Healthy Cooking Substitutions

Did you know that making healthy cooking substitutions even 50% of the time can drastically impact your health and well being in a positive way?

Preparing healthier meals doesn’t have to be a battle or require special recipes.  There are plenty of simple swap alternatives that can be made to almost any standard recipe or classical meal for the purpose of promoting more desirable nutrients in foods and eliminating or reducing many of the undesirable ones. That being said, modified versions are not always an exact match to the original, but the trade-off for your health and how the healthier choices make you feel is well worth it.

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Healthy Cooking Substitutions

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Below I have some healthy cooking swaps to help you get on the right track.

Healthier sugar swaps

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  • Try using unsweetened applesauce in place of sugar at a 1:1 ratio, be sure to reduce any liquid in the recipe by ¼ cup for every 1 cup of sugar called for in the recipe.
  • Natural sugar substitutes like:
    • stevia
    • monk fruit blends
    • coconut sugar
    • honey

      These sugar substitutes can be used to reduce sugar calories without sacrificing sweetness. Each substitute has a different carb content and swapping ratio so be sure to look at the package for instructions and to best determine which sweetener will work best for your recipe and desired nutrient content. Some substitutes like honey, may not reduce the sugar grams by much, however, the natural components of honey are healthier than processed white sugar.

      Try this healthy peanut butter banana bread. It has no added sugar.

  • In place of sugar, add fresh, dried or freeze-dried fruit, or fruit puree to hot and cold cereals, yogurt, and smoothies, or on top of ice cream in place sugary syrups that are often loaded w/ high fructose corn syrup. If the toppings are the best part of your sundae, trade the ice cream for fresh fruit sliced such as bananas, peaches, or berries. (I love strawberries with a little melted dark chocolate).
  • Vanilla extract can be used to reduce sugar content in many baking recipes. Replace 2 tablespoons of sugar for a ½ teaspoon of vanilla in any dessert or baking recipe.
  • Cinnamon can be used in place of sugar and cream in coffee, tea, and hot cereals. Try cinnamon in place of sugar on your cold cereal as well.
  • Cut out sugary processed beverages and make your own Aguas Frescas or fresh fruit water beverages.

    Fill a pitcher w/ water, add your favorite sliced fruit or herbs (peaches, watermelon, mint, cucumber, lemon, lime), add a little of your preferred sweetener choice, let marinate overnight. Enjoy a natural refresher without all the processed sugars and additives.  

Gluten free and/or low carb food swaps

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  • Instead of chips and dip, serve up sliced cucumbers, baby tomatoes, carrot sticks, celery sticks, snap peas, edamame, and bell pepper strips with dips.
  • Zucchini noodles or shirataki noodles in place of traditional pasta makes for a much lower carb load and is just as filling. If you’re not ready to give up all the pasta, try it half and half.
  • Puree a can of black beans to swap for the flour in baking recipes, use a 1:1 cup ratio.
  • Use quinoa for a substitute to rice or oatmeal. If gluten is not your issue, try couscous in place of rice, or make a blend of the two.

    Not ready for a total switch? Make a blend w/ half white or wheat rice and you will still be making progress toward a healthier plate.
  • Try swapping ground flax seed mixed w/ herbs in place of bread crumbs for breading meat cuts.
  • One of my favorites: use lettuce leaves in place of taco shells, this works great for chicken salad or tuna salad in place of bread as well.

    Just spoon the filling of choice into the lettuce leaf and eat it like a taco. This also works well with sliced deli meat (preferably a minimally processed brand such as Applegate Naturals, Columbus, or Natural Choice by Hormel.) Take a couple of slices of meat and fill it as desired, w/ sandwich toppings and cheese, or cream cheese.

    Try this Ginger Lime Chicken Lettuce Wraps recipe from The Bewitchin’ Kitchen.
  • Nuts for croutons on salads. Nuts also make a nice addition to sautéed greens.
  • Use GF tortillas, pitas, or other low carb brands and make yourself a pizza that has significantly fewer carbs. I talk about Pita Pizzas often in The Meal Planning Method. They’re an easy, no fuss, quick meal.

    This works best if the tortilla or pita is lightly fried in a pan, flipped and then toppings added, cooked low w/ a lid to warm and melt toppings.
  • Zucchini nachos! Here’s a quick how-to: slice zucchini thin and spread on plate-like tortilla chips, load up the nachos and bake. You can also do this with bell peppers.

Reduced fat swaps

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French fries with ketchup on wooden background.

Fat is not the enemy, there are a ton of healthy fats like avocado, nuts, oils (olive, avocado, coconut). The point is to reduce bad fats (think fried foods: chips, fries, etc).

  • To piggyback on the low carb veggies for chip swap above, go even further and substitute plain Greek yogurt for part of the sour cream or cream cheese in dips. Instead of refried bean dip, make a hummus w/ low sodium garbanzo beans.  

    How to make hummus: Boil a can of garbanzos and then puree w/ a little olive or avocado oil. Toss in a red bell pepper or garlic cloves to the garbanzos while boiling, then puree for a spiced up hummus.
  • Trade the fat in baking recipes for applesauce, the baked goods are just a moist and sweet but significantly lighter.

    This is a 1:1 fat to applesauce ratio. To begin, try subbing only ½ the fat for an equal amount of applesauce.
  • Try coconut, cashew, or macadamia nut milk in place of cream in coffee. These choices still hold a creamy texture like dairy cream but without the long chain saturated fatty acids.
  • Use olive or avocado oil in place of butter for cooking.
  • It may sound strange but nutritional yeast is a good swap for sprinkling cheese on food. It has a natural cheese flavor and is similarly flaky like parmesan cheese. Try it on salads and tacos. I enjoy it on kale chips.
  • Spray oils (I use this avocado oil spray) instead of pouring oil.
  • Baking and using a crockpot or Instant Pot instead of frying meat and veggies can reduce the number of fat calories in a meal.

Cooking healthier should taste good and make you feel good. If you try something above and you don’t care for it, just keep trying something else until you find things that work for you and your taste buds.

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