Healthy Nurse, Healthy Nation™ Blog - 14+ Healthy Food Substitutions For More Mindful Meals
Do you know much about the food you’re putting into your body? Like how processed it is and what kind of nutrients it contains? Do you choose certain foods simply because they taste good, or do you choose foods because of how healthy they are?
It’s a proactive way to take charge of your health.
You can improve the quality of your food by replacing some of the not-so-healthy ingredients with more nutritional or less processed ones. It can be as easy as swapping brown rice for white rice or using mashed banana in place of vegetable oil in your cake recipe.
The next time you cook a meal or bake a dessert, skim this list first to see if you can substitute any of the ingredients for something healthier:
Banana, Pumpkin, or Applesauce for Vegetable Oil
Maybe you’re out of vegetable oil or you want to nix it for something healthier. This common ingredient is heavily processed and full of unsaturated fats, so there are better options out there. If you’re baking, you can substitute a cup of vegetable oil with any of the following:
- 1 mashed banana
- 1 cup of canned pumpkin
- Applesauce (for half of the oil)
If you do bake with oil, choose healthier variations like canola, avocado, or olive oil.
Greek Yogurt for Sour Cream
One of the healthiest types of yogurts is plain Greek yogurt — it’s loaded with probiotics, calcium, and protein. You can use it in place of sour cream or any of the items on this list:
- Cottage cheese
- Cream cheese
- Regular yogurt
In most cases, you can use a 1:1 ratio of plain Greek yogurt to whatever you’re substituting. Swapping sour cream for Greek yogurt will keep the texture of the dish the same while adding nutrition and lowering fat and calories.
Avocado or Hummus for Mayonnaise
There’s a reason avocado is touted as a super food — it’s loaded with healthy fats and fiber. It’s also a low sodium food that contains no cholesterol. Hummus is another healthy, less processed option compared to mayonnaise because it’s made from mashed chickpeas. The next time you eat a sandwich, substitute the higher-calorie, more processed mayonnaise with nutrient-packed avocado or hummus.
Bonus: You can also use avocado as a substitute for butter (1:1 ratio) to fill your baked goods with more nutrients while lowering calories.
Aquafaba for Eggs
With the high cost of eggs these days, more people are substituting this ingredient in baked goods recipes. Aquafaba is one option you might already have in your pantry — it’s the liquid from canned chickpeas. Just use 3 tablespoons aquafaba for 1 egg. On its own, it works well as a binder, but you can also beat the liquid to form an eggless meringue.
Here are a few additional items you can use to replace eggs:
- Buttermilk (1/4 cup buttermilk = 1 egg)
- Yogurt (1/4 cup yogurt = 1 egg)
- Applesauce (1/4 cup unsweetened plain applesauce = 1 egg)
- Mashed banana (1/4 cup mashed banana = 1 egg)
- Flax egg (1 tbsp flaxseed meal + 2.5 tbsp water = 1 egg)
Spaghetti Squash for Pasta
There aren’t many nutritional benefits to regular pasta. While it often tastes delicious drenched in a savory sauce, pasta doesn’t usually make healthy food lists. You can turn up the nutrition on this fan favorite food by swapping regular pasta with spaghetti squash. The string-like squash has only 31 calories per cup! And this nutrient-dense vegetable has plenty of fiber, vitamin C, manganese, vitamin B6, and antioxidants.
You can also spiralize other veggies to use as pasta replacements, including:
- Sweet Potato
- Red Cabbage
Whole Wheat Flour for All-purpose Flour
A quick way to add more nutrition to your foods is to replace half of the all-purpose flour with whole wheat flour. The latter has more protein, fiber, folate, riboflavin and vitamins B-1, B-3 and B-5.
The reason you don’t want to substitute 100% of the all-purpose flour with whole wheat flour is because whole wheat flour makes foods denser and heavier than if you’d used all-purpose flour alone. If you choose to only use whole wheat flour, add about 2 teaspoons of water.
Corn Tortillas for Flour Tortillas
Do you want to make your Taco Tuesdays a little healthier? Here’s a quick and easy way to mindfully increase the nutrition in your meal: Choose corn tortillas instead of flour tortillas. The corn version has about half the calories and more fiber. It’s a quick, easy way to still enjoy the food you love (tacos!) while putting healthier ingredients into your body.
Goat or Feta Cheese for Low-fat Cheese
There is such a thing as healthy fats, and we all need them in our diets. Low-fat cheese may contain less fat, but it isn’t necessarily better than its healthy fat counterparts. For example, conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), found in goat and feta cheese, is a type of fat that lowers risk of diabetes, heart disease, and certain types of cancer.
If you’re going to eat foods that have fat, why not opt for the type of fat that has more health benefits?
Riced Cauliflower for White Rice
This swap has become quite the fad in recent years, and for good reason. Cauliflower is a nutrient-packed vegetable that’s gluten-free and low in calories and carbohydrates. White rice, on the other hand, is higher calorie and doesn’t offer as many nutritional benefits.
You can serve cauliflower rice in a 1:1 ratio the same way you serve regular rice, whether you make it plain, a traditional rice pilaf, or spice it up with Spanish rice. This affordable substitution is also easy and quick to cook.
Dark Chocolate for Milk Chocolate
Some recipes like cookies, muffins, cakes, frosting, or brownies may call for chocolate. With any type of sugary dessert, moderation is key. But there’s an easy way to get more nutritional benefits from chocolate: Swap milk chocolate for dark chocolate.
For example, in a recipe that calls for melted milk chocolate or milk chocolate chips, replace it using a 1:1 ratio of dark chocolate. This healthier option has more flavanols, which are shown to help lower blood pressure, improve blood flow to the brain and heart, and fight cell damage. To get the most flavanols, choose dark chocolate with at least 70% cacao. Bonus: Dark chocolate is also a fantastic source of iron, magnesium, zinc, copper, and phosphorus.
Make Your Meals Healthier 1 Ingredient at a Time
When it comes to what foods you put in your body, you have a choice. You can opt to eat the more processed, higher calorie, not-as-nutrient-dense options, or you can boost the nutrition in your favorite foods with smart substitutions. The power is in your hands.
While it’s smart to make a healthy substitution when you can, replacing too many ingredients could change the taste, consistency, and appearance of your food — especially baked goods. We recommend only replacing one ingredient in a recipe at a time.
RELATED: Understanding Food Labels To Go Green And Eat Clean
Want to do more? If you’re drawn to the idea of adding more awareness to your meals, take on the Mindful Meals challenge, powered by Compass One! This 10-day challenge will share simple tips and tricks to help you incorporate mindfulness practices into your food and won’t take too much of your time. Get started here!
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