Being healthy and fit is all about making small choices that add up to a healthier lifestyle. None of us are perfect, but we can make baby steps toward progress. That’s why, at Get Healthy U, we suggest making healthy food swaps to start; exchanging one treat for a better-for-you-alternative whenever you can.
We’ve all been there; you see an amazing recipe online or in a cookbook only to see that the ingredients are less than healthy. Disappointed, you walk away thinking you’ll never be able to make that guilty treat. But we pride ourselves on taking typically not-so-good-for-you food and making a healthier version so we can still indulge in our favorites without cheating on clean eating. And luckily, we’ve compiled some of our favorite, easy, intuitive swaps to get you on a path to a healthier lifestyle.
Check out our comprehensive guide to cooking and baking swaps featuring some of our favorite and most common recipe substitutions.
While cooking, you don’t have to be quite as careful; in fact it’s fun to be creative! Substitute different meats for one another, add in extra veggies, play around with spices, etc. But when it comes to baking, substituting can be a little tricky. Throw in a new ingredient and you may just come out with a gooey mess. So when it’s time to make a batch of cupcakes, make sure to pay attention to the ratios below!
Guide To Baking Substitutions
All Purpose Flour
We all know the bleached white stuff does nothing when it comes to nutrition. Here’s what we always swap with:
- Whole Wheat Flour –(sub ¾ cup whole wheat flour per 1 cup all purpose flour)
Whole wheat flour has way more nutritional value than its white counterpart. We use this substitute when we don’t mind a little denser, nuttier flavor such as in carrot cake or gingerbread!
- White Whole Wheat Flour (1 for 1)
White whole wheat flour is milled from whole white wheat rather than “red” wheat, which makes it lighter in color and less dense/bitter in flavor. Yet it’s got the same nutritional value of regular whole wheat flour, which we love! We use white whole wheat flour when we don’t want to sacrifice nutrition but still want the lightness of regular flour for more delicate cakes.
Related: 9 Surprising Uses For Pickle Juice
Vegetable Oil/Peanut Oil
Oil is an ingredient marked with much controversy. Is it okay to use? Is it bad to use? Well, we definitely believe that oil can add heart-healthy fats to your diet, but we do have certain preferences for which ones to use:
- Olive Oil (1 for 1)
- Olive oil is definitely our go-to oil for cooking. It’s a rich source of monounsaturated fatty acids and lends a very neutral flavor.
- Coconut Oil (1 for 1)
- Whether you’re cooking or baking, coconut oil can act a great substitute for other oils. We like subbing coconut oil to our sweet treats when baking– it even works for butter! And we’ll use it for certain cooking recipes too; it’s perfect for stir frys and recipes where you don’t mind a little coconut taste.
- Applesauce (1 for 1)
- Did you know you can actually substitute applesauce for oil when baking? Applesauce keeps everything moist and is usually subtle enough to go undetected! We like to make sure we get applesauce without extra sugar to keep the sugar content down.
The American diet is filled with sugar – WAY more than our bodies were ever designed to ingest. So, we try to limit our sugar intake at Get Health U to ward off sugar crashes, inflammation and disease.
Okay, so this isn’t a substitution, but one of the most common things we do when making a recipe that calls for sugar is just to reduce the amount! Most recipes have more sugar than they need and when you’re reducing your sugar intake in general, you won’t crave things to be as sweet!
- Raw Organic Honey (replace ½ to 1 [i.e. ¼ cup honey for ½ cup sugar]; but be careful of texture differences when baking & reduce other liquids)
Not just the honey bear from the grocery store, raw organic honey is unprocessed and high in antioxidants. Raw honey is the concentrated nectar of flowers that comes straight from the extractor; it is the only unheated, pure, unpasteurized, unprocessed honey. An alkaline-forming food, this type of honey contains ingredients similar to those found in fruits, which become alkaline in the digestive system. It doesn’t ferment in the stomach and it can be used to counteract acid indigestion. Honey is still sugar, so this isn’t an excuse to go overboard, though honey is made of 30 percent glucose, 40 percent fructose and 20 other sugars (as compared to table sugar’s 50/50 ratio) so your body has to expend a bit more energy when breaking it down. Plus, it also contains certain minerals not found in table sugar and can help with seasonal allergies and sore throats.
