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.


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!


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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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  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=783304933 Rosie Clarke

    Butter is a superfood… look it up, I’m not even kidding.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100001616260631 Christine Henwood

    Calories are not unhealthy, but unfermented soybeans (edamame) are. And garbanzo beans are very healthy.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100002435836632 Beka Vinogradov

    Not all calories are created equal. While it’s better to count calories than nothing at all, something with less calories but more sugar is definitely not the healthier option.

    Also, try butterhead lettuce or red cabbage instead of iceberg for something extra nutritional value (that tastes good too). You don’t have to ditch the flavor just because you’re ditching the bun.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1060526321 Robert Miles

    I just did a check, the Edamame hummus you are raving about is even worse for you than normal hummus. 90 calories in 2 Tbsp, and 72 of them from fat.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100002567217278 Halie Dye

    applesauce isn’t a substitute for sugar (not saying you can’t do that, though) but a substitute for oil. That recipe even says “and only two tablespoons of butter in the entire batch!” There’s also an entire cup of sugar in that recipe. lol.

    • Gina Vaynshteyn

      You’re totally right! That’s my fault. According to a couple of recipes I have you *can* substitute it for sugar, but yes, you can also sub it for oil. The recipe I posted was an example of an oil sub. Sorry about that!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=673545765 Claudia Goedknegt

    Some of these recipes are really great! Don’t forget though, you need calories and carbs to make your body work, so don’t substitute all of them!
    I have another addition to the article; a substitute for breading.
    You can use a mixture of finely chopped almonds, poppy seeds and sesame seeds to bread a piece of salmon – it’s delicious! (put salt/pepper on salmon, cover in flower, egg white and nut/seeds mixture.)
    Or, with a nice chicken filet, substitute the breadcrumbs for finely cut pumpkin seeds; also very jummy!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1357445760 Laura Schulte

    Stevia can do weird stuff to your hormone levels… It’s not chemically engineered like Splenda but your body still thinks it needs to prepare for actual sugar when you eat Stevia and does the whole insulin thing without needing it which can cause major hormone imbalance if it happens too often

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1574394694 Amber Twis

    Ummm… it is not so much the chickpea that makes hummus high calorie it is the tahini that goes into hummus that makes original hummus high calorie. I will take a few extra calories from the chickpeas over soybeans that screw with your hormones any day.
    And agave syrup is deceitful. It is higher in fructose than table sugar. An better alternative would be maple syrup and coconut sugar. Coconut sugar is not perfect, just less processed and a low glycemic level like agave syrup.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100001395647671 Amadea Cortes

    I never thought of using zucchini ribbons as a pasta substitute. Thanks!

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