One of the easiest ways to lose weight is changing your diet. My older brother is the perfect example of this: When he was in his early 30s, he completely altered the way he ate. He stopped eating at fast food and casual chain restaurants, and he started consuming a plant-based diet. He lost a significant amount of weight, and nothing about his workout routine was different. If one of your goals for 2016 is to shed some pounds, why not make it a point to improve your diet? Start by making some simple changes. I’m not saying that you have to cut flavor, but do cut fat and sugar. A few healthy ingredient substitutions can go along way. Here are 12 swaps you should make today.
Cinnamon can be used as a substitute for sugar. Like vanilla, the spice can amplify sweetness. According to health coach and blogger Anjali Shah of The Picky Eater, adding a teaspoon of cinnamon to baked goods like muffins will result in a treat that is “less sweet, but with other spices and salt, you can trick your taste buds into thinking there’s more sugar than there is.” If you’re trying to cut back on sugar, consider eliminating it from your daily coffee drink. Add cinnamon instead!
Soda and sports drinks are the No. 1 source of added sugar in the American diet. More sugar equals more calories. Start drinking sparkling water instead of these sugary beverages. Fill a glass with ice, pour in the fizzy water, and flavor with a slice of fresh citrus, cucumber, muddled berries, or herbs. Although it make take some getting used to, this is a refreshing sugar- and calorie-free sipper. Avoid tonic water when possible: Many commercial brands are full of sugar.
Applesauce is often used as a substitute for sugar, oil, or butter. Replace sugar with unsweetened applesauce and you can significantly reduce the amount of calories of a dish: One cup of sugar has more than 700 calories, while the same amount of applesauce has about 100 calories. Do note that when baking with applesauce instead of sugar, the ratio is equal, but since applesauce has a liquid-like texture, the total amount of liquid in the recipe should be reduced by 1/4 cup. You can also cut fat by using applesauce in place of oil or butter.
Avocados are naturally fatty, with a rich and creamy texture. This makes avocado the perfect substitute for butter in certain dishes. Case in point: the ubiquitous but wildly delicious avocado toast. Devin Alexander, the chef behind The Biggest Loser cookbooks, recommends using puréed avocado instead of butter when making chocolate icing or brownies. “Adjust cocoa powder or other ingredients as you like, but in a true fudge-type icing, you’re never going to taste the avocado,” Alexander says. Mashed or puréed avocado is also a nice replacement for mayonnaise. Use it in egg or tuna salad, dips, or salad dressing.
Looking to cut calories? Instead of eating whole-wheat bread (which clocks in at around 138 calories for two slices), make your sandwich on whole-wheat pita bread. At just 80 calories, it’s a more healthful option than bread. Pita is also super versatile. Slice in half and stuff with your favorite vegetable fillings and hummus to make a sandwich. Toast in the oven until crisp, then top with avocado, a tomato slice, and a fried egg. Slice into wedges and bake to make nutritious snacking chips. Top with marinara sauce, cheese, and mushrooms, then bake for tasty pita pizzas. Slice into small strips, season with everything bagel spices, bake until crunchy, then use as croutons in salads.
I used to work with a girl who would eat a vegetable-packed mixed-green salad every day for lunch. Instead of getting dressing, she would ask for a side of balsamic vinegar. This was her way of ensuring that at least one meal of the day was healthy and vegetable-driven. Balsamic vinegar is an ingredient that packs a punch of flavor without a lot of fat. Any type of vinegar is a nice substitute for other liquids (especially oils) in salad dressings and marinades. Instead of finishing a dish with a drizzle of oil, finish it with a drizzle of vinegar. Use sparingly, because a little balsamic goes a long way!
Any time a recipe calls for mayonnaise, sour cream, or buttermilk, use plain Greek yogurt instead. It has significantly less fat, but the same texture and mouthfeel. Use Greek yogurt to make dips more healthy, to tenderize lean protein like chicken, and to whip up creamy salad dressings. Mix it with herbs, season with citrus, or stir in hot sauce. I always have plain Greek yogurt in my fridge. It’s also a great substitute for milk in fruit smoothies, baked goods, and side dishes such as twice-baked potatoes.
Canned beans are super convenient, but if you have time, it’s cheaper and more figure-friendly to make beans from scratch. Canned beans are high in sodium and preservatives, so making the switch to dried beans is worth it. Invest in a pressure cooker, and you eliminate the need to soak the beans overnight and cook them for hours on the stove. If you’re not into culinary gadgets, make a big batch of beans every Sunday. Use them throughout the week in various preparations. One Sunday, make black beans and enjoy them in enchiladas, mixed with rice, and in soup all week. The following Sunday, stew up a batch of white cannelloni beans and eat them in a tomato, sausage, kale soup; mixed with broccoli rabe as a side dish for roast chicken; or puréed as a hummus-like appetizer dip.
Spiralizers have become a trendy gadget recently, and rightfully so—they are a favorite among nutritionists. Zucchini can be turned into a pasta substitute that is carb-free and doesn’t require any boiling. It’s a quick and healthy replacement that’s also scrumptious. Don’t believe me? Here are seven recipes that demonstrate just how tasty zucchini pasta can be.
When a recipe calls for cream, use coconut milk instead. It’s ideal in soups and stews that require an element of creaminess. Coconut milk can also replace cream and oil in baked goods. You can even turn it into a whipped cream topping to serve with cakes and stewed fruit. Basically think of coconut milk as a healthy non-dairy substitute for dairy. If you’re lactose-intolerant, you should try cooking with it.
Not everyone is into cooking spray, but I swear by Pam. It’s a light and easy spray that eliminates the need for butter or oil. Whenever a cake recipe instructs you to grease and flour the pan with butter, I use Pam instead. It’s easier and less messy.
Regular hummus is vegan and filled with heart-healthy fats and protein, but what makes it dangerous is the fact that it’s so damn delicious. The serving size for 80 calories of common storebought hummus is just two tablespoons. Since most people don’t measure out two tablespoons of hummus and instead enjoy the spread right out of the tub without noticing how much they are really consuming, they end up overeating. Switching to an edamame-based hummus will reduce your overall fat and calorie intake.
When cooking, what healthy ingredient substitutions do you make?