Your Guide to Swaps and Subs for Making Recipes Healthier

Your Guide to Swaps and Subs for Making Recipes Healthier

Sometimes we get a little tired of the old health food staples. Kale, broccoli, cauliflower — it’s like we’re living in a cruciferous world of juice cleanses, smoothie bowls and grilled chicken breast. Yet, venture out into the world of people who aren’t so health conscious — say a favorite restaurant, a home cooked dinner hosted by well-meaning relatives, or any form of social gathering ever, and diets quickly fly out the window.

Well, it’s time to take back some control. We can’t help you dodge any dessert-related peer pressure or that extra margarita, but we can arm you with some tips and tricks to help you transform some of your favorite recipes into a better version of itself.

You’re probably thinking you’re fully aware that you can simply swap out ingredients for the whole wheat version or sneak some spinach into places it doesn’t necessarily belong, but we’re here to give you a better idea of some tasty, yet better-for-you alternatives to some old-school staples that may be better off living in the past.

Here’s a look at how making recipes healthier doesn’t have to be hard.

Flours

It’s a well-known fact that refined, bleached flour isn’t exactly good for the body. Frequently described as the “bad carbs” that give whole grains a bad name, white flour has very little to offer as far as nutrition is concerned. Try these instead:

  • Almond Flour — You can pretty much swap out wheat flour for almond flour (or any nut flour), there is a bit of a textural difference when the baked goods come out of the oven. Nut flours are a bit heavier than conventional, and you’ll need to increase baking soda and baking powder to make up for the difference.
  • Black Beans — What sounds like a slightly strange and off-putting swap for refined flour is actually quite the gluten-free delight. A cup of drained and rinsed black beans is a straight equivalent for a cup of regular bleached flour.

Meats

Whether you’re looking for a leaner alternative to some of the more flavorful ingredients like bacon or not-so-lean ground beef, or need a vegetarian version that won’t completely derail your favorite recipes, here’s a quick guide to some healthy swaps that are easy on the waistline and the taste buds.

Bacon

From BLTs to doughnuts and even cocktails and desserts, bacon has been in the midst of a major moment for a long time, and it doesn’t seem like it’s going away anytime soon. Here are some options that make your favorite bacon-centric platters a little more diet friendly:

  • Prosciutto — For a leaner take on your cured meat craving, look toward prosciutto. It offers plenty of flavor, an interesting texture and contains many less calories than typical bacon.
  • Pancetta — Probably the closest bacon hack you’ll find, pancetta has fewer calories than bacon and is a small tweak that can make a difference in any recipe — pasta, breakfast sandwiches and more — without sacrificing any deliciousness.
  • Coconut bacon — A vegan bacon you can purchase almost anywhere these days, add coconut bacon anywhere bacon bits are suggested for a smoky flavor from a surprising source.

Ground Beef

An easygoing ingredient with a lot of versatility, ground beef can quickly add some extra calories into the mix. If you’re looking to keep things lean, here’s a few healthy substitutes to keep you on the right track:

  • Tofu — Tofu, a versatile vegetarian protein, is the perfect replacement for ground beef in any dish where the meat plays second fiddle to the overall flavor. Think chili or a breakfast burrito. Any place you’d like to add a little substance, tofu is great at taking on any flavor, so you won’t really miss the real stuff.
  • Ground turkey — If texture and flavor is what you’re after, ground turkey may be a better option. This bird makes a mean burger if seasoned the right way and can easily slip into pastas, tacos and more. Though it’s not as juicy as its ground beef counterpart, a little bit of liquid (chicken stock, oil, water) will do the trick. Add some fluid as you cook and things will stay nice and moist.
  • Bison meat — Almost the same as regular old beef, bison meat is a bit leaner and contains more nutrients like B vitamins, making it perfect for burgers and beyond.

Salt

We all know we’re supposed to avoid dishes laden with sodium, especially if you’ve got high blood pressure or another health condition that limits your intake. We’re unfortunately conditioned to use salt anywhere we’re not completely confident our dishes taste quite right. Certain foods work perfectly with a pinch of salt — like scrambled eggs and French fries.

We aren’t advocating for some of the manufactured salt alternatives, so here’s a guide to some herbs and spices that add the right something to your favorite meals, without the salt-guilt:

