Cut calories and fat while amping up protein, fiber, and flavor with these genius ingredient swaps
You’ve long been using Greek yogurt in place of sour cream, mayo, and cream; upgraded from white pasta to whole-wheat noodles; and maybe even ditched wraps for lettuce leaves. All smart moves—and, luckily for our taste buds, the simple shortcuts don’t stop there. The possibilities for good-for-you foods are almost endless, so stock up on avocados, black beans, coffee, and even dark chocolate, and start making all your favorite recipes healthier.
While alcohol isn’t low-calorie, the sugary mixers you add to make drinks can really do you in. Try coconut water instead, which has a measly 6 calories per ounce. “It provides key electrolytes such as potassium, magnesium, and calcium,” says Patricia Bannan, R.D., author of Eat Right When Time is Tight. “These may help keep you hydrated and therefore avoid a hangover if you overdo it.” Be sure to choose all-natural coconut water, never from concentrate, for the healthiest hooch.
Not only for guac, avocado works great as a replacement for butter in baked goods such as muffins and breads without altering the flavor, says Diane Henderiks, R.D., personal chef and founder of Dish with Diane. Use the same amount of pureed avocado as you would butter, and you’ll save about 80 calories, 9 grams of fat, and 7 grams of saturated fat per tablespoon. Make the same one-to-one swap for mayo in dressing and sandwiches like tuna fish to eliminate about 70 calories, 8 grams of fat, and 1 gram of saturated per tablespoon. “The more you mash and whisk avocado, the smoother it becomes,” Henderiks adds.
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Keep a bag of organic edamame in your freezer, and use the little green beans as ice cubes in your smoothie for a good plant-based source of protein, Henderiks says. Just a quarter cup contains about 3 grams for 30 calories.
Brownies aren’t exactly known for being healthy, but adding black beans can prevent the blood sugar spikes that are often associated with eating sweets, Bannan says. Nope, the legumes don’t change the flavor, but they do add filling protein and fiber and make for a moister dessert. If your recipe calls for a cup of flour, swap it with a cup of black bean puree. Bonus: Now your treats are gluten-free.
The mashed cauliflower low-carb fanatics eat instead of mashed potatoes can also be used to make vegan-friendly creamy soups. “Add extra of whatever veggie you will be using in the soup at the beginning, then remove some once it’s cooked, puree until smooth, and return it to the pot, adding a cup at a time until the soup thickens,” Henderiks says. Cauliflower, carrots, zucchini, potatoes, and white beans all work well. You can even sub the pureed veggies for cream, but be sure to get them to a very smooth consistency by blending with some broth or milk.
In moderation, java may protect against type 2 diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, and stroke—and it also gives salmon, pork, steak, bison, and chicken a smoky flavor. Using brewed coffee will tenderize the meat and means you only need a bit of oil, if any. Let your protein soak in the flavor of a marinade or throw it into a slow cooker, Henderiks says.
Instead of using all nutritionally lacking white flour in your pancakes, quick breads, and cookies, grind oats in a blender until they are a fine powder, Henderiks suggests. Replace half the flour with oat powder, and you won’t notice much change in the consistency while adding more protein and about four times the fiber.
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You should never feel guilty for eating a little dark chocolate, as studies suggest it may lower “bad” LDL cholesterol and raise “good” HDL cholesterol, reduce blood pressure and inflammation, keep your brain sharp, and prevent heart disease and diabetes. But the key here is “a little” since those powerful flavonols come with a good amount of calories and fat. Henderiks likes to melt 1 tablespoon dark chocolate chips and drizzle it over fruit for a healthy snack or dessert that’s sweet enough to satisfy your craving.