Who says you can't have your cake (or pizza, or dip) and eat it too? Believe it or not, it is possible to treat yourself and simultaneously up your overall nutrient intake — if you take advantage of some savvy ingredient swaps, that is.
We took 10 favorite comfort foods and gave each a nutritional boost to make them better for both your body and your conscience. Each strikes the perfect balance of being a little indulgent, all while offering better-for-you benefits. So no more avoiding the dessert tray or the snack table. With these 10 treats, you can feel free to dig in!
Nonfat Greek Yogurt Instead of Sour Cream
Sour cream forms the base of most creamy dips, from artichoke to zesty Mexican. Just two tablespoons of the real thing, about the size of a golf ball, packs 60 calories, 18 percent of the daily recommended max for saturated fat, just one gram of protein and only two percent of your daily calcium needs.
A no-brainer swap? Trade it for a quarter-cup of plain, zero percent organic Greek yogurt. This double-size portion provides just 32.5 calories, no fat, five grams of protein and 6 percent of your daily calcium needs. Because the consistency is so similar to sour cream, you probably won't even notice the substitution, not to mention that you get double the creaminess.
Swap Aquafaba for Heavy Cream
You may not be familiar with the term, but you've probably handled aquafaba. It's the fluid inside canned chickpeas or the liquid left after dry chickpeas are boiled. It has become a popular vegan alternative to dairy and egg yolks in everything from whipped cream to meringue. Analysis shows that aquafaba provides between three and five calories per tablespoon, noting also that is not a significant source of carbs, protein or fat.
To swap it for eggs in a chocolate mousse, simply melt dark chocolate in a double boiler while you whisk cream of tartar and aquafaba using an electric mixer until it forms a white foam. Slowly add sugar or maple syrup (optional) and vanilla extract, then fold in the chocolate. Chill before serving.
Cut Carbs With Cauliflower
Cauliflower is the new kale — and for good reason. This member of the cruciferous veggie family is packed with nutrients. In addition to providing fiber and vitamin C, cauliflower contains B vitamins and bone-supporting vitamin K, reports Medical News Today. And, according to the National Cancer Institute, sulfur-containing compounds are linked to cancer protection.
Just one cup of cauliflower provides 27 calories and five grams of carbohydrates, two of which are fiber. Replacing one medium potato with one cup of cauliflower in a batch of mashed potatoes saves 83 calories and 21 grams of carbohydrates. Load it up with flavorful add-ins like garlic, vegetable broth and fresh chives, and you won't miss the extra taters one bit.
Trade Butter for Avocado
Butter makes brownies tasty, but also heavy. To lighten the load without sacrificing satisfying texture, opt for pureed avocado instead. Use a half-tablespoon of avocado for every tablespoon of butter. It will save you about 75 calories per tablespoon.
According to Medical News Today, this swap also replaces saturated fat with heart-healthy, monounsaturated fat and significantly ups your intake of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and fiber. And because the cocoa will mask the color, your green upgrade can remain a chef-only secret.
Swap Caesar Dressing for a Tahini-Based Version
Popular store-bought Caesar dressings are primarily made with soybean oil and processed ingredients, such as xanthan gum, autolyzed yeast extract, disodium phosphate, disodium guanylate and disodium inosinate. If you're scratching your head, you get the point.
Instead, whip up a version with ingredients you recognize and can pronounce by using tahini as the base. Choose a bottle with ground toasted sesame seeds as the only ingredient. In addition to being vegan and whole food-based, tahini is reportedly packed with nutrients, including copper, manganese, calcium, magnesium, iron, zinc, selenium and thiamin. A two-tablespoon portion offers five grams of protein and three grams of fiber. It also contains no sodium. Doctor it up by adding in a bit of lemon juice, garlic, Dijon, sea salt and black pepper.
Make Green Tea Cocktail Mix
Ditch the sugary stuff and mix your liquor of choice with brewed green tea flavored with juice from a wedge of freshly squeezed citrus fruit and flavorful, antioxidant-rich add-ins like ginger and mint. In addition to being calorie-free, Medical News Today reports that green tea is linked to cancer and Type 2 diabetes prevention, weight loss, improved memory and brain protection and heart-health benefits, including lowering cholesterol.
Minimize Meat With Mushrooms
A Johns Hopkins study found that replacing ground beef with mushrooms in meals significantly slashed calories and fat without affecting volunteers' fullness or satiety ratings. According to the USDA, three ounces of 85 percent lean ground beef, pan-browned, provides 218 calories and 13 grams of fat, while one cup of sliced white button mushrooms contains just 15 calories and no fat.
The easy fix? Swap half of your meat for minced mushroom to significantly lighten up your meal. And in addition to satiety and weight management benefits, Medical News Today reports that mushrooms are tied to immune support, blood pressure regulation and a reduced risk of cancer and Type 2 diabetes.
Add Kale to Cake Batter
Adding kale to your cake batter not only significantly boosts fiber and nutrient intake, but it also stretches your recipe. You will wind up with at least one more cupcake per batch and, therefore, fewer calories per treat! Smart, right?
Simply blend the wet ingredients with a handful of kale before folding in the dry ingredients. Touted as "one of the world's healthiest foods," according to Medical News Today, the addition of this powerhouse green adds just eight calories per cup and is loaded with myriad vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. Another member of the cruciferous family, kale consumption is associated with fending off Type 2 diabetes, cancer and heart disease, boosting bone, skin and hair health and supporting bowel regularity and digestive health.
Swap All-Purpose Flour for Chickpea Flour
This naturally gluten-free alternative provides heartiness, not heaviness, and boosts the fiber, protein and nutrient content of your homemade pizza crust. A quarter-cup of chickpea flour packs five grams of fiber, 20 percent of the recommended minimum (compared just one gram in the same amount of all-purpose flour), along with six grams of protein (compared to four) and fewer total carbohydrates — 18 grams versus 23. Substitute it in your recipe at a one-to-one ratio for all-purpose, prebake and then pile on healthy toppings like a rub of extra-virgin olive oil, oven-roasted tomatoes and other veggies and fresh basil.
Bonus: Research shows that people who regularly consume chickpeas have higher intakes of several key nutrients. These include fiber, vitamins A, E and C, folate, magnesium, potassium and iron.
And, according to this government data, chickpea consumers were 53 percent less likely to be obese and had lower BMIs and waist measurements compared to people who did not eat chickpeas. Now that's a smart swap!
Up next: This substitute can replace up to 50 percent of your recipe's refined sugar.
Mash Bananas for Sugar
While fat used to be public enemy number one, today's nutritional villain is refined sugar. Removing it entirely in baking isn't always possible, but you can replace up to 50 percent of it with pureed fruit, such as mashed banana.
In addition to being bundled with fiber, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, the naturally occurring sugar in fruit is much less concentrated. For example, a quarter-cup (four tablespoons) of mashed banana contains less than seven grams of sugar, compared to 12 grams in just one tablespoon of granulated sugar.
In cookies, substitute a quarter-cup of pureed bananas for a half-cup of sugar. Apart from boosting your intake of potassium, which is needed for muscle contractions, heart function and fluid balance, bananas are reported to help lower blood pressure and reduce the risk of asthma and certain cancers.