No matter what your diet is, finding healthy cooking substitutions for fatty, sugary, salty or caloric ingredients can be a difficult task. There are the ever-changing lists of good and bad fats, additives to look out for and so many delicious carbohydrates to avoid. But you can make your recipes more nutritious without sacrificing the textures and flavors that make eating enjoyable. With the right healthy kitchen substitutes, you can make your favorite meals, snacks and desserts better for you and your family and keep them just as delicious. You have probably seen some alternatives scattered about recipe sites, but this list will help you find new ways to live and eat well.
Why Swap out Ingredients?If you are wondering why you should look into ingredient swaps, there are many ways you can benefit from using alternatives:
- Cutting out unhealthy fats: Unhealthy fats can negatively affect your body over time, promoting high cholesterol and other harmful issues. Replacing them with healthier alternatives can help you feel more energetic and potentially help you lose weight.
- Decreasing sugar and salt intake: Even though it may seem impossible to find a substitute for these two staples of baking and cooking, there are options out there. Cutting down by replacing half or whole amounts will help you live healthier and avoid the common effects of eating too much sugar and salt.
- Living gluten-free or vegan: Those who adopt a specific diet due to allergies or lifestyle preferences need to use substitutions in many everyday recipes. Using alternative ingredients opens up a world of new possibilities in the kitchen.
- Discovering new flavors: By continually using the same base ingredients, we miss out on hundreds of other flavors. When you start replacing typical, everyday seasonings and fats, you will expand your palate.
- Feeling better and healthier: Getting proper nutrition can be difficult when you are continually trying to balance the right ingredients and still enjoy eating. By using healthier substitutions in recipes, you can make your favorite dishes while getting better nutritional value out of them.
No matter what your reason for swapping common ingredients, there is no denying that you can live a healthier lifestyle by cutting down on things like butter, fats, sugar, salt and carbohydrates. Even just moderating your intake by replacing them in a few recipes per week will help you feel more nourished and in better shape.
Gluten-Free SubstitutionsFor those who choose or need to keep gluten out of their diet, it can be difficult to find products and recipes that exclude the proteins. For those with severe allergies, there is even a risk in products that manufacturers prepare in the same facilities as gluten-based foods. Gluten is so common because it is in flour, starches, wheat and other grains. But you'll have an easier time shopping if you know a few healthy baking substitutions and ingredient replacements, like:
- Black beans for flour: In some baking recipes, like brownies, you can easily swap out a cup of flour for a cup of black beans. Grab the canned variety, drain and rinse the beans, mash or purée them, and you have a great alternative. This removes the gluten and adds in some extra protein.
- Gluten-free flour for wheat flour: If you want to stick closer to the familiarity of wheat flour, there are several options typically available at grocery stores. Gluten-free flour works well and is the most common choice, but there are also choices like almond, coconut and tapioca flour. Experiment with these for different flavors and consistencies in both baked goods and dishes.
- Zucchini for noodles: While pasta is delicious, it does contain gluten. One of the simplest trade-ins is zucchini. Cut as much as you need into thin ribbons, saute them until they soften, and serve them up with or without sauce. These noodles have fewer carbs and more vitamins, so you can enjoy them without any guilt.
- Flaxseeds for bread crumbs: Bread crumbs contain gluten and have a high carbohydrate and salt content. You can get rid of all of these negatives by using ground or crushed flaxseeds mixed with herbs and spices.
- Lettuce for tortillas: Wraps and tacos are delicious, but flour tortillas are not the healthiest option. You can make your favorites lighter on the calories and carbs by replacing tortillas with lettuce leaves. They provide a vitamin boost, keep out the gluten and have a nice crunch.
Low-Sugar SubstitutionsOne of the biggest things people try to cut down on to get in better shape is sugar. But that is not so easy when sugar is everywhere. And it is in more products than you may think — in grocery stores, 74% of all prepackaged foods contain added sugars. With the potential for negative health effects, it is essential to read labels and trade out ingredients where you can. Try substituting:
- Natural nut butter for reduced-fat: Peanut butter is a staple in many households. Although reduced-fat options sound better for you, they tend to have higher sugar content and more additives. Stick to natural nut butter and unsalted varieties for healthier sandwiches, smoothies and snacks. You can even make your own with oils and whole nuts.
- Seltzer or soda water for soda: You have probably heard the many adverse health effects brought on by soda consumption. The most detrimental factor is the amount of sugar it contains. If you want to enjoy something bubbly, opt for seltzer or soda water with fresh fruit slices. It has a light, refreshing flavor and none of the harmful ingredients.
- Cacao nibs for chocolate chips: Many baking recipes would be incomplete without chocolate chips. But there are better options that provide that necessary chocolate flavor. Cacao nibs are roasted cocoa beans, and they are what manufacturers grind down to make chocolate. Using them as a replacement provides intense flavor, a bit of crunch and a dose of antioxidants while skipping the sugar and additives.
- One teaspoon of vanilla extract for sugar: Anyone who has baked desserts knows how much sugar goes into them. If you want to keep the pleasant flavor while cutting back on sweetener, replace half the required sugar with a teaspoon of vanilla. For cookies, you can also trade out two tablespoons of sugar for with half a teaspoon of vanilla.
- Fresh fruit in plain yogurt for flavored yogurt: Flavored yogurt is loaded with added sugars, and the kinds with fruit you stir in have even more. Plain and Greek yogurts have far lower sugar contents. Add in your own choice of fresh fruit to give it flavor, and if you want a little more sweetness, mix in or drizzle honey over the top.