- Stevia (depends on form; sub 1 tablespoon liquid stevia for 1 cup sugar)
Stevia is a plant-contrived sweetener that is WAY sweeter than sugar and contains no calories. Due to its recent popularity, you can find stevia at most grocery stores in a variety of forms: powdered, liquid, leaves, etc.)
We would not consider ourselves anti-dairy at Get Healthy U, unless of course you have an allergy, but we’ve often found there are healthier alternatives as in the case of sour cream.
- Greek Yogurt (sub 1 for 1)
Greek yogurt has more protein than sour cream and less calories while still offering the tang that you’re looking for.
Milk chocolate is mostly made up of milk and sugar with as low as 10 percent cacao. Cacao powder is where the health benefits actually come in so an easy substitute is:
- Dark Chocolate (sub 1 for 1)
Dark chocolate containing at least 70% cacao is more bitter than milk chocolate however, most of us at Get Healthy U actually prefer it! Plus, it contains much greater amounts of cocoa, and therefore more flavonoids, than other forms of chocolate. It is also a part of the MUFA’s (monounsaturated fatty acids) which are the plant-based fats found in some of your many of your favorite foods–avocado, nuts and seeds, oils, olives, and dark chocolate! Studies show that these good-for-you fats enhance heart health and protect against chronic disease. And now the latest research shows that these nutrient dense superstars may even target fat where it’s hardest to lose–in your belly! Plus, the antioxidant rich superfood is actually a healthy treat in small amount!
We do drink regular milk here and there (nothing wrong with it!), but we often like to substitute nut milks for baking and drinking!
- Almond Milk (sub 1 for 1)
Almond milk, made from ground almonds, and is a great source of protein and heart healthy fats. It’s also packed with vitamin E, manganese, selenium, magnesium, potassium, zinc, iron, fiber, phosphorous and calcium. Wow!
- Cashew Milk (sub 1 for 1)
Cashew milk is a bit milder in flavor than almond milk and even creamier! It’s rich in vitamins and offers a little of the healthy fat that is essential to all diets. It’s also one of the creamiest dairy-free milk swaps a try, so it’s great to use in dairy free ice cream, smoothies or as a savory option for creamy sauces such as Alfredo.
- Rice Milk (sub 1 for 1)
Rice milk is made from boiled rice, brown rice syrup, brown rice starch and water. It’s the most hypoallergenic of all the milk substitutes. The unsaturated fat comes from rice bran oil, which can help lower your blood cholesterol. It contains lots of B Vitamins and other nutrients. Probably the mildest tasting of the milk substitutes, but higher in natural sugars due to the starchy nature of rice.
- Hemp Milk (sub 1 for 1)
Hemp milk is made from ground hemp seeds mixed with water and has a creamy, nutty flavor. It can be a good alternative for anyone with soy and nut allergies. It’s creamy and a little thicker in consistency. It also has protein, vitamins and minerals.
- Coconut Milk (sub 1 for 1)
Coconut Milk is getting lots of attention and is made from fresh coconut meat. It’s creamy, has a coconut flavor, and is full of vitamins and minerals similar to almond milk. Coconut milk contains saturated fat and is high in iron, which is great for non-meat eaters, with 22 percent of the recommended daily allowance. However, coconut milk in a carton is different than coconut milk in a can. We love using the canned version because that’s the kind that’s creamiest. Use it in Thai dishes, in your smoothies, in dairy-free ice cream or as coconut whipped cream!
Guide To Cooking Swaps
- Homemade Granola Bars
Swap out store bought energy bars and make your own! By making your own, you’ll be able to avoid added sugars, chemicals and preservatives, plus they’re delicious! Make a batches and freeze individually wrapped so they’re ready at all time to grab and go!
