10 Healthy Substitutions Every Beginner Cook Should Know

Just because you want to start eating healthier, doesn’t mean you have to limit yourself to steamed veggies. That is just not very fun. Food is versatile, so it’s totally possible to whip up a patch of healthy chocolate chip cookies or some reduced-fat dressing without feeling guilty. It’s also tempting to fall for your grocery store’s misleading supply of “reduced fat” and “fat free” options; I say, try these DIY ideas out for yourself instead of buying the packaged version. They’re healthier and they’re super easy, too.

1. Avocado for butter

Avocado is the queen of fruit (it’s a fruit, right?), and like pretty much everyone else, I’m obsessed with it. When I’m not digging at it with a teaspoon, I use it when I’m baking and cooking. Since avocados are fatty and not too flavorful, they can easily take the place of butter in brownies, cookies, cakes and even sauces. Check out this recipe for healthier brownies.

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2. Zucchini ribbons for pasta

I know I have about twenty different spaghetti squash recipes, but I feel like the spaghetti squash craze is old news (if you haven’t tried spaghetti squash in place of pasta, you totally should though). Another way to prepare pasta with half as many calories is by using zucchini. Either slice a zucchini with a peeler, or thinly cut it into strips. Boil your zucchini “pasta” for about 2 minutes, and then add whatever sauce you want!

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3. Mashed cauliflower for mashed potatoes

I love mashed potatoes. Give me a steak with a side of buttery mashed potatoes and I’m in comfort food heaven. However, as we all know, mashed potatoes can be on the caloric side, so an awesome way to achieve a similar texture and taste is to use cauliflower. Cauliflower has a mild flavor, so it won’t really taste like you’re eating pureed veggies. This 5 ingredient recipe is easy and super tasty. For a ¾ cup serving,  it’s only 60 calories.

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4. Greek yogurt for sour cream

If you’re a Greek yogurt fanatic, you’ll know that unsweetened, 0% fat Greek yogurt tastes almost exactly the same as sour cream. However, Greek yogurt has half the fat and calories and it’s a decent source of lean protein. Win and win. A cool way to incorporate Greek yogurt is by using it in your salad. Here is a recipe for skinny Caesar dressing. You can also substitute it for mayo in your tuna and chicken salads.

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5. Iceberg lettuce for tortilla wraps and hamburger buns

If you’ve ever had a burger “protein-style” then you know it’s totally delicious. I didn’t believe it myself until I got one at In-n-Out and was totally surprised. No bread? No problem. By cutting it out, you save yourself about 120 calories.

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6. Edamame hummus for regular hummus

I love hummus. I love artichoke and spinach hummus, chipotle hummus, pesto hummus, you name it. But it’s deceivingly unhealthy, with over 60 calories for two tablespoons (which is NOTHING).  I know I end up eating more than what is suggested, so I switched over to edamame hummus. It has a similar texture and it’s yummy. My favorite edamame hummus is from Trader Joe’s, but you can make your own with this copycat recipe.

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7. Unsweetened applesauce for sugar

I learned this trick in 7th grade cooking class. We baked a batch of cookies with sugar, and we also baked one with applesauce. Both were delicious, and if a twelve year-old approves healthier chocolate chip cookies, then you’ve got yourself a solid substitute. Plus, the difference between sugar and applesauce is wild! One cup of sugar is over 770 calories, whereas a cup of unsweetened applesauce holds about 100 calories. Plus, applesauce has more fiber and nutrients. Try this flawless recipe for skinny chocolate chip cookies. I promise you will love them.

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8. Marshmallows for frosting

This sounds counter-intuitive, but marshmallows actually contain less calories and fat than the sugar and butter which you need to make frosting. Bake the healthy version of chocolate cupcakes using this recipe. These treats still sweet, but you’ll be chowing down on fewer calories.

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9. Stevia or Agave for sugar

These natural sweeteners may just seem all hype right now, but they’re actually so much better for you than Splenda, or any other kind of artificial sweetener. I use Stevia in my coffee and tea, but you can use it when you’re baking, as well (just find the right recipe, since Stevia is much sweeter than sugar. For a cup of sugar, you only need two tablespoons of Stevia powder). Agave is also a great option. I drizzle it in my oatmeal and use it to make my own dressings. Agave is also kind of tricky to work with, but The Madhava website is the home base for desserts which use agave instead of sugar.

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10. Prosciutto for bacon.

Even though I love bacon just as much as the next person, I’m over seeing it wrapped around everything that is edible. Oreos, Brussels sprouts, shrimp, whatever. Bacon isn’t terrible for you, but it’s pretty fatty. I love the smoky, maple-y flavor though, and simply abandoning it seems out of the question. I recently read about the ways in which you can incorporate prosciutto into your meals, and this seems like a great way to cut down on bacon but still preserve that bacon-y essence! Prosciutto has that same, amazing porky flavor, but compared to the 70 calories and 6 grams of fat bacon has, prosciutto only has 30 calories and 4 grams of fat.

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