- Oils for baking: If you love making moist cakes, flavorful desserts and your own baked snacks, using pressed oils is a great way to achieve the right consistency and taste without using too much sugar or butter. Using walnut oil adds a nutty flavor to your recipes, and avocado oil works well for baking indulgent cakes or paleo-friendly snacks, like kale or apple chips and trail mix.
Vegan SubstitutionsWhether you are going vegan for health reasons or personal beliefs, finding plant-based products is not always easy. Though more people are turning to the diet, there are still limited options when it comes to shopping. It may be necessary to find crafty substitutions for cooking meals and baking without sacrificing flavor. A few easy options are trading:
- Unsweetened applesauce for butter: It may sound odd, but it works like a charm in baking recipes. Applesauce keeps the dairy out while adding a little sweetness and providing the right consistency. You can use it in scratch recipes as well as boxed mixes.
- Olive oil for butter: For savory meals, baked desserts and even greasing pans, olive oil provides a great alternative to butter. Use olive oil to saute vegetables, dip toasted bread in or as a healthy baking substitute in some recipes.
- Almond or coconut milk for dairy milk: Milk alternatives have become more popular, and there are plenty of varieties out there. Almond milk is delicious to drink straight, use in cereal or granola, add to smoothies or use in coffee and hot chocolate. When it comes to cooking, coconut milk works well in place of heavy cream, especially in soups.
- Flax meal for eggs: Baking recipes often require eggs, so finding a close substitute for them is essential to eating vegan. One of the best replacements is flax meal. Instead of an egg, you can whisk a tablespoon of ground flax seeds with three tablespoons of warm water, let it sit in your refrigerator for five to ten minutes, then add it to your other baking ingredients.
- Coconut oil for dairy in smoothies: Milk and yogurt are what make fruit smoothies thick and creamy, and nut milks don't always work well as a substitute. But, you can easily replace the dairy with a tablespoon or so of virgin coconut oil. It will provide a smooth texture and add a hint of coconut flavor.
Overall Healthier SubstitutionsFor most people who want to improve or maintain their health, looking to food is the first step. Changing what you eat is essential to lower your salt and sugar intake, but you should also be focusing on adding more vitamins and replacing bad fats with good fats. All of these choices factor into creating a healthier overall lifestyle as well as discovering new flavors. To jump-start your journey, try using:
- Dark greens for iceberg lettuce: While iceberg lettuce is good for you, it lacks a lot of the nutrients found in darker, leafier greens. For a better vitamin C, iron and antioxidant boost, use spinach, arugula or kale wherever you would use lettuce.
- Avocado for mayo: Having a good spread for a sandwich is easy to miss. Luckily, you can skip the mayo and use mashed avocado instead. It replaces the bad fats and cholesterol of mayonnaise with good fats, without any cholesterol or sodium. If you want to skip the hassle of cutting and mashing, you can use avocado oil as well.
- Baked pita bread for tortilla chips: Though they may seem healthier than potato or flavored chips, many kinds of tortilla chips contain a high amount of fat and sodium. Rather than buying a bag for dipping in hummus or salsa, use pita bread. Cut them into smaller pieces, sprinkle a little sea salt on top and bake them in your oven for a healthy replacement.
- Herbs for salt: Adding salt to dishes does accentuate the flavors, but it also adds unneeded sodium. Try experimenting with spices and herbs instead. If your recipe needs a little kick, add some garlic or onion powder. You can bring in new flavors without relying on sodium.
- Greek yogurt for sour cream: If your recipe calls for sour cream or you enjoy using it as a topping, try Greek yogurt as a replacement. It has almost the same taste and texture as well as fewer calories and more protein.
- Vegetable or plant oils for hydrogenated oils: Two of the most significant differences in cooking oils are the fats they contain and the way they are produced. Hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated oils contain saturated and trans fats, which are harmful to your health. Shortening and margarine are typically full of them. Choose a replacement that is better for your body and has nutritional value, like olive or avocado oil.
Using Healthier Oil Alternatives
Oils are essential in cooking and baking. They are included in a significant amount of recipes, including many marinades, sautés, sauces and soups. Since they are such a staple, finding a healthy oil option is a big part of creating a better diet and lifestyle. One of the things to look out for is how the oil is processed. Many types available in grocery stores are solvent expelled. This process involves using a chemical solvent, such as hexane, to release the fats in seeds and nuts. From there, manufacturers heat the mix to distill the chemicals off, which may leave microscopic portions of the harmful chemical in the oil. Solvent expelling is the cheapest method, and it gets the most oil from the nuts and seeds, so large manufacturers often use it as the standard. However, the potential for residual chemicals, removal of nutrients and rancidity of ingredients makes this option less healthy to purchase. Cold-pressing and expeller-pressing are healthier alternatives, as they use no chemicals to remove the necessary fats. Instead, they apply pressure to crush the seeds or nuts, pushing the oils out without adding solvents or heat. This natural process produces oils are healthier for you, as they retain more of their natural nutrients. Additionally, the pressed seeds and nuts are often then used as animal feed, so nothing is wasted. If you want to ensure you are purchasing the best oil for your palate and your health, trusted small-batch oil artisans are the right choice. You might pay more than you would at a grocery store, but you will be getting a better quality product and supporting a more ethical business.