  • Lemon or Lime Juice — Perfect for recipes that call for a little salt and pepper to taste, a hint of citrus packs a similar punch, rounding out the flavors and drawing them out of the woodwork.
  • Rosemary — This pine like herb can be pretty darn strong, so use with a gentle hand. Rosemary adds another dimensions to roast chicken or beef, as well as hearty vegetables like turnips, parsnips, beets, carrots and potatoes.
  • Nutmeg — A staple in holiday baking, nutmeg is much more versatile than it leads on. While it always works with anything using cinnamon and cloves, nutmeg can be a game changer when added to rich wintery meals featuring cheese sauces, cabbage, potatoes and soups. It pairs especially well with pepper, so perhaps salt isn’t as essential as you once thought.
  • Basil — Fresh basil provides a flavor both sweet and peppery. Top off a number of your favorite dishes with fresh basil and you’ll up the gourmet factor by a landslide. Use with pizzas, pasta or anything in the Thai family of flavors. Dress up soups, sandwiches and salads by adding this tasty green as a garnish. You won’t miss the salt — we promise.
  • Mint — If you’re sick of citrus, but need to add something with a little brightness to your dish, look toward mint for something unexpected. While it’s always a safe bet when paired with things like berries, pineapple and melon, think outside the fruit bowl and add this refreshing herb to pastas, whole grain salads with quinoa or brown rice, or a simple dish with beans or steamed vegetables.
  • Ginger — Sweet, sharp and good for what ails you, ginger brings out flavors both sweet and savory. Add to stir fries, soups, salads and smoothies. The world is your oyster.
  • Kelp granules or shredded seaweed — Sea vegetables are loaded with nutrients and iodine (just like table salt!) and add a layer of umami to any dish that needs a little extra help. This works best with fish-based dishes, rice bowls or soup with a clear broth.
  • Cumin — A robust spice found in curries and Southern cooking, cumin really draws out the flavors in meats, as well as soups, stews and anything that can best be described as comfort food with a kick.
  • Turmeric — Another staple in Indian cuisine, this root is a well-regarded super food that is thought to help alleviate inflammation and more. Add to soups and smoothies, much like you would ginger, or sprinkle a bit over your favorite meals. It’s a whole lot more beneficial than salt, and it packs more of a distinctive punch.
  • Nutritional yeast — The perfect salt substitute for things like popcorn that need an extra savory boost, nutritional yeast provides an earthy, cheesy flavor that competes with the best animal products and sodium snacks out there, yet is completely vegan.

Dairy

Learning how to properly swap out dairy is paramount in learning the keys to healthy food replacements and successful substitutions. Use the wrong thing, and your loved ones won’t let you live down your mistake and may even avoid some perfectly delicious non-dairy options in the future. From butter to the myriad milks, here’s a look at how to avoid ubiquitous cow products with ease and satisfaction.

Butter

Butter is a big one. Maybe you’re having issues with dairy products or simply want to shave off a few calories here and there. Whatever you do, don’t fall prey to the margarine trap — margarines are typically loaded with chemical additives, soy and trans-fats. There are far better ways to cut down on the fat, as well as make a great tasting meal. Here’s a look at some of our favorite healthy swaps for butter.

  • Non-dairy butter — If you insist on making things easy and doing a straight out swap for a margarine or vegan butter, look for a product with a high fat content. Margarines with a lower fat content may have a negative effect on your baked goods.
  • Avocado — For baking, try using an avocado puree in place of butter. This works great in recipes that require a bit of “gooeyness,” think buttercream frosting, or anything especially decadent like fudge, brownies and more.
  • Oils — For cooking, baking, or anything you don’t want to add another dimension of flavor to, use olive oil or canola oil in place of butter. This works great if you’re sautéing vegetables, cooking chicken, steak or whatever else and is healthier and dairy-free friendly than regular butter.

Milks

Milk is a really easy swap for bakers and home cooks alike. With a variety of non-dairy options on the market today, there’s endless possibilities for those looking for something a bit different than regular old cow’s milk. Between rice, soy, almond and coconut, some milks are more suited to some tasks rather than others.

Here’s a quick rundown on where each one truly shines.

  • Rice Milk — Many people consider rice milk to most closely resemble the mouth feel and overall experience of real milk. For that reason, we recommend using rice milk in your cereal or to make pancakes, mashed potatoes and more that require a thin, no-frills kind of milk. It’s worth noting that rice milk is not good for baking, as it’s a bit too watery to produce the kind of yummy, rich desserts you’re likely to crave.
  • Soy Milk — Thicker and creamier than most milk substitutes, soy milk is best used for smoothies or shakes. Soy milk is high in protein, and often comes fortified with vitamins A and D, mimicking many of the nutritional benefits you’d find in cow’s milk.
  • Almond Milk — A favorite for cereal, smoothies and more, almond milk is rich in vitamin E, though it doesn’t contain much protein. It works well as a straight substitute in recipes that call for regular milk like batters, cookies and cakes.
  • Coconut Milk — A sweet, rich alternative to cow’s milk, coconut milk is perfect for cooking with aromatic flavors — think Thai food, curries and more, as well as smoothies and baked goods. While coconut milk is rich in potassium, it lacks many other nutrients found in milk or other milk substitutes like soy or almond milk.
  • Coconut Cream — A richer and thicker version of coconut milk, coconut cream is best used to make dairy free ice cream, shakes and other desserts, as well as a tasty creamer for coffee.

Eggs

Eggs are generally regarded as a healthy part of any diet, so there are a number of reasons you might be inclined to go eggless. Whether it’s an allergy, decision to go vegetarian or vegan, or you simply want to cut back on the cholesterol, here’s some healthy swaps that’ll have you ditching the ova in favor of something different.

  • Skip the Yolk — If you’re looking to cut out eggs yolks for the sake of your cholesterol intake, you can use two egg whites in place of one whole egg, which should be pretty much a straight swap.
  • Applesauce — It sounds a little crazy, but sub ¼ cup applesauce in place of a regular-sized egg. This handy trick works in a number of baking recipes. It’s better to go with the unsweetened sauce, but if you must use the sugared version, just cut back on any added sugar needed for the recipe.
  • Flax — These healthy seeds are super versatile. For an easy, vegan egg substitute, simply add 1 tablespoon of ground flaxseed to four tablespoons of water, whisking together until they become viscous, and well, egg-like. This mixture is equivalent to one egg, and works only in baked goods. Replicate if need be.
  • Water, Oil and Baking Powder Blend — A similar principle to the flax method, use 2 tablespoons of water, one tablespoon of oil, and two tablespoons of baking powder. Mix together thoroughly. This replaces one egg.
  • Banana — Keep in mind this option adds a bit of banana sweetness and flavor to the mix. But, like applesauce, ¼ cup of mashed banana easily replaces one egg in any recipe.
  • Vegetable Oil — As with the fruitier swaps, a ¼ cup of vegetable oil is an easy swap for a single egg in almost any baked good recipe. A quick note on using oil where eggs typically belong: You may want to short the amount of oil used if the recipe calls for more than one egg. Otherwise, things may become a bit oily and heavy.

Mayonnaise

Ah mayonnaise, it’s ubiquitous in American cuisine. From pasta, potato and tuna fish salads to nearly every sandwich in the country, mayo isn’t exactly a health food. Yet, many people swear by it, due to its moisture-giving properties. We disagree! Here are a few alternatives to help you keep things nice and moist whether you’re looking for a sandwich spread that makes those deli meats sing or a healthier twist on your repertoire of cookout favorites:

  • Avocado — Smashed avocado is one of the best subs for mayonnaise. This creamy, green topper offers some healthy fats and less calories than the white stuff and goes with anything mayo might be spread onto.
  • Olive oil — Not a real big game changer when it comes to flavor, but a little olive oil goes along way when it comes to giving that sandwich just the right amount of moisture. Add to salads where you otherwise might opt for mayo for a lighter approach, with just a hint of that olive flavor. If you ask us, healthy fats beat trans fats and triglycerides any day of the week.
  • Hummus — Sure it has a distinctive flavor, but the chickpea-based spread adds a creamy touch to an otherwise dull sandwich or wrap, and you have the option or making or buying this Mediterranean staple in many flavors.
  • Fat-Free Sour Cream — If you’re after something creamy and tangy, swap out mayo for fat-free sour cream. It has fewer calories and fat per cup, making it a much healthier swap for the standard green-free salads like tuna, chicken and egg.
  • Mustard — Yes, good old mustard. This sandwich standby boasts hardly any calories and offers some solid nutrients like selenium and magnesium.

Sugar

If you’re diabetic, cutting back on calories, or would rather steer clear of the nutritional pitfalls that go hand in hand with cakes, cookies, pies and more, you may be looking for a sugar substitute that isn’t made in a lab. In most cases, you’ll want to look toward the produce aisle to find what you’re looking for. A little sweetness with a side of antioxidants, fiber and more. Try these:

  • Applesauce — Applesauce works like a charm in cinnamon-leaning baked goods like oatmeal cookies, cobblers and crumbles. Sub in a cup of applesauce for every cup of sugar in your favorite recipe. Be sure to reduce the liquid (probably milk, water or juice) by a ¼ cup per each cup of sauce. You don’t want to make runny cookies.
  • Maple syrup — Perfect for glazes, dressings and a sweet little drizzle, maple syrup is the perfect ingredient for adding an extra sweetness without all the adverse effects of table sugar. A side note, we do mean the real thing, not the processed stuff from the grocery store.
  • Honey — A sugar substitute best suited for hot teas and adding a little sweetness to oatmeal, smoothies and more, honey adds some sweet antioxidants that a regular white sugar cube simply can’t compete with.
  • Coconut sugar — Gluten-free, diabetic-safe and loaded with potassium, coconut sugar adds a subtle, but distinctive profile to all your favorite cookies, cakes and homemade treats. Plus, it’s an easy swap — one cup of coconut sugar is equal to one cup conventional sugar.

Inspired Yet? Time to Hit the Kitchen!

Try an ingredient swap. If you’re thinking of starting fresh, we have plenty of great offerings that will make your transition into a swapping pro all the more enjoyable. From Fridgex containers for keeping things fresh and organized to our non-stick Xtrema skillets and cookware that make whipping up a low-fat dinner a total breeze, trust Ceramcor. We have the tools you need to take your kitchen — and you’re cooking — to the next level.

Check out our full selection of bakeware, utensils and kitchen storage options.

Categories:Recipes/Cooking with Xtrema
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