- KIND Granola
If the ingredient list of your favorite cereal could pass for a box of cookies… it may not be the best choice. Swap out sugar cereals or granolas for KIND Snacks Healthy Grains instead! A better KIND of granola is made from whole grains, full of nutrients and tastes amazing. KIND also boasts a list of healthy ingredients: gluten free, non-GMO, no refined sugars, contains Omega-3s.
- Love Grown Foods
Cereal made with beans? Yes, it’s a thing and yes, it’s actually good! Thanks to Love Grown Foods, you can keep having that crunchy cereal for breakfast but actually get a serving of beans to start your day!
Whether you’re ordering them at a restaurant or making them at home, French fries are a far cry from healthy eating. In fact, a small serving of fast food French Fries can have up to 300 calories. Here are our favorite snack sides instead.
- Sweet Potato Fries
Thick-cut sweet potato fries for regular fries is a must (keep the skins on for extra nutrients!). Sweet potatoes are a great source of iron, Vitamin C, D and B6.
- Carrot Fries
You can pretty much substitute any hard veggie (carrots, parsnips, etc.) for French fries. It’s a fun and healthier twist on the classic; plus we think carrot fries are just super yummy!
- Zucchini Chips
Another great veggie snack is zucchini chips. You’ll only need a few ingredients for this nutritious snack and it’s got way more nutrients than a french fry!
Mayo can be off-putting to many… but even if it’s the norm in your house, there are some simple swaps that will give you more bang for your buck.
- Greek Yogurt (sub ½ greek yogurt for ½ of mayo in recipes)
Packed with protein, we’ll often use Greek yogurt for half of the mayo in a recipe. It’s not a perfect flavor comparison which is why we still use mayo but just not the full amount!
- Avocado (sub 1:1)
If you typically lather mayo on your sandwiches, try mashed avocado instead. It still give you the creaminess you want and we actually prefer the flavor, not to mention the healthy fats and other nutritious benefits.
When you swap out mayo for a ripe avocado spread on your sandwich, you are avoiding cholesterol and saturated fat and increasing your intake of healthy fat, fiber and potassium. Plus, we think it just tastes better! Two tablespoons of mayonnaise has 115 calories and a quarter cup of avocado has 80 calories. And avocados are thought to help prevent certain cancers and enhance heart health.
- PB2 (sub 2:1; 2 tablespoons PB2 powder equals about 1 tablespoon peanut butter)
Okay, so natural peanut butter really isn’t bad for you (though if you typically buy Jiffy or another popular version out there, you may want to reconsider!), but some people are hesitant to eat it since it is higher in calories and fats, albeit good-for-you fats. So if this is a concern for you, there’s actually an alternative out there called PB2 and Chris herself loves it! It uses a special process of roasting the peanuts and squeezing out the extra oil leaving you with 85% less fat and calories than ordinary peanut butter (45 calories and 1.5 grams of fat). It comes in powder form and you just mix a little with water and it tastes just like normal peanut butter, except with a lot less fat and sugar. You can use it for PB&J’s, dip for fruit and veggies and plop it into smoothies. We also like to use it in our delicious chicken kebab recipe.
Ranch dressing is the most popular dressing in the United States, but it’s full of sodium, fat and chemicals (for the non-refrigerated versions!). The healthy fat and low levels of saturated fat make hummus a good choice for snacking. The fiber from the chickpeas helps you stay full, as well as aids in your digestion. Hummus has no sugar and relatively little sodium – another nutritional bonus!
While croutons and/or wonton strips are often added to salads for additional crunch, you can totally use a much healthier alternative with the same affect. Nuts like almonds, walnuts and cashews are delicious atop of bed of greens and provide good-for-you fat and crunch.
While one of the most common foods around the world, white rice doesn’t offer much when it comes to nutrition. Here’s what we like to use instead:
- Brown Rice (sub 1 for 1)
Brown rice is one of the easiest substitutes you can make (or order!) for white rice because it cooks pretty much the exact same way. But it’s got way more fiber, protein and way more nutrients.
- Quinoa (sub 1 for 1)
Quinoa is actually a compete protein offering all nine essential amino acids. It definitely has a different flavor than plain white rice but makes for a healthy substitute in certain recipes.
Are you a sandwich lover? It’s often hard to beat the versatility and ease of making a sandwich, but when you want something a bit lighter, you can often swap a…
- Lettuce Wrap (1 large iceburg leaf for two pieces of bread)
Skip the carbs and wrap your meat and cheese and a leaf of lettuce!
- Sweet Potato Toast
Skip your normal toast in the morning and try sweet potato toast instead! Simply cut a sweet potato vertically into 1/2 inch slices and toss in the toaster 3-4 times until softened. Dress them up with a variety of toppings (we’ve got 4 ideas for you here.)
Few things are as comforting as a hefty plate of pasta, but white pastas offer slim to no nutrition benefits. You can easily swap whole wheat pasta in any recipe, but if you’re looking for a low-carb option, you may want to try these swaps:
- Spaghetti Squash
Spaghetti squash is one of nature’s greatest gifts to healthy eaters. It’s stringy like spaghetti but low carb and nutritious! It would definitely react differently in say, a pasta casserole recipe so you may not want to try substituting it for the first time when you have guests coming over but if you simply want a plate of pasta with red sauce, it’s an easy trade.
- Zucchini Noodles
While potatoes are an inexpensive, filling vegetable, that we wouldn’t say are “bad” per say, we typically prefer to swap it with:
- Sweet Potatoes
Sweet potatoes are incredibly high in fiber, antioxidants (especially beta-carotene), vitamin A, potassium and calcium. Sweet potatoes also contain quercetin, an anti-inflammatory and are only 103 calories per medium potato. We substitute them whole as a baked potato, mashed, even in shepherd’s pie!
Bouillon cubes are often called for in certain recipes when looking for a boost of flavor. However, they are less than healthy often filled with tons of salt, MSG and trans fat – no thank you. Instead, you can add a healthy depth of flavor with these ingredients:
A mirepoix is simply a mixture of chopped onion, carrots and celery with two parts onion and one part both carrots and celery. It’s one of the absolute healthiest ways to create layers of flavor to any soup or stew recipe
Garlic is one of the most potent ingredients mother nature has to offer. It adds tons of flavor as well as numerous health benefits.
Mushrooms, when cooked, provide an “umami” flavor that creates depth to your dish without sacrificing health.
- Homemade chicken/beef stock
There’s no better way to create flavor at the very base level of a recipe than by making your own homemade stock. If you’ve never tried it before, it’s a very fun and ultimately rewarding process which yields amazing results.
The path to getting healthy can sometimes feel intimidating, but if you take small steps to better your health those small changes will eventually add up to a big results. Whether you want get healthy to lose weight, feel better, or simply have more energy, we’re here to support you with these simple, manageable swaps you can make starting today. The next time you’re at the grocery store, try to make these food swaps and you’ll be eating better and feeling great in no time.
- Artic Zero
Ice cream is a favorite food for most people, but a pint of Chunky Monkey can set you back 1,160 calories and 72 grams of fat, not to mention put you in a state of sugar shock. Luckily, there are some new products on the market like Arctic Zero. Artic Zero is basically a delicious-tasting non-GMO protein shake you can spoon. It is made with whey protein, and if you have one of those nights where you sit down and devour a whole pint in front of the TV, you’d only be setting yourself back by 150 calories! Arctic Zero was developed to provide the health benefits, nutrition, and the taste of ice cream without the negative impact like artificial flavors, colors or sweeteners. Halo Top is another good alternative on the market too!
- Fresh Fruit
Do you have a sweet tooth? If you find yourself turning to candy to satisfy your sweet tooth, swap it out by switching to fresh fruit instead. Eat a piece of fruit as a snack or top it on Greek yogurt for a healthy breakfast. You can also make fruit smoothies in the morning that will not only give your body the nutrients it needs to start the day right, but satisfy your sweet tooth naturally. You can even throw a few veggies in there–if combined with enough fruit, you won’t even taste it!
- Homemade Whip Cream
There’s really no need to buy packaged cool whip when making whipped cream yourself takes less than 5 minutes. Plus you save yourself trans fat, added sugars and artificial flavors.