The art of a healthy, happy life

Ingredient Substitutions for Healthy Holiday Cooking

holiday pieAll around the world, holiday baking and cooking is about to get into full swing!  Whether you’ve been entrusted with preparing an entire feast or only a side dish or two, I have healthy ingredient substitutions that can help you cut back on fat, sugar, refined carbohydrates and sodium – without sacrificing appearance or taste. (One of these substitutions I could hardly believe!)
Ready to get creative? Here’s the scoop…

1) Unsweetened applesauce instead of sugar
You’ve probably heard of this, but it’s worth repeating because it’s a great trick! Replacing sugar with applesauce in baked products cuts back on empty calories – BIG time.  You can substitute apple sauce for sugar on a 1:1 ratio. However, since applesauce also contains liquid, make sure you reduce the liquid in your recipe by 1/4 cup for every cup of apple sauce you use.
Tip: You can also use pureed pumpkin and squash instead of applesauce – same principle applies.

2) Unsweetened applesauce instead of oil or butter
Who knew applesauce was so versatile? Not only is it a great substitute for sugar…it’s also a great substitute for fats, too! Since applesauce is sweet, you’ll want to use it in baked goods that are supposed to be sweet, like banana and blueberry breads, brownies and muffins. In this case, use 1/2 the amount of oil or butter the recipe calls for and substitute the other half with applesauce.

bananas3) Mashed bananas instead of oil or butter
Don’t have applesauce? Try mashing up a ripe banana! The consistency will be thick and creamy,  binding all your dry ingredients together. Bananas boost nutritional value with micronutrients like potassium, fiber, and vitamin B6. In this case, you can substitute all the oil or butter with mashed banana on a 1:1 ratio.

4) Stevia instead of sugar
Stevia is a potent, natural sweetener with virtually no caloric value and no effect on blood sugar levels. In its refined form, it is between 200-300 time sweeter than sugar. Put a teaspoon of stevia in your mouth (definitely NOT recommended) and you will find out the meaning of ‘too sweet’! Stevia is, however, great in beverages and baked goods, provided it is used in appropriate amounts. For example, you probably only need to substitute 1 teaspoon of stevia powder for an entire cup of sugar. For best results, read the directions on the specific stevia product you’ve purchased.

5) Greek yogurt instead of sour cream
I love using Greek yoghurt for dressings and dips (like traditional Greek Tzatziki sauce – yummy). The great thing about it is that once it’s all dressed up, the taste and texture is almost identical to sour cream – only the yoghurt has half the fat and calories! This is one substitution I highly recommend…though in the interest of full-disclosure, I may be a bit biased since I am half Greek!

6) Pureed fruit instead of syrup
My mother is the queen of this trick! For a delicious topping on ice-cream, pancakes, waffles or whatever your sweet tooth desires, forego all the artificially flavored, chemical-laden syrups and make your own.  All it takes is a saucepan, a cup or two of fresh or frozen fruit, stevia and some water. Once the fruit is cooked and easy to mash up, you can run the mixture through a strainer for thin syrup or run it through a food processor for a thicker consistency.

lemon orange lime7) Citrus juice, herbs and cider vinegar instead of salt
Let’s face it, salt makes food taste good…but it also raises blood pressure, encourages water retention and overpowers more subtle flavors that you might otherwise enjoy. To cut back on the sodium habit, use fresh herbs for a wonderful range of flavors, along with citrus juice or vinegar to add a bit zing to your food. (Garlic and onions are also great for added flavor.)

8) Whole wheat or nut flours instead of white flour
White four  is so processed that it’s been stripped of virtually all nutritional value. So while the food you’re eating may taste good, it’s really doing nothing for your body except providing empty calories (which most of us NOT running a marathon or participating in an endurance event really don’t need). To make your food far more healthy, why not use whole wheat or nut flours instead? Both can be extremely flavorful and include valuable vitamins, minerals, fiber and even protein.

9) Rolled oats instead of breadcrumbs
Compared to your run-of-the mill breadcrumbs, rolled oats are much more healthy thanks to the fact that they’re less processed and contain more fiber. Send them for a spin in your food processor, along with some herbs and spices to jazz them up, and – voila! – you now have a delicious, more nutritious coating for  your chicken tenders, mozzarella sticks or whatever it is you’re cooking up.

brownies10) Black beans instead of flour
Okay, this substitution had me doing a double take…and when I realized I’d read it right, I was still mucho skeptical. However, after seeing the evidence of several bloggers who had used black beans in their brownies (and raved about it) I’m feeling much more convinced. In fact, it’s something I would definitely like to try since it’s a great way to sneak in added fiber and protein. So grab a can of black beans and use them as a substitute for all the flour in a recipe at a ratio of 1:1.

Other substitutions in your holiday cooking can include turkey or bison instead of beef as well as vanilla, nutmeg or cinnamon to reduce the amount of sugar in a recipe (aside from the applesauce trick).

Until next time, happy, healthy holiday cooking!


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