Eating healthier doesn’t mean giving up your favorite foods or sacrificing flavor. Making smart substitutions when cooking can help maintain a healthy heart and even establish long-term lifestyle changes, and it’s easier than many may think.
Registered and licensed dietitian Ashli Davenport, who sees clients at The Fort Worth Club in downtown Fort Worth, says people often believe cooking healthier means a total change in the ingredients they use, but that’s not the reality.
“There are tons of food swaps that help keep the flavor, but with fewer calories and more nutrients,” Davenport says. “Just by swapping out ingredients, you can take your favorite recipes and turn them into healthy, nutritious meals.”
That means having cake – perhaps baked with applesauce instead of butter – and eating it, too.
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Here are nine heart-healthy food substitutions recommended by the American Heart Association and the Mayo Clinic. Davenport says there’s no pressure to make multiple changes all at once. Experiment with a few options and make changes gradually, especially if cooking for a family.
“You’re better off going slow – learning to make one healthy tweak at a time – so that these small changes turn into permanent habits,” Davenport says. “It may be tough at first to forego some of your favorite ingredients, but over time your taste buds will adjust.”
Whole wheat flour
for white flour
Whole grains in whole-wheat products are more fibrous than their white counterparts, therefore more likely to keep you full throughout the day. Check if recipe ratios need to be adjusted, although whole-wheat options are more readily available at the grocery store. If cooking for the family, try mixing whole-wheat with white flour first to get them acclimated.
for butter or sugar
Reduce the amount of saturated fat by subbing fiber-filled unsweetened applesauce for butter in baking. Davenport says using applesauce in place of sugar can give the desired sweet taste without the extra calories. “One cup of applesauce contains only about 100 calories, while a cup of sugar contains over 700 calories,” she says.
for sour cream
Simply squeeze a little lemon into Greek yogurt, stir and serve in place of sour cream to sneak digestion-aiding probiotics into meals.
Avocado for cheese or mayonnaise on a sandwich
Avocados are full of good polyunsaturated fats than can, when eaten in moderation, help reduce bad cholesterol levels and lower the risk of heart disease and stroke, according the American Heart Association. Try subbing creamy avocados for high-calorie spreads like cheese and mayonnaise. “The creaminess and subtle flavor of the avocado lends itself well to the texture of a variety of foods,” Davenport says. “I’ve used avocado in both tuna salad and even fudge brownies.”
Extra virgin olive oil
for butter and salad dressing
Use high-quality extra virgin olive, which has antioxidants, in place of butter for sauteing or whisked with lemon juice or vinegar along with salt and pepper for
a healthier salad dressing.
Ground turkey for ground beef
According to the American Heart Association, reducing the consumption of red meat is a big step in reducing the chance or recurrence of heart disease. Try ground turkey in chili, spaghetti sauce, tacos and burgers.
Fresh or dried herbs
for seasoning salt
If seeking to reduce sodium intake, herbs provide endless opportunities to enhance flavor. Many seasoning salts contain high levels of sodium along with MSG, or monosodium glutamate, which has been reported to cause reactions like headaches, chest pain, nausea and even heart palpitations. Try herbs like rosemary, oregano, basil and thyme to season meals.
Dark leafy greens
for iceberg and romaine
“Salads are a great way to pack in nutrients, but some salads are better than others,” Davenport says. “Iceberg lettuce has very little nutritional value whereas dark leafy greens – like spinach, kale, arugula and turnip greens – are loaded with countless nutritional benefits. When in doubt, choose the darker lettuce. The deeper in color it is, the more nutritious it is.”
Skim milk for whole milk
For daily milk drinkers, sub skim or reduced fat milk for whole milk. Also consider trying almond or coconut milk, but watch out for brands with hidden added sugars.
Pureed fruit for syrup
Applesauce, pureed pineapples, berries and bananas can be used in place of syrup to sweeten pancakes, waffles, oatmeal and any other dish calling for drizzles of high-calorie syrup, which is often made with artificial ingredients.
for whole eggs
If looking to cut cholesterol intake, using egg whites is an easy way to do so without cutting out eggs altogether. Buying cartons of egg whites makes for easy omelets, egg scrambles and baking
Rolled oats or crushed bran
cereal for breadcrumbs
Many store-bought breadcrumbs have a slew of processed ingredients, like high fructose corn syrup, hydrogenated oils and others almost impossible to pronounce. Simply using rolled oats or bran cereal will provide a high-fiber option without all of the junk.