14 Ingredient Swaps to Make Your Recipes Healthier
Last Updated: Mar 07, 2014
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One of the best things about home cooking is that you can make just about any dish healthier with some simple substitutions. We predict you won’t have to sacrifice flavor or satisfaction. In fact, in many cases you’ll find that the healthier ingredients enhance the flavors of your favorite dishes. Check out 14 super swaps to boost nutrition in your recipes while slashing calories, sugar and saturated fat.
OAT BRAN FOR FLOUR
Making bread or muffins? Boost the nutrition and texture of your baked goods by swapping out some flour for oat bran. Oat bran is rich in fiber (about 3.6 grams per quarter-cup) and protein (four grams per quarter-cup). The protein and fiber will help keep you full, and the fiber can also lower cholesterol. Added bonus? Oat bran holds moisture well so your baked goods won’t be dry.
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MASHED BANANAS FOR OIL OR BUTTER
This big calorie-saver is a one-for-one swap that you can use in most baked goods. Take ripe (or even overripe) bananas and mash and use them in place of butter or oil. One cup of butter has a whopping 1,628 calories and 116 grams of saturated fat, but a cup of mashed bananas has just 200 calories and less than half a gram of saturated fat! Plus, bananas are packed with potassium, fiber and B vitamins. Your waistline will thank you, and your guests won’t notice any difference from standard recipes.
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SPAGHETTI SQUASH INSTEAD OF PASTA
Looking for a lower-carb, lower-calorie alternative to pasta? Try spaghetti squash! Although spaghetti squash has a different taste and texture from regular flour-based pasta, it’s nutrient-rich, gluten-free and has a tasty, nutty flavor. Two cups of cooked spaghetti squash has just 84 calories and 20 grams of carbs as well as potassium and vitamin A. A similar portion of cooked (flour-based) pasta weighs in at 442 calories and 86 grams of carbs.
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CITRUS JUICE IN PLACE OF SALT
If you’re looking to do something good for your health, cut down on salt. Swapping out sodium from your meals and snacks could help reduce your risk of high blood pressure and other major diseases. The average American consumes about 3,400 milligrams of sodium a day -- that’s more than double the 1,500 milligrams recommended by the American Heart Association. Keep your food flavorful (but give the saltshaker the boot) by spritzing chicken, fish and veggie dishes with lemon or lime juice.
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VANILLA EXTRACT IN PLACE OF SUGAR
According to national data, Americans consume about 20 teaspoons of sugar every day! With so much added sugar in the typical American diet, it’s a good idea to cut down on the sweet stuff in your recipes. While most baked goods require some sugar, you can half the amount you use by replacing it with one teaspoon of vanilla extract, which boosts flavor. One cup of sugar has about 774 calories, so if you use just half (and add your vanilla extract) you’ll save almost 400 calories!
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UNSWEETENED APPLESAUCE INSTEAD OF SUGAR
Want to really cut calories without losing flavor in your sweet treats? Consider using applesauce in place of sugar. Your waistline will be sure to thank you. One cup of unsweetened applesauce contains only about 100 calories, while a cup of sugar can pack in more than 770 calories! Plus 1 cup of applesauce provides about 10 percent of your daily fiber needs. You can substitute applesauce for sugar in a 1:1 ratio, but for every cup of applesauce you use, reduce the amount of liquid in the recipe by 1/4 cup.
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PLAIN GREEK YOGURT INSTEAD OF SOUR CREAM
According to research published in the New Zealand Medical Journal, sour cream is one of the worst diet wreckers. At 220 calories for a measly half-cup portion, sour cream can add padding to your waistline with little nutritional benefit. Fortunately, there is a simple swap that will enable you to enjoy the delicious taste of sour cream, but for a fraction of the calories and fat. By switching to plain, nonfat Greek yogurt, you cut the calories in half, while still getting a shot of hunger-squashing protein. In fact, just 1 cup of Greek yogurt packs in about 24 grams of protein -- the equivalent of 4 eggs! Use Greek yogurt to top baked potatoes, incorporate it into your favorite dips to lighten them up, or use it to concoct a healthy salad dressing. For some Greek yogurt inspiration in the kitchen, try garnishing a bowl of chili with a dollop of Greek yogurt for some extra creaminess and an extra punch of protein.
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AVOCADO INSTEAD OF MAYONNAISE
Avocado is a terrific source of heart-healthy monounsaturated fat. Research shows that a diet rich in monounsaturated fat helps to drive down cholesterol and triglyceride levels, plus reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes. This makes avocado a terrific substitute for artery-clogging, high-calorie mayonnaise, which clocks in at 188 calories and 20 grams of fat for just 2 tablespoons -- yikes! Instead of making tuna, chicken, or egg salad with full-fat mayo, mash in some avocado for a heart-healthy spin on your favorite classics. One serving of avocado (about 1/5 of a medium avocado) contains only 50 calories, so it’s definitely a smart swap if you’re watching your waistline. The smooth texture and delicious flavor of avocado makes it a delicious addition to your favorite meals and snacks, and also makes for a great sandwich spread or salad topper.
