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Healthy hacks: 10 food swaps that don’t sacrifice flavor

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Antigone Senn, RDN
Veggie “noodles” made from zucchini are a great substitute for pasta.

You might think cooking and eating healthier means a total change in the dishes you love and the ingredients you normally use. But the reality is that there are tons of food swaps that help you keep the flavor with less fat, fewer calories and more nutrients.

It can be tough to forego some of your favorite ingredients, but over time your taste buds adjust. In fact, after a few weeks, the original versions of these foods will taste too salty or sweet.

The great thing about making these small changes is that you aren’t throwing away your favorite recipes, you’re just tweaking a few details. Here are 10 food “hacks” you can incorporate into your kitchen repertoire:

1. Instead of pasta, use veggie “noodles”: Use a mandolin or spiralizer to transform zucchini, carrots, sweet potato and other root vegetables into thin, pasta-like ribbons. My preferred tool: a spiralizing crank that resembles a cheese grater. Microwave the vegetable for 20 seconds first, then place it on the spiral and start cranking. You can also sauté them in a touch of olive oil for a similar effect. In a pinch? Use a vegetable peeler, though it may take a little more patience!

2. Instead of jam, use fresh fruit: PB&J is a favorite for kids (and adults!), but jams and jellies are loaded with sugar. Swap out the sweet spread for thin-sliced fresh fruit such as apples, bananas, peaches and pears. You can even shave the fruit with a mandolin slicer to add crunch, flavor and nutrients to savory sandwiches (think apple slices on a turkey sandwich).

3. Instead of mayo, use hummus or avocado. Mayo is nearly all fat, with zero nutrients. Meanwhile, hummus and avocado are both nutrient-rich, high in fiber and healthy fats. Plus, they’re delicious, elevating your so-so sandwich into something spectacular.

4. Instead of meat, use veggies. Sturdy “meaty” veggies, such as carrots, eggplant and portabella mushrooms, make great meat stand-ins. For a twist on pulled pork, place 5 medium carrots (peeled with a vegetable peeler and then shredded) along with one cup (or more) of barbeque sauce in a crockpot for six hours on low. Similarly, marinated portabella mushroom caps make great burger alternatives. Serve on whole grain buns or slider rolls.

5. Instead of bread, use greens. Whether you’re dining on burgers or a simple turkey and cheese, ditch the bread and wrap your sandwich in mustard-green or romaine lettuce leaves instead.

6. Instead of oil, use pureed fruit. When baking, replace oil in baked goods with puréed fruits such as apples, pumpkin and avocado (yes, they’re all technically fruits). 1/4 c oil = 1/4 c fruit.

7. Instead of potatoes, use “riced” vegetables. Cauliflower makes a tasty, fiber-rich alternative to rice or mashed potatoes. All you need is a food processor. Chop cauliflower into florets and pulse to create rice-like consistency and cook to taste. Prefer potatoes? Boil and mash the cauliflower to create a similar consistency.

8. Instead of flour-based sweet treats, explore other options. Check sites like Pinterest and All Recipes for flourless versions of baked goods like brownies and blondies. Oats and beans are often combined to replace wheat flour.

9. Instead of breadcrumbs, use oats or seeds. Making meatloaf or meatballs? Add oats as a binder instead of bread to add fiber. And instead of breading to coat foods like chicken cutlets or fish, try crushed hemp seeds or pumpkin seeds. Both pack a nutty flavor and crunch. A bonus: Virtually any seed is high in healthy nutrients like iron, zinc and omega-3s.

10. Instead of sour cream, use Greek yogurt. Thick and creamy Greek yogurt is a tangy and healthy swap for sour cream on baked potatoes (for example) but can also stand in for mayo, cream cheese and crème fraiche. Here’s a quick breakdown of where you can substitute the versatile nutrient powerhouse:

  • 1 cup butter = ¼ cup G. yogurt + ½ cup butter
  • 1 cup oil = ¾ cup G. yogurt
  • 1 cup buttermilk = ¼ cup G. yogurt + ¾ cup buttermilk
  • 1 cup milk = ¼ cup G. yogurt + ¾ cup milk

There’s no pressure to implement all of these switches overnight. Experiment to find out what you and your family end up liking, and make changes gradually. For example, instead of swapping out your entire dish of pasta with zucchini noodles, serve noodle dishes with half (or even ¼) of your regular noodles and half zucchini. The goal, of course, is to inch your way to a healthier plate without abandoning taste.

Jams and jellies are loaded with sugar, but Antigone Senn, RDN, points out that thinly sliced fresh fruits like apples and pears can work just as well, adding flavor and nutrients to your sandwiches.

Antigone Senn, RDN, is a registered dietitian who specializes in nutrition counseling and health coaching at Henry Ford Health System’s Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention.

For more tips on healthy eating, staying active and more, visit henryfordlivewell.com and subscribe to receive a weekly email with our latest posts.

This story is provided and presented by our sponsor Henry Ford Health System.

Members of the editorial and news staff of the USA TODAY Network were not involved in the creation of this content.
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