Some of your favorite recipes might taste great and make you feel happy, but they can be a nutritional nightmare. Think about all the high-fat sour cream and butter in your mashed potatoes, the bacon you use in soup or the fats found in your favorite desserts.
Fortunately, there are many ways to give your favorite dishes a more nutritional makeover while not sacrificing flavor.
Beaumont registered dietitian, Liz Kennard, offers several tips for making healthier ingredient swaps. Ruth Ranks, a registered dietitian and ReNew program manager at Beaumont, discusses what kind of substitutions you should make to help you manage specific conditions like heart disease and diabetes.
Healthy ingredient swaps
- Cooking oils - Monounsaturated fats like olive oils, nut oils and avocado oil are best for overall health and help decrease inflammation, a main cause of chronic disease, Kennard says. When cooking or baking, use oils with a higher smoke point, like avocado, canola or coconut oil. That way, they’re less likely to oxidize and introduce free radicals, which lead to inflammation, a driver of chronic disease.
- Whole grains and beans - These are great ways to add vitamins, minerals and fiber to any dish. “Beans are a great alternative to flour in baking as they offer a dense, rich texture and are loaded with the satiating power of protein and fiber,” Kennard says.
- Better sugars - Honey, maple syrup, unsweetened applesauce and 100-percent juices are naturally occurring sugars that are less processed that other sugars like high-fructose corn syrup. Just remember a little can go a long way.
- Going stealth - “Adding in veggies or beans into common dishes is a great way to sneak in fiber and vegetables into already yummy foods,” Kennard says.
What if you’re trying to manage a specific chronic condition? Ranks offers the following advice:
If you suffer from cardiac conditions or have high cholesterol, it’s important to follow an overall healthy diet that focuses on eating whole, unprocessed foods. But pay close attention to the types of fats you ingest.
Ranks says you should look for poly- and monounsaturated fats like soybean, flax, corn, olive, canola, sunflower or safflower oils. Nuts and seeds are another good source for polyunsaturated fats, which can help protect against high blood pressure. And avoid saturated fats, or any fats like butter or shortening that are solid at room temperature.
Shifting from red meats to leaner white meats or fish like salmon, mackeral or trout, is also a great idea, Ranks says. “Those fish are high in omega-3 fats, which are heart-healthy fats.”
If you suffer from arthritis, you’ll want to avoid foods that cause inflammation, which can also aggravate heart disease, Ranks says.
Many are things you’ve probably heard before: Avoid processed foods, deep-fried fare, pastries and red meats. Instead, emphasize foods like fish, nuts and seeds. And reach for a wide variety of deeply colored vegetables and fruits - especially berries, which contain antioxidants to combat inflammation.
Spices like ginger, garlic and turmeric are great sources of antioxidants, as is green tea. “Anything that’s a plant, that really is very helpful,” Ranks says.
The goal here is to maintain normal blood-sugar levels, so Ranks says it’s important to eat throughout the day, and mostly whole foods.
“Your plate ideally would be half fruits and vegetable and then a quarter protein - it doesn’t have to be meat, it could be fish or beans - and then whole grains on the other quarter,” she says.
Eating a mixed meal is also key - mixing carbs with proteins, for example. So instead of eating just a