Healthy Recipe Substitutions

Make your favorite recipes healthier with a few simple substitutions, and you'll save on calories, carbs, fat, and sodium. We'll show you how to enjoy classic recipes on a diabetic diet.

Use Fat-Free Plain Yogurt, Not Sour Cream

When your recipe calls for: Sour cream
Use this instead: Fat-free plain yogurt
Best for: Sauces and some baked goods

Sour cream is cream treated with lactic acid to give it the trademark tangy flavor. Yogurt has a slightly different tang, but it's a good substitute in most savory sauces and dips. For sweet dips and sauces, you can use a flavored fat-free yogurt, such as vanilla or strawberry. Yogurt will also yield similar results when substituted for sour cream in baked goods.

1 cup sour cream: 370 calories, 38 g fat (22 g sat. fat), 4 g protein
1 cup fat-free plain yogurt: 130 calories, 0 g fat, 13 g protein

Use Crushed Cereal, Not Bread Crumbs

When your recipe calls for: Fine dry bread crumbs
Use this instead: Crushed fiber cereal
Best for: Coatings and toppings

Fine dry bread crumbs are commonly used as coatings for fried or baked fish or chicken or toppings for vegetable and starch casseroles. Substituting cereal will give you a darker, crunchier coating with fewer calories and less sodium.

1/2 cup fine dry breadcrumbs: 210 calories, 400 mg sodium (seasoned breadcrumbs have 1,055 mg sodium), 2 g fiber
1/2 cup crushed high-fiber cereal (such as bran flakes, bran buds, or shredded wheat): 100 calories, 175 mg sodium, 24 g fiber

Make the switch in this Green Bean Casserole recipe

Use Yogurt and Cottage Cheese, Not Sour Cream

When your recipe calls for: Sour cream
Use this instead: Equal parts low-fat yogurt and no-salt-added low-fat cottage cheese
Best for: Dips and salad dressings

Dips and salad dressings made with sour cream are smooth, creamy, and have a tangy zip, but they also can be loaded with fat, calories, and sodium. Get the same smooth tanginess by replacing sour cream with a combination of fat-free yogurt and no-salt-added reduced-fat cottage cheese.

1/2 cup sour cream: 220 calories, 23 g fat (13 g sat. fat), 90 mg sodium
1/4 cup fat-free fat plain yogurt plus 1/4 cup 2% no-salt-added cottage cheese: 80 calories, 1 g fat (1 g sat. fat), 50 mg sodium

Tip: Combine the yogurt and cottage cheese in a food processor before adding to dips and salad dressings to make it smoother and creamier.

Make the switch in this Thai Spinach Dip recipe

Use Ground Turkey, Not Ground Beef

When your recipe calls for: Ground beef
Use this instead: Lean ground turkey breast
Best for: Meat sauces, burgers, meat loaves, and tacos

Ground beef is available with varying amounts of fat. Generally, the cheaper the ground beef, the higher the fat content. However, buying high-fat, inexpensive ground beef is not truly saving you much money because much of the fat cooks off, leaving you with less meat. Regular ground turkey or the best choice, ground turkey breast, will cut the fat in your recipes significantly.

Regular ground beef or hamburger: up to 30 percent fat
Ground chuck: 15 to 20 percent fat
Ground round and ground sirloin: about 10 percent fat
Regular ground turkey: 8 percent fat
Ground turkey breast: less than 1 percent fat

Tip: Start off with half ground beef and half ground turkey breast to get used to the switch.

Make the switch in this Hamburger Pie recipe

Use Fat-Free Evaporated Milk, Not Heavy Cream

When your recipe calls for: Heavy cream
Use this instead: Fat-free evaporated milk
Best for: Custards, desserts, and quiches

Cream is made from unhomogenized cows' milk. When unhomogenized milk stands, it naturally separates into two layers: The milk-fat cream goes to the top, and the fat-free milk goes to the bottom. The fat is skimmed off the milk (creating skim milk) and the milk-fat top is pasteurized to become commercial heavy cream or whipping cream. Evaporated milk is a canned, unsweetened milk product that is similar in consistency to cream.

1/2 cup heavy cream: 414 calories, 44 g fat (28 g sat. fat)
1/2 cup fat-free evaporated milk: 175 calories, 0 g fat

Tip: Cream can double in volume when whipped, while evaporated milk will not, so do not make this substitution when making a dessert topping or any recipe that calls for the cream to be whipped.

