Just about everyone wants to eat healthier, but that doesn’t mean you want to live on a diet of merely quinoa and celery. People want to be able to indulge a little sometimes while still eating healthily. One way to do this is to make your favorite indulgent foods, and sneak healthy ingredients into them. Here are our favorite ideas for substituting nutrient-rich alternatives for less healthy ingredients, and to a little more health into your diet.
1. Bacon Substitutions
Let’s be honest—bacon is delicious, and sometimes there’s no replacing it. But sometimes a recipe calls for bacon and it’s possible to make healthier ingredient substitutions. If you’re making a soup or sauce that calls for bits of bacon, you might try substituting with Canadian bacon, turkey bacon, lean prosciutto or smoked turkey.
2. Sneak Health into Your Hamburgers
The hamburgers you get at the drive through sometimes have all manner of unpleasant and unhealthy additives, but when you make them at home, you can replace those with your own healthy additives. Because hamburgers are made out of ground meat, it’s easy to sneak in healthy ingredients. Try adding a mixture of red beans, mushrooms, onion, tomato paste, and oatmeal to your hamburgers. You’ll add nutrients and fiber and cut calories without sacrificing flavor.
3. Swap Sugar for Spice
Most desserts call for lots of sugar. Everyone knows that refined sugar isn’t great for you, but not everyone knows that how to make your desserts better for you through healthier ingredient substitutions. Try replacing some of the sugar in your recipes with spices and other bold flavorings. Health coach Anjali Shah suggests using cinnamon, while the Mayo Clinic notes that vanilla and nutmeg can also be used. While you probably won’t be able to (or want to) completely eliminate sugar from your desserts, you may be able to significantly reduce it.
4. Trade Butter for Applesauce
Reducing the sugar in your desserts is only half of the battle. Thankfully, there are ways to substitute nutrient-rich alternatives for some of the fats as well. When you’re baking, try substituting applesauce or prune puree for some of the oil, shortening or butter in your recipes. You probably don’t want to go above about half of the called-for fat, though, as this could negatively affect the consistency of your desserts.
5. Cut Out the White Flour
White flour may not be the worst thing in the world for you, but it certainly doesn’t have the health benefits of some other foods. So, when you’re baking, try replacing white flour with whole wheat flour. In many recipes, people won’t even notice that you’ve swapped in the healthier alternative.
Also, when you’re making brownies, you can try an even more daring substitution: black beans. Beans may seem like an unusual thing to put in a dessert, but they are actually great ingredients for healthier brownies that are still delicious. Try draining and pureeing a can of black beans, then substituting 1 cup of the puree for 1 cup of the recipe’s flour. This won’t just cut down on the flour, it will add extra protein to your dessert as well.
But these aren’t the only nutrient-rich alternatives to white flour. You can also try switching wheat flour out for almond flour. Almond flour will make your baked goods more protein-rich and offer plenty of other health benefits as well. While we can’t guarantee that you won’t notice the change in flavor, you may actually find that the nuttiness of almond flour actually improves some of your favorite recipes. You may have the best luck substituting just a part of the total flour. If you decide to switch all the flour out, you’ll need to increase the amount of rising agent by about 1/2 teaspoon per cup of almond flour.
6. Swap Cacao Nibs for Chocolate Chips
When you’re craving something chocolaty, you can still find ways of sneaking healthy ingredients in. Cacao nibs are roasted chunks of cocoa bean, and can be significantly healthier than chocolate chips. They’re high in antioxidants, don’t have the added sugar found in chocolate, and have far fewer additives as well. Be aware that they’re slightly bitter, so this may work best in recipes where there’s already some amount of sweetness present, or where a bitter note would blend well with the overall taste.
7. Replace Pasta with Produce
If you’re looking for nutrient-rich alternatives to pasta, the world of vegetables presents a number of great options. Spaghetti squash is one good possibility. Just cook the strings inside and serve with your favorite pasta sauce. You can also try cutting thin ribbons of zucchini and sautéeing them lightly. Finally, you can try boiling or steaming cauliflower. All of these options will create “pasta” with additional nutrients and fiber.