Is eating healthier one of your goals this year? The good news is you don’t have to give up treats like baked goods or snacks, despite what you may think.
The key is to make smart food substitutions for things you’re already eating. By making a simple swap and choosing a more nutritious option for your favorite baking or cooking ingredient or snack, you’ll be well on your way to healthier eating habits. See our list of top swaps to try below.
Healthy Snack Substitutions
Snacks can be a good chance to add a nutritious break to your day. Make a few smart choices that will keep you satisfied between meals.
Instead of regular yogurt, try Greek or Icelandic yogurt
If you like regular yogurt, you can increase the protein and lower the sugar content of your snack by looking to our European friends. Greek-style yogurt has exploded in popularity and offers a lower-sugar, higher-protein option.
Newer still in popularity is Icelandic-style yogurt, or skyr. More tart, and often even higher in protein, it’s a refreshing change from sugary-sweet yogurts.
Instead of chips, try unsalted nuts
Nuts can make for a crunchy, satisfying snack that’s lower in unhealthy fats and higher in protein than a bag of chips. If you’d like additional flavor, try making your own flavored nuts so you can control the sodium and sugar content.
Instead of soda, try sparkling water
Sparkling water isn’t just a cocktail mixer anymore: Sales now reach more than $5 billion annually in the U.S. With no added sugar or artificial sweeteners, sparkling water is a healthier choice than your favorite soda. It helps you stay hydrated, too.
Instead of sweet treats, try dark chocolate
Yes, chocolate can be good for you if you know what to choose. Instead of a prepackaged cookie or cupcake, reach for a few squares of dark chocolate.
Some studies suggest that people who consume about six grams of this treat daily have lower blood pressure and a reduced risk of heart disease. Look for varieties that are at least 70 percent dark for the most benefits.
Instead of fruit canned in syrup, choose fruit in juice or frozen fruit
Eating fruit is good for you, of course, but choosing varieties canned in heavy syrup means you’ll be consuming added sugars and sweeteners like high-fructose corn syrup. Instead, opt for fruit packed in water or juice, or frozen fruit.
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Healthy Ingredient Substitutions for Baking
To make your favorite baked good more nutritious, try one of the substitutions below.
Instead of butter, use unsweetened applesauce
In recipes where a crisp texture isn’t the goal, unsweetened applesauce makes a great substitution for some of the butter. It can also create a denser, moister end result - good news for things like dark bread.
Bob’s Red Mill suggests swapping half of the butter in a recipe with unsweetened applesauce for the best results. You’ll shave off fat and calories, too.
Instead of oil, use bananas
While bananas add some natural sugar and carbs to a recipe, they also cut down on the calories and fat content that oil would provide. You can replace half of the oil with pureed bananas in sweet recipes, according to Better Homes and Gardens.
Instead of white flour, use whole wheat or white whole wheat flour
Work some whole grains into your diet with whole-wheat bread. Using whole wheat flour instead of white imparts a nutty taste and hearty texture. Whole grains offer a variety of health benefits, too.
If you find the texture too dry or dense, you can also try white whole wheat flour, a type of whole wheat that’s lighter and softer. Make sure to follow recipes specifically for these types of flours, as they may require additional liquid or increased baking times.
Instead of heavy cream, use evaporated milk
Add a rich, creamy element to recipes with less fat by using evaporated milk. According to the Chicago Tribune, you can swap one cup of heavy (or whipping) cream for one cup of evaporated milk.
Instead of sugar, use maple syrup or honey
Natural sweeteners like honey and maple syrup still contain sugar, just like granulated white sugar. But because they’re usually sweeter, you can often use less of them. See a guide to baking with maple syrup and honey here.
Healthy Food Substitutions For Cooking
You may not even notice a difference in taste when you try one of these healthier food swaps for cooking. But your body will notice a difference in nutrition, and over time, it adds up.
Instead of ground beef, try ground turkey, chicken, or beans
Ground beef was once ubiquitous in recipes, but leaner options like ground poultry are now widely available. Just keep in mind that ground turkey and chicken can have a drier texture than beef.
If you want to try a vegetarian approach, you can also substitute some or all of the ground meat in a recipe for beans. This works best in recipes like soups, stews, and casseroles.
Instead of white rice, try brown rice or other ancient grains
Rice makes a good side dish for stir-fries and roasted meat. Add fiber and protein by switching to brown rice - you’ll barely notice a taste difference. You can also try now-popular “ancient grains” like quinoa, barley, and farro as a tasty and unique side dish option.
Instead of white pasta, try whole-wheat or vegetable-based pasta
While conventional pasta is high in refined cards, whole-wheat pasta or even pasta made with pureed vegetables can be more nutritious choices.
If you’re interested in experimenting, “zoodles” - thin ribbons of zucchini and other vegetables prepared like pasta - can be healthy and fun options, too.
Instead of sour cream, try plain Greek yogurt
Greek yogurt makes another appearance here, and this time as an almost perfect substitute for sour cream. It’s lower in fat and high in protein but still provides the right creamy tang.
Keep in mind that Greek yogurt is available in fat-free, low-fat, and whole-milk varieties. Fat-free and low-fat versions will have a much more tart taste, so choose according to your preferences.
Instead of flour tortillas, try corn tortillas
If you enjoy cooking Tex-Mex dishes, this is one swap that can make your recipes more authentic as well as lower in fat and calories.
Corn tortillas usually hold up better in sauces and as leftovers, too. They tend to be a little stiffer than flour tortillas, so warm them in a dry skillet before filling or rolling them up.
More Healthy Lifestyle Ideas
From exercise that fits your fitness level to ideas for strengthening your relationships, our blog is full of tips for living life your way. Explore all our articles on the blog here.