Use Applesauce and Buttermilk, Not Oil

When your recipe calls for: Vegetable oil
Use this instead: Equal parts applesauce and buttermilk
Best for: Muffins, quick breads, and cakes from mixes

Because oils are dense with calories and fat, it is important to consume them in moderation. An applesauce-and-buttermilk combination works well as an oil replacement in muffins, quick breads, and cakes that call for oil (especially cakes from mixes). If the baking recipe calls for 1/2 cup oil, replace that with 1/4 cup unsweetened applesauce plus 1/4 cup low-fat buttermilk.

1/2 cup oil: 900 calories, 10 g fat
1/4 cup unsweetened applesauce plus 1/4 cup low-fat buttermilk: 50 calories, 1 g fat

Note: Remember to count the carbs for the applesauce and buttermilk when you use them instead of oil in a recipe.

Make the switch in this Ginger Pear Muffin recipe

Use Reduced-Fat Cheese, Not Regular Cheese

When your recipe calls for: Cheese
Use this instead: Low-fat or fat-free cheese
Best for: Sandwiches and salads

Full-fat cheese can be satisfying, and it can fit into your eating plan in moderation. But if you eat cheese or cook with cheese on a regular basis, you can save fat by swapping some of it for reduced-fat or low-fat cheese. But beware of labels! Not all reduced-fat cheeses are created equal -- cheeses that are lower in fat often have more sodium than their full-fat counterparts.

1 ounce regular cheddar cheese: 9 g fat (6 g sat. fat), 180 mg sodium
1 ounce reduced-fat cheddar cheese: 6 g fat, 240 mg sodium
1 ounce fat-free cheddar cheese: 0 g fat, 280 mg sodium

Tip: If you want the cheese to melt, use reduced-fat or low-fat cheese rather than fat-free cheese, which can get rubbery rather than melty.

Use Fresh Herbs, Not Seasoning Salt

When your recipe calls for: Seasoning salt
Use this instead: Salt-free dried herb blends, fresh herbs, garlic, or fresh peppers
Best for: Entrees, side dishes, dips, and sauces

While you can't control how much salt and sodium food companies add to processed foods (which is where most Americans consume most of their sodium), you can control how much salt you add to your foods at the table and in the kitchen. It may seem obvious that table salt and seasoning salt contain loads of sodium, but seasoning blends can also sneak high levels of salt into your foods. There are several salt-free seasoning blends on the market today, such as the Mrs. Dash brand. Read labels carefully to see if the package says "salt-free" or "sodium-free" and lists 0 milligrams of sodium on the nutrition facts label.

You can also use dried or fresh herbs to season your dishes. Because fresh herbs are less concentrated than dried, you will need to use about twice as much fresh herb.

1 teaspoon salt: 2,325 mg sodium
1 teaspoon seasoning salt: 1,520 mg sodium
1 teaspoon Cajun seasoning blend: 2,000 mg sodium

Tip: If using dried herbs, add them near the end of cooking to keep them from discoloring.

Use Trans Fat- and Saturated Fat-Free Margarine, Not Shortening

When your recipe calls for: Shortening
Use this instead: Trans fat- and saturated fat-free shortening or margarine
Best for: Cookies and piecrusts

Before doctors and scientists discovered the dangers lurking in trans fats, most margarines and shortenings were made by hydrogenating liquid oils. Hydrogenating oil creates trans fats, also known as partially hydrogenated fats. According to the American Heart Association, trans fats can raise your LDL (bad) cholesterol and lower your HDL (good) cholesterol. Plus, consuming trans fats can increase your risk of heart disease.

Because of the big push to get rid of as much partially hydrogenated fat as possible, many baking ingredients are now made with 0 grams of trans fat per serving. Look for shortenings and oils made with canola oil, soy oil, and/or cottonseed oil. When baking cookies or piecrusts, use shortening or margarine that doesn't have trans fat or saturated fat.

Tip: If your cookies spread more than usual when using a trans fat- and saturated fat-free margarine or shortening, try baking them at 25°F hotter than the usual temperature, and take them out of the oven 1 to 2 minutes earlier.

