Whether your health goals include losing weight or are simply focused on overall wellness and disease prevention, learning some basic rules for how to make your cooking healthier can make a big difference. These swaps don’t just have to do with calories, they go beyond caloric value to nutrient content, blood sugar support, and foods that cool versus cause inflammation. Or, you might be allergic or sensitive to an otherwise healthy food, and in need of a good substitution. Without further ado, check out the top 12 ingredient swaps for better nutrition.
1. White Flour for Other Flours
Far too many common dishes are prepared with white flour (pies, cakes, pasta, bread, etc). A diet high in white flour (not to mention other refined carbs) can lead to blood sugar dips and spikes, and eventually contribute to metabolic disorders, like diabetes. Whole wheat flour is a little bit better, but even healthier alternatives include almond flour, coconut flour, or tapioca flour. You could also experiment with gluten free flours made from rice or chickpeas. If you absolutely must use white flour in a recipe, try doing half and half (half white, half whole wheat, for example).
Swapping flours can take some experimentation, and it’s not always equal amounts that will be called for. If you love to bake, try searching for recipes that use these healthier flours, as they all have their own unique consistencies, tastes, and textures.
2. Refined Sugar for Honey or Maple Syrup
Most all recipes that call for white sugar (AKA refined or table sugar) can easily be replaced with a healthier option. The best alternatives are raw honey and grade b or c maple syrup; but other options include coconut sugar and green leaf stevia. Or, try using natural fruit juice or fruit.
3. Flax Meal for Eggs
Eggs can certainly be a healthy part of a balanced diet (especially if they are pasture raised); but many people are allergic or sensitive to them. In recipes that call for eggs, you can swap 1 tablespoon of ground flax seeds mixed with 3 tablespoons of water per egg. Mix the flax seeds and water together well and refrigerate for 10-15 minutes before using it in your recipe. Chia seeds work well here, too, and both are packed full of heart-heathy, omega-3 fatty acids.
4. Sweet Potatoes for Potatoes
Sweet potatoes can definitely be considered a superfood, and they are one of healthiest carbohydrates available. Sweet potatoes have quite a different nutritional make-up than regular potatoes, and are far more nutritious. This sweet and tasty root veggie is impressively nutrient-dense, and includes health benefits such as blood sugar regulation, cancer prevention, and vision support due to its high content of vitamin A. Swap them directly for potatoes in your recipes.
5. Applesauce for Oil
Swapping applesauce for oil in baking can be an excellent way to lower your overall fat content. Remember that baking with healthy fats is not detrimental to your health (coconut oil, olive oil, grass-fed butter, and ghee are great options); but even the healthiest of fats are high in calories. Swap applesauce directly for oil, cup for cup.
6. Almond Butter for Peanut Butter
Not only are peanuts a common allergen (especially for kids), but they can also be quite inflammatory for some people. The good news is that almond butter is a delicious and healthy alternative that works as a perfect swap in every way. You can even eat it straight out of the jar with a spoon, just like peanut butter.
7. Dark Chocolate for Milk Chocolate
Milk chocolate is high in sugar and contains milk, which you might be avoiding or allergic to. This is a shame because pure chocolate is actually quite high in antioxidants and tastes great, but is often mixed with added sugars and artificial ingredients that undermine its health benefits. Opt for 70% or higher dark chocolate to reap the many benefits of this superfood, and be sure to avoid added sugars.
8. Sea Salt for Table Salt
Being that salt is the most common (and perhaps important) ingredient in cooking, it’s worth knowing which type to choose. The problem with salt is usually not with adding a reasonable amount to your foods when cooking, and more when you frequently eat processed and packaged foods that have high sodium contents. Table salt (or iodized salt) is much more highly processed and has had its trace mineral content largely removed, not to mention often includes anti-caking agents.
Himalayan, Celtic, and other types of sea salt will usually contain more potassium, zinc, and iron and are less refined than table salt. Kosher salt will also likely have less added ingredients and iodine, as well. When eliminating iodized salt from your diet, be sure to get enough from other sources, such as seaweed. Studies show that iodine deficiency can cause serious conditions like hypothyroidism.
9. Cauliflower for Rice
While rice is okay once in a while, it is a high-carbohydrate food that probably shouldn’t be part of your daily diet. Instead, try a unique and healthier version of rice using grated cauliflower. Cauliflower is high in fiber, vitamin C, and vitamin K, and has a neutral taste that goes well with a variety of dishes. Check out this recipe for further instructions.
10. Zucchini Noodles for Spaghetti
Spaghetti is usually made with white flour and offers little nutritional value. Zucchini offers high levels of vitamin C, B6, and magnesium, and is also a decent plant source of iron. To make zucchini “noodles,” it’s best to use a spiralizer, but you can also simply cut them into thin strips. Check out this recipe that also includes nutrient-dense eggplant and tomatoes.
11. Unsweetened Almond Milk for Cow’s Milk
Unless you’re using whole, organic cow’s milk (or even raw straight from the farm), try substituting an unsweetened coconut or almond milk. Dairy isn’t an option for everyone, so it’s good to have healthy alternatives. Whether it’s because you are dairy allergic or sensitive, are following a paleo type of diet, or aren’t able to include dairy for any other reason, almond milk can make a great substitution. Make sure to buy the unsweetened version, or try to make your own almond milk.
12. Vegetable Oils for Healthier Oils
It’s best to avoid processed vegetable oils like canola, corn, soy, and grapeseed, as they have been linked to increased rates of heart disease, along with other serious conditions. Instead, choose healthy oils like coconut oil, olive oil, organic butter, and ghee. Just this swap alone will make your cooking a whole lot healthier.
There you have it! Learning a handful of easy ingredient swaps can really make a difference to your health. Once you get the hang of it, making better choices will become second nature in the kitchen.