My Favorite Healthy Swaps

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Since it’s January, I expect many of us are embarking on healthy eating challenges and setting new goals to be more active, consume more veggies, etc.  I love January, because I love challenges and turning over a new leaf.  I know, I know, you don’t need to wait for the New Year to commit to making healthy changes in your life.  But for those of you who are on the New Year’s Resolution train right now… raises hand… here are some of my favorite healthy swaps so you can keep the delicious coming out of your kitchen, but maybe without all those cals.

Greek Yogurt instead of Sour Cream.  This one gets prime billing because it is my all-time favorite healthy swap.  I’m not gonna lie.  I love sour cream.  My grandmother used to make a cucumber salad with sour cream at the holidays, and man I could do some damage to that thing.  But I’m going to let you in on a little secret (actually it’s not much of a secret) – nonfat Greek yogurt tastes almost exactly the same as sour cream.  Like, seriously, almost exactly the same.  And it has fewer calories and more protein, plus it packs a wallop of calcium.  I love the taste of Greek yogurt and I’ll eat it plain by the bucket (especially when pregnant – it was one of my biggest cravings and I ate it pretty much every day).  But it works incredibly well as a sub for sour cream in things like potato salad, chicken salad, cucumber salad or chilled cucumber soup, and Mexican food.  (I always have it on hand for dolloping during chili, taco or enchilada night.)  And it’s great swirled into soups or mashed potatoes for a creamy accent.

Quinoa instead of Rice.  I am a huge fan of quinoa.  I buy it in bulk from Costco and go through the stuff like water.  I love it for stirring into soups and stews, sprinkling over salads and even baking into muffins, but I’ll also use quinoa in place of rice in pretty much every dish that calls for rice – stir-fries, pilafs, etc.  Partially, this is to save time: unless you buy par-boiled, rice takes about an hour to cook, and who has that kind of time?  Quinoa is twenty minutes, tops, wham, bam, thank you ma’am.  Oh, and it’s mad nutritious.  Quinoa is a complete protein and much lower in carbs than rice (even brown or wild rice, which I favor for the nutrition when I do take the time to make rice, which is almost never).  It’s light and fluffy like rice, but without the starch coma.

Applesauce instead of Butter or Oil.  This is for the bakers out there.  Most people have heard of the trick of subbing in applesauce for some of the butter and oil to lighten up a recipe.  I think most bakers probably sub in applesauce for about half of the butter and oil, but I’m here to tell you that you can go further.  One day, I decided to try cutting the oil completely out of a muffin recipe and using all applesauce and you know what?  I couldn’t taste the difference at all.  If you’re sensitive to sweet tastes you might want to cut the sugar down a bit in the recipe, but I don’t think that’s even necessary if you use unsweetened applesauce.  It’s my favorite way to lighten up the calories and fat in baked goods.  I haven’t made a muffin or a quickbread with butter or oil in years and no one is ever the wiser.

White Whole Wheat instead of All-Purpose Flour.  Healthy bakers love-love-LOVE to swap whole wheat for all-purpose flour in their baked goods.  The general rule is to use half whole wheat flour, half all-purpose for more protein and nutrition.  But what if you don’t want your baked goods to taste… dare I say it… healthy?  Because let’s face it, most of the time whole wheat muffins taste like something your hippie aunt scraped off her floor.  But what if I told you there was another way?  Enter white whole wheat flour.  Made from a different kind of wheat, it’s still a whole grain flour, but without that characteristic whole wheat taste (you know, the one that screams “I’M GOOD FOR YOU!!!!!”).  It tastes a bit more distinctive than all-purpose, but like with applesauce, I’ve found that very few people can tell that I’m using a healthy ingredient instead of the traditional.  Most bakers will still sub one-third to half white whole wheat, and use all-purpose for the other half, but again, I usually go whole hog and use all white whole wheat in my baked goods, and people rarely notice.

Maple Syrup instead of White Sugar.  Because white sugar is the devil, right?  Okay, okay, I don’t really think that.  I think there’s a place for everything in a sensible diet, as long as you don’t go overboard.  But in general I like to pick the less-processed item, and I often sub in a “natural sweetener” in place of white sugar in baking recipes.  You can choose your favorite “natural sweetener” – mine happens to be maple syrup because I love the flavor, but you might prefer honey (like my hubby does) or agave nectar, or even Stevia.  Here you’ll want to do your own experimenting to determine the appropriate ratios if you’re swapping.  I usually reduce the sweetness by about 2/3 in my baked goods and use maple syrup instead of sugar (so, for instance, if a recipe called for 1 cup of sugar, I might use 2/3 cup of maple syrup instead).  It’s all about what works for your palate and the sweetener you choose.  For instance, I find honey to be a very strong flavor, so if I’m using it in a recipe I’m going to cut the sweetness WAY down, where I might have used more sweetener if I was going with maple syrup or agave nectar.  These “natural sweeteners” are generally more nutritious than white sugar – they have vitamins and minerals, and they’re less processed – but remember, they’re still sweeteners, so you can’t go crazy!  Everything in moderation, right?

Those are my favorite ways to bring a bit more nutrition into my kitchen.  What healthy swaps do you like to make?

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