Healthy Food Substitutions – Making Good Food Better
I am constantly adapting recipes. I am so hooked on the health benefits of watching what we eat – I can’t help myself. That is not to say we don’t like our sweets and treats. We do! We just make room for them by watching what we eat 90% of the time.
What does that mean? It means making choices and choosing recipes that include lean proteins, healthy whole grains, healthy fats, and fresh fruits and vegetables. It also means finding ways to reduce sugar, fat and salt without sacrificing flavor or texture. I am no nutritionist, but I read a lot about health and nutrition and I can tell you one thing for sure – if you watch what you eat most of the time, you leave room for life’s small indulgences. It’s not a diet – it’s a way of life. And like anything, it gets easier with practice. Some of the substitutions I make are just automatic, but that comes after years of cooking this way. Following are some practical tips and cooking substitutions for getting started on your way to making good food better for you.
Kristen’s Food Substitutions:
1. Choose low fat dairy.
And while you are at it, choose plain yogurt. The amount of sugar in flavored yogurts is astronomical. If you want to add some sweetness, try adding a few drops of honey. Fresh fruit, berries, or sugar-free fruit preserves also work to add sweetness and make plain yogurt more interesting for those who are not yet converts.
2. Go get some unsweetened applesauce.
It’s not just for kids, you know. Unsweetened applesauce, on its own, with a sprinkle of cinnamon, is delicious and makes for a simple, easy dessert. That said, it also makes a great fat free substitute for ½ of the oil in many recipes, especially cookies, muffins and quick breads. I also stir it into plain yogurt or oatmeal to add a nice apple flavor.
3. Choose your fats wisely.
Fat plays a key role in lending both taste and texture to lots of recipes. I am not suggesting you skip it entirely. Just lighten it up or choose wisely. Skip the partially hydrogenated and other processed vegetable oils. Stick with healthier mono-saturated fats found in olive oil and nut seed oils (think sesame, walnut and avocado). Not only are these oils better for you; they taste great. My “go to” oil for cooking, other than olive oil, is grape seed oil. A natural by product of the wine making process, grape seed oil is neutral in flavor and packed with antioxidants.
4. When making dips and dressings…
I regularly substitute low fat plain yogurt and sour cream for mayonnaise. I almost never use cream unless I need whipped cream for something sweet, and even then I only use a hint of sugar to make whipped cream. In soups, I skip cream altogether. I make creamy soups by puréeing the contents or some of the contents (beans or vegetables) with a immersion blender.
5. Rely on fresh, seasonal produce for salads and side dishes.
They might require a little more preparation than your usual side dishes, but the health benefits far outweigh the small investment in time. Roasting broccoli, cauliflower, squash, carrots, onions, potatoes and other root vegetables is an easy way to prepare healthy, satisfying side dishes. Chop your vegetables up into like sizes, toss them with a little olive oil, salt and pepper and roast them in a 375 ° oven until fork tender (start with 20 minutes and go from there).
6. I regularly substitute lean Canadian bacon for ham or bacon in recipes.
I make all of my dressings and sauces sugar-free. I always skip the sugar in any recipe that is not for dessert. Whenever I see sugar in a savory recipe, I skip it, and then taste the result. If I feel the final product needs some sweetness, I will add a bit of honey or agave nectar. However, this ends up happening only on rare occasions.
7. When it comes to cheese…
I stick with flavorful options such as goat cheese, Parmesan cheese, Gorgonzola, or feta cheese. If you use high-quality cheeses, it only takes a little bit to add a lot of flavor. The same goes with salt. A little salt goes a long way in boosting the flavor in any dish, especially if you choose a high-quality kosher or fine sea salt.
8. There are other ways to boost flavor without adding oil or salt.
Really wonderful ingredients such as fresh herbs, spices, capers, olives, horseradish, citrus juice, citrus zest, mustard, salsa, garlic, vinegar, fish sauce, peppers, onions add loads of flavor, color and texture to all sorts of dishes.
Happy (and healthy!) cooking! – Kristen Desmond
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