!
Pecans – You can buy the little bags of pre-chopped pecans in the baking aisle. But buying larger bags of whole nuts is usually more economical. Plus, then you can chop your own to exactly the size you need for each different recipe. (How adorable is my grandmother’s little antique nut chopper in the pic below?!? I absolutely cherish it!)
Especially if you’re buying in larger quantities, be sure to store nuts (and also whole wheat or whole grain flours) in the fridge. That extends their shelf life tremendously!
Dark Brown Sugar – You might’ve noticed down on the recipe card that we specifically call for dark brown sugar. That’s because dark brown sugar has more molasses in it, so it’s got a slightly deeper, warmer, richer flavor. That deeper flavor is terrific in this particular banana bread, and specifically heightens the caramel notes of the dates.
But, I know not everyone keeps dark brown sugar on hand in their pantry or wants to invest in an entire bag of the stuff just to make this bread. (Although – trust me – you’re probably gonna be baking this bread A LOT!) So, if you’d rather substitute regular, light brown sugar instead, that’s ok, and it’ll still taste terrific.
How Your Pans Might Affect Your Banana Bread’s Baking Temperatures and Times
We’ve mentioned this before, in our recipes for Healthy Hawaiian Banana Bread with Pineapple, Coconut and Almonds and for Cherry-Chocolate Zucchini Bread. It seems like everyone has a slightly different loaf pan in their cupboard. And, even simple quick bread recipes like this one can require small adjustments, depending on the exact size and material of your pan.
Don’t worry, though – we can help!
Note that this recipe calls for a “standard” 9 x 5-inch loaf pan. (I adore my USA Pan 9×5 loaf pans – they perform like a dream, and generally don’t even require any cooking spray to be wonderfully nonstick.)
So, what if your favorite pan is a little smaller (even an 8.5 x 4.5)? Or if it happens to be a dark-colored metal or an oven-proof glass pan? Well, then you may need to make tiny adjustments (in this particular banana bread recipe, or most any other quick bread recipe) to achieve an evenly baked, delectably moist loaf.
- For smaller loaf pans, the batter will be deeper (and your loaf will be taller), so a slightly longer bake time may be needed to ensure the center is cooked.
- However, because you don’t want the outside of your banana bread to dry out before the center is done, you may also find it helpful to decrease the oven temperature slightly (maybe by 25 degrees) for smaller loaf pans. This strategy of lowering the oven temp also works well with glass or dark metal pans, because of the way they conduct heat.
To be absolutely sure you bake a great loaf of bread, it’s always a good idea to begin checking for doneness a little earlier than you might expect.
Then, continue checking fairly often until your bread is perfectly baked.
Bottom line: slight differences in pan size or materials can make a difference. (And that’s true with this whole wheat banana bread recipe, or any other quick bread you might bake.) But that’s easily compensated for with just a tiny bit of tweaking, so don’t worry!
How to Serve This Yummy, (Secretly Healthy) Banana Bread
Not gonna lie here.
It’s really hard to wait until this bread has cooled before you dive right in. (I speak from experience.)
So do what you need to do … I’m not gonna judge. (And if you slice it all up straightaway, nobody’s likely to count all the slices and notice that somehow a couple have already gone missing. 😉 )
But … besides just face-planting in like Cookie Monster and chowing this straight out of the pan (which, again, I totally WILL NOT judge), I can also highly recommend some other options:
• This is fantastic lightly toasted! Heating it through really highlights the rich, warm flavors. And it’s extra-yummy with that toasty crunch!
• Instead of butter, try topping your warm, toasty slice with reduced-fat cream cheese (for a little extra protein) or even a decadent drizzle of whipped honey. So good!
• And definitely remember that this bread freezes really well, too – either as an entire loaf, or in individual slices that are ready for quick, grab-and-go munching! (Pssssst … you might just want to bake a double batch while you’re at it!)
Alrighty! You’re ready to get baking!
Won’t your family be thrilled when they walk through the door today, welcomed by the wonderful smell of this decadent (but shhhhhhh … also healthy!) banana bread?!?
A little hug from me … to you … to them! Enjoy!
- cooking spray and flour for preparing loaf pan (if needed)
For the Batter:
- 2 cups white whole wheat flour
- 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon sea salt (fine grain, not flaked kosher salt)
- 1 1/2 cups mashed very ripe banana (about 4 medium or 3 large bananas)
- 2/3 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
- 1 egg, lightly beaten
- 3 tablespoons unsweetened applesauce
- 3 tablespoons nonfat milk
- 1 tablespoon canola oil
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 3/4 cup dried, chopped dates
- 3/4 cup + 3 tablespoons chopped pecans (divided)
- Preheat oven to 375°F.
- Prepare a 9 x 5-inch loaf pan by spraying with cooking spray and/or lightly but thoroughly flouring the bottom (if needed – my pans don't need this). (See note below for more information on using a different pan size and adjusting baking for various types of pans.)
- In a large bowl, mix flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt, whisking to combine thoroughly.
- In a medium bowl, combine banana, dark brown sugar, egg, applesauce, milk, oil, and vanilla, stirring well to combine.
- Make a well in the flour mixture and add the wet ingredients to the flour mixture, stirring just until moist (do not over-mix).
- Add dates and 3/4 cup pecans (setting 3 tablespoons pecans aside), and stir briefly again, just to distribute evenly.
- Spoon batter into prepared loaf pan and sprinkle remaining 3 tablespoons pecans evenly over the top of the batter. Press pecan topping gently into the batter just a little (so they are a bit stuck into the batter but still laying on top – they will adhere to the loaf better after baking).
- Bake for 48-50 minutes, until a toothpick inserted near the center of the loaf comes out clean. If you notice that the pecan topping on your banana bread is getting more toasted than you'd like, you can tent the loaf with foil during about the last 10 minutes of baking.
- Cool banana bread in pan for about 10 minutes, and then carefully remove from pan to finish cooling completely on a wire rack. You may find it helpful to run a thin paring knife around the edge of the loaf to help it release from the pan, if needed.
Make-Ahead and Freezing: This banana bread recipe freezes well. After cooling completely, wrap tightly in plastic wrap and store in the freezer in a freezer-safe zipper bag. You can also pre-slice the loaf and freeze individual portions.
Adjusting Bake Time and Temperature for Your Pans: Any quick bread recipe may need small adjustments in bake time and temperature, to account for different pan sizes and materials. If you're using a different pan size (other than the 9x5 we specify here), you may need to adjust the bake time a little. Also, if you're using a dark metal or a glass baking pan, you may additionally need to slightly change the oven temperature, possibly lowering it by about 25°F. You can read more about this in our post. Regardless, the key to a perfectly baked loaf is to check for doneness early and often, especially until you know how a recipe will work with your equipment and your oven.