Use Cooking Spray, Not Butter or Margarine

When your recipe calls for: Butter
Use this instead: Cooking spray and/or nonstick cookware
Best for: Baking and sauteing

Butter is loaded with calories, fat, saturated fat, and sodium. Nonstick cooking spray is low in all categories, but be careful -- sprays, and especially spray butters, are not completely fat free. Five sprays have 1 gram of fat, and 25 sprays would get you up to 1 gram of saturated fat.

1 tablespoon butter: 100 calories, 12 g fat (7 g sat. fat), 80 mg sodium
1 serving nonstick cooking spray (1 spray or about 1/3 of a second): 2 calories, 0 g fat, 0 mg sodium

Tip: Nonstick cooking spray is best to substitute for butter when sauteing chicken, beef, pork, or shrimp, or making a vegetable stir-fry. It's also good for greasing cake, cookie, and muffin pans.

Use Ricotta Cheese and Yogurt, Not Cream Cheese

When your recipe calls for: Cream cheese
Use this instead: Fat-free ricotta cheese blended with fat-free plain yogurt
Best for: Spreads

Full-fat cream cheese has about 33 percent milk fat, which makes it perfect for spreading but high in calories and saturated fat. The next time you're looking for a bagel spread or an accompaniment to an appetizer, blend or process half fat-free ricotta cheese and half fat-free plain yogurt in a blender or food processor instead.

1 tablespoon cream cheese: 50 calories, 5 g fat (3 g sat. fat)
1 tablespoon mixed fat-free ricotta cheese and fat-free plain yogurt: 15 calories, 0 g fat

Use Quinoa, Not White Rice

When your recipe calls for: Dry white rice
Use this instead: Uncooked quinoa or whole wheat couscous
Best for: Casseroles, baked dishes, tacos, and pasta salad dishes

Long grain white rice and quinoa cook in the same way -- 15 minutes, covered, with 1 part grains to 2 parts water. Make this substitution for anything you typically serve with rice or in casseroles and baked dishes that start with dry white rice.

1/3 cup cooked white rice: 70 calories, 0 g fiber, 1 g protein
1/3 cup cooked quinoa: 70 calories, 2 g fiber, 3 g protein

Use Prunes, Not Oil

When your recipe calls for: Vegetable oil
Use this instead: Pureed prunes
Best for: Brownies and dark quick breads

Cutting oil from breads, brownies, and baked goods is an easy way to reduce the fat and calories in these products. Make prune puree by processing or blending prunes and a few tablespoons of water in a food processor or blender. You can also purchase prune baby food or a fruit puree (typically apple and prune mixture) for baking.

Tip: To substitute pureed prunes for vegetable oil in a recipe, start by replacing only about half of the oil to get used to the flavor. In some recipes you may be able to work your way (and your taste buds) up to replacing all of the oil. Because prunes are darker than baking oil, they may discolor your batter, so it is best to substitute prunes in darker batters, such as brownies and quick breads.

Note: Remember to count the carbs for prunes when you use them instead of oil in a recipe.

Make the switch in this Multigrain Bread recipe

Use Fat-Free Milk, Not Whole Milk

When your recipe calls for: Whole milk
Use this instead: Fat-free (skim) or low-fat milk
Best for: Beverages, sauces, and baked goods

Whole milk is pasteurized milk with the nutrients just as it came from the cow. It typically contains about 31/2 percent milk fat, which translates to 8 grams of fat (5 grams of saturated fat) per serving. Fat-free milk contains less than 1/2 percent milk fat, or 0 grams of fat, and contains slightly more protein than whole milk.

Tip: Fat-free milk is thinner than whole milk, so you may notice slight differences in beverages, but switch it out in your favorite sauces, baked goods, and pancakes and you'll never know the difference.

Use Whole Wheat Flour, Not All-Purpose Flour

When your recipe calls for: All-purpose flour
Use this instead: Whole wheat flour and all-purpose flour blend
Best for: Cookies, breads, and muffins

Other than the added energy you can get from refined carbohydrate, there is no health benefit to all-purpose flour. Whole wheat flour has more fiber and protein. The U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends that we get half of our servings of grains from whole grain sources. If the taste of whole wheat flour doesn't suit you, start with half whole wheat and half all-purpose flour in recipes.

1 cup all-purpose flour: 3 g fiber, 13 g protein
1 cup whole wheat flour: 15 g fiber, 16 g protein

Tip: If you don't like the discoloration from whole wheat flour, use white whole wheat flour, which has the same health benefits as regular whole wheat flour.

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