10 Delicious, Calorie-Saving Ingredient Swaps

Cut the calories and fat while saving the flavor with these healthy ingredient substitutions

February 28, 2013
healthy ingredient substitutions
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If swapping out butter or sugar for something less sinful never left you with a dryer, blander version of your usual recipe, then maybe we'd all be thin. But eating healthier doesn't have to involve a "taste penalty," says Missy Chase Lapine, author of four cookbooks as "The Sneaky Chef," in which she "sneaks" vegetables into kids' favorite foods to help them eat healthier.

The 10 healthy ingredient substitutions that follow--some from Lapine--make lighter versions of favorite dishes that are just as flavorful. "It's an effortless way to shave off 320 calories per day or more," she says. "You can eat just as much food, and without giving up taste." And there's a bonus: Each comes with a nutrient boost you won't get with the original ingredient.

Greek yogurt healthy ingredient swaps
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Swap Sour Cream for Fat-Free Greek Yogurt

What You'll Save: Calories and fat. One cup of sour cream has 492 calories and 48 g of fat. The yogurt has just 130 calories and zero fat.

When to Use It: Any time, says Lapine. "It's super thick and creamy, and works pretty much all the time," she says. The tart kick of the yogurt works for taco night, in salad dressings, dips, mashed potatoes, and when baking--this swap works one-to-one in each situation.

The Boost: Protein. One cup of sour cream has 7.3 g of the muscle-building nutrient. The yogurt has more than triple that--23 g in a cup.

(Related: Food pairings that are healthier together)

avocado healthy ingredient substitutions
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Swap Mayo for Mashed Ripe Avocado

What You'll Save: 125 calories per ounce.

When to Use It: As a spread on sandwiches, mixed in to tuna or chicken salad, or in dips. The avocado gives any dish the creaminess of the mayo, but with an added kick of guacamole-like flavor. (Related: Healthy sandwich recipes)

The Boost: Potassium. That same ounce of avocado delivers 137 mg of this nutrient, which can help protect you against heart disease, stroke, cancer, and arthritis.

applesauce healthy ingredient swaps
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Swap Butter for Unsweetened Applesauce or Pumpkin Puree

What You'll Save: The fruit purees have no fat, and you'll also save calories. Both the pumpkin and applesauce are 50 calories for half a cup, versus 810 calories for the equivalent amount of butter.

When to Use It: When baking, says Devon Metz, RD, a Boulder, CO-based nutritionist. Fruit purees are often used as baking swaps to add sweetness while keeping baked goods light. Metz says that if you aren't gung-ho about going all the way with the swap, start with half: "You can make them a little bit healthier that way," she says.

The Boost: Fiber. Both pumpkin and apple are packed with the filling nutrient, meaning you'll feel fuller after fewer cookies.

whole wheat flour healthy ingredient swaps
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Swap Half the White Flour for Whole Wheat

What You'll Save: You'll preserve flavor, while also adding more fiber to your food. As noted with the applesauce, making a half-swap may not make the recipe perfect, but it will make it healthier. Lapine suggests this case because it fits her "sneaky" profile: While some may not enjoy the nutty, "healthy" taste of an all-whole wheat cookie, cake, or bread, they'll never notice with the half-swap.

When to Use It: Whenever you're baking.

The Boost: Again, fiber. Whole wheat has 3.4 g in just one ounce, compared to less than 1 g for the same amount of all-purpose flour.

mushrooms: healthy ingredient swaps
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Swap Half the Meat in Your Chili for Mushrooms

What You'll Save: Calories like crazy. For every half-pound of lean ground beef you replace with 2 cups of mushrooms, you'll save 375 calories.

When to Use It: When you start your pot of chili. Dice the mushrooms and cook them slow and low until they release their juices. Then continue to make the chili as you normally would. The mushrooms will give the pot lots of extra flavor--reducing the need for as many salt-heavy seasonings--and cut a mountain of calories.

The Boost: Potassium. Those two cups of mushrooms will give your pot 915 mg of the cancer-fighting nutrient.

dried herbs: healthy ingredient swaps
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Swap Garlic Salt or Celery Salt for Dried Herb Seasonings

What You'll Save: Your blood pressure. Though the sodium amounts are often similar by the teaspoon or tablespoon when using a pre-made mix, the flavor of no-salt dried herbs (and herb mixtures) is stronger ... so you'll need less, and use less salt.

When to Use It: In chili, seafood boils, or any time you'd dash on a heap of seasoned salt while cooking.

The Boost: There are plenty: Rosemary has been shown to improve memory, thyme contains antioxidant-rich flavonoids, and oregano has been found to fight cancer. Pile 'em on.

coconut milk: healthy ingredient swaps
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Swap Cream for Coconut Milk

What You'll Save: Calories. One tablespoon of coconut milk has just 28 calories, compared to 52 for the same amount of cream.

When to Use It: In soups and sauces with strong flavors, you'll never know the difference--the creaminess of a can of coconut milk provides the same effect as the heavy cream, but without the calories or fat.

The Boost: Again, potassium: Coconut milk has triple the potassium of cream--31 mg in a single tablespoon.

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Swap Half the Cheese for Pureed Sweet Potato and Carrots

What You'll Save: Calories, fat, and complaints about vegetables: This orange puree is one of the staples of Lapine's "Sneaky Chef" method. To make it, boil peeled sweet potatoes and carrots, then run them through the blender. You can make extra to freeze so you'll have it later.

When to Use It: In macaroni and cheese, or in almost any recipe that requires cooked cheese, Lapine says. It can also be used in pasta sauce, or in baked goods: "Swap out half the oil or butter in a baked good recipe," she says.

The Boost: Orange foods boast carotenoids, which help improve eye health.

White vinegar: healthy ingredient swaps
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Swap Salt for a Splash of White Vinegar

What You'll Save: Well ... salt. But you won't give up the flavor-brightening properties it brings to your vegetables--the vinegar will give them the same kick.

When to Use It: When sauteeing, steaming, or boiling vegetables.

The Boost: Vinegar can help your body absorb more minerals--especially calcium.

oatmeal: healthy ingredient swaps
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Swap Breadcrumbs for Oatmeal in Your Meatballs

What You'll Save: If you swap a cup, you'll save 120 calories.

When to Use It: When making meatballs, mix roughly equal parts oatmeal and ground meat with spices and a beaten egg. The strong flavor of the meat, pasta, sauce, and spices mean you wouldn't taste the breadcrumbs ... or the oatmeal.

The Boost: Fiber. You'll almost double it with the oatmeal.