How to Make Healthy Ingredient Substitutions

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How to Make Healthy Ingredient Substitutions
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How to Make Healthy Ingredient Substitutions

Healthy Ingredient Substitutions

Eat healthy in a completely new way: Instead of cutting foods out, try adding new ones to your diet. Boost the nutritional value of your favorite recipes without sacrificing flavor by swapping some of your stand-by ingredients for these superfoods. No one will call this "health food"; these ideas are simply delicious!

Image Credit: David Sacks

Instead of Pasta, Try Whole Grains

This time of year, nothing comforts quite like a steamy bowl of homemade soup. Many know that eating soup is a great way to pack in a serving or two of vegetables, but you can turn this humble dish into a nutritional powerhouse with a simple ingredient swap. Get a dose of B-vitamins — including folic acid — plus minerals like iron and selenium, and a fiber boost by replacing the pasta in your chicken noodle or minestrone with cooked whole grains such as wheatberries, barley or spelt. Simply cook the grains in simmering water according to package directions, then stir them into soups and stews.

Image Credit: Brian Hagiwara

Instead of Breadcrumbs, Try Oatmeal

Breadcrumbs add textural flourish to a variety of dishes, but unless you use the whole wheat kind, they're pretty light on nutrition and can be loaded with salt. Give your family a dose of cholesterol-lowering fiber by swapping dry breadcrumbs for oatmeal. You'll be amazed by how easily this versatile, B-vitamin-packed grain moves seamlessly beyond breakfast. Simply pulse whole rolled oats in the food processor (or use smaller, quick-cooking oats) and use them to coat chicken cutlets, bulk up meatloaf, or add crunch to the top of macaroni and cheese.

Image Credit: Martin Hospach

Instead of Butter or Oil, Try Fruit Puree

Adding pureed fruit like applesauce to your baked goods instead of liquid fat is a smart fat-saving trick that people have been using for decades, but here's a sweet tip: unsweetened applesauce is perfect in non-chocolate muffins and quick breads, while prune puree goes best with chocolate recipes like brownies. In recipes that call for oil or melted butter, you can substitute up to the entire quantity with an equal amount of applesauce or prunes. And if you don't feel like making your own prune puree, try prune baby food.

Image Credit: Dottie Davies

Instead of Croutons, Opt for Nuts

Croutons add crunch to salads, but they're loaded with fat and salt with relatively little nutrition. Try adding a handful of sliced almonds or chopped walnuts to your meal instead. While still high in fat, these nuts are full of the good kind — monounsaturated fat — associated with reducing bad cholesterol levels. Additionally, almonds are a good source of protein and contain essential nutrients such as calcium and vitamin E, while walnuts are rich in Omega-3 fatty acids as well as antioxidants.

Image Credit: Sang An

Instead of Mayonnaise, Try Avocado

For many, a sandwich is not complete without a smear of creamy mayonnaise. Purchased mayo is filled with fat and calories — in fact, nearly 100 percent of its total calories come from fat! Try substituting mashed or thinly-sliced avocado for this classic spread. It's just as creamy, but the fat in avocados is of the healthy variety — plus, there's half as much of it in a serving of avocado, which means half as many calories. Avocados are also an excellent source of both folate and vitamin E — essential for healthy skin and hair. Mix in a little salt and lemon juice to replicate the tanginess of mayo. You can also use avocado (mixed with a little fat-free plain yogurt) instead of mayonnaise and sour cream in recipes for creamy dips or deviled eggs.

Image Credit: Trish Gant

Instead of Rice, Try Quinoa

Ban the chance of carb overload (and the blood-sugar crash that accompanies it) by exchanging white rice for the nutty supergrain, quinoa. Touted for its health benefits, quinoa is packed with protein, fiber, and other nutrients — unlike white rice, whose fiber and natural nutrients were removed during the milling process, making it largely a source of refined carbohydrates. Even though some vitamins are added back through enrichment, white rice is nothing near the nutritional powerhouse that quinoa is. Try it in your pilaf recipes or in any rice-based side dish. It also makes a delicious and complete meal when standing in for the rice in risotto.

Image Credit: Sian Irvine

Instead of Mild Cheese, Try Stronger Cheeses

Cheese is delicious and full of calcium, but it's also full of saturated fat and salt. Many people substitute lower fat cheeses for the full-fat kind, but these varieties are often loaded with stabilizers and fillers and require the use of more to get that cheesy taste. I've found that using a little bit of a stronger-tasting cheese (instead of lots of a mild one) grants way more flavor bang for your calorie buck. I'll take a pizza topped with a few shards of high-quality Parmigiano-Reggiano over one shellacked in a layer of uninspired part-skim mozzarella any day. And an omelet topped with just a crumble of feta beats one oozing with gummy American cheese.

Other cheeses that go the extra mile include: blue cheese, Pecorino Romano, aged cheddar, Gruyère, feta or smoked cheeses.

Image Credit: Richard Jung

Instead of Corn Syrup, Try Agave Nectar

Agave nectar, found in health food stores and many groceries, is an all-natural sweetener made from the agave plant. It's twice as sweet as sugar or corn syrup, but has a much lower glycemic index, which means that it's less likely to cause a blood sugar spike (and subsequent crash later on). It's easy to trade liquid sugars like corn syrup and honey for agave nectar. It's also a perfect substitute for sugar in beverages since it's already dissolved, and is quite nice on pancakes or drizzled over yogurt. Plus, since it contains two times the sweetness of sugar, you only need to use half as much.

Image Credit: Leigh Beisch


Super-charge your diet with these simple food swaps!

To view the top recommended food swaps, Check out the slideshow above!

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