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KALE, SPINACH OR ARUGULA INSTEAD OF ICEBERG LETTUCE
Iceberg lettuce might be low in calories, but it doesn’t provide the same nutritional value as the darker leafy greens like kale, spinach or arugula. For example, 1 cup of iceberg lettuce provides a little under 1 gram of fiber and 13 mg of calcium, while a cup of kale boasts 2.4 grams of fiber and 100 mg of bone-building calcium -- so you get much more nutritional bang for your buck. While all dark leafy greens have high antioxidant activity, research shows that the calcium in kale is more easily absorbed. Spinach and arugula are also filled with important vitamins and antioxidants. In fact, 1 cup of fresh spinach leaves provides nearly double the daily requirement for vitamin K, which is essential for maintaining proper bone health. So, forego the Iceberg and let these dark leafy greens take center stage.
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EVAPORATED SKIM MILK INSTEAD OF HEAVY CREAM
Full-fat, heavy cream is a dieter’s worst enemy. At 414 calories and a whopping 44 grams of fat per cup, this is definitely an ingredient you’ll want to use sparingly. To make matters worse, heavy cream is low in protein and fiber, the ultimate duo when it comes to keeping us full and satisfied. The good news is that you can slash the calories in half, cut out the fat, and bump up the protein by switching to evaporated skim milk. Because evaporated milk has up to 50 percent of the water removed, it is thicker and richer than regular skim milk, so it’s a great alternative for those who find skim milk too watery. For soups, puddings and creamy sauces that depend on heavy cream for texture and consistency, switch to evaporated milk to give your dishes the creaminess you are looking for -- without the fat. Evaporated skim milk contains around 20 grams of protein per cup, and research shows that a diet high in protein can help to control appetite, promote weight loss and help to improve triglyceride levels.
PUREED FRUIT INSTEAD OF SUGAR, BUTTER OR OIL
Good news for all you bakers out there: Looking for a tasty way to provide color, texture, tenderness and moisture to your favorite desserts -- without all the fat? Fruit puree to the rescue! Instead of tacking on unnecessary fat and calories from butter and sugar, you can substitute pureed fruit to slim down your favorite sweet treats. For example, you can incorporate mashed bananas or pureed peaches into chocolate cakes, spice cakes or muffins. Pureed pears are a great option for coffee cakes and quick breads, and prune puree works best in spice cakes, muffins, scones, chocolate cakes, coffee cakes, crumb crusts, brownies and cookies. Fruit purees are also packed with antioxidants and other micronutrients. Two tablespoons of prune puree contain 93 calories. Prune puree is virtually fat-free and is rich in potassium, an important bone-building nutrient. In comparison, just 1 tablespoon of oil clocks in at 120 calories and 13.5 grams of fat, so it’s a calorie-dense ingredient. Keep in mind that when modifying a recipe using fruit purees, use about half as much of the puree as the total amount of butter called for in the recipe.
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EXTRA-LEAN GROUND BEEF OR LEAN GROUND TURKEY INSTEAD OF GROUND BEEF
It’s a good idea to limit red meat consumption to support a healthy heart, but if you’re craving a juicy burger more than once a week, consider replacing fatty ground beef with lean ground turkey or extra-lean ground beef. Look for ground beef that is at least 90 percent lean -- a typical 3-ounce serving of 95 percent lean ground beef contains just 116 calories and a little more than 4 grams of fat. Lean red meat is a good source of protein, omega-3 fatty acids and iron, but there’s also substantial evidence that it does not increase cardiovascular risk. Compared to lean meat, a typical 3-ounce serving of regular, full-fat ground beef contains 250 calories and 18.5 grams of fat. If you’re looking for a reprieve from beef entirely, lean ground turkey is also a great option. The turkey is also rich in niacin, a B vitamin believed to promote sharp vision and offer protection against cataracts. For a healthier spin on your favorite red meat dishes, use ground turkey to make meatballs, burgers or meatloaf.
LIGHT CREAM CHEESE INSTEAD OF REGULAR CREAM CHEESE
Nothing screams comfort food more than a bagel smeared with cream cheese, but at 50 calories and 5 grams of fat per tablespoon, regular cream cheese isn’t the best choice for the health-conscious. By switching to low-fat cream cheese, the nutrition stats improve significantly -- just 20 calories and 1.5 grams of fat per tablespoon, allowing you to enjoy the delicious taste of cream cheese without the guilt. For a healthy combo, enjoy light cream cheese on a scooped out toasted whole-wheat bagel or a light English muffin. Studies confirm that consuming low-fat dairy is associated with better overall diet quality and improved weight management -- terrific news for those looking to drop a few pounds. To revamp breakfast classics, slim down your favorite recipes by swapping out the regular cream cheese for the light variety. If you want to cut down on the fat even more, use fat-free cream cheese in place of the low-fat version.
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TWO EGG WHITES IN PLACE OF A WHOLE EGG
With 17 calories of pure protein, egg whites are a dieter’s best friend. Studies show that a breakfast that provides 40 percent of calories from protein is more effective at increasing fullness and reducing hunger, compared to a standard cereal breakfast with 15 percent of calories from protein. Research in the journal Obesity found that eating more protein at breakfast can help you eat less at your next meal, reduce cravings for unhealthy foods, and make it easier to stick with your diet. Egg whites are perfect to incorporate into your favorite breakfast recipes, like veggie scrambles, frittatas and omelets.
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WHAT DO YOU THINK?
Had you been aware of all of these ingredient swaps? Do you currently use any of them in your recipes? How do you like the flavors? Do you have any creative healthy ingredient swaps that we didn’t mention? Leave a comment below and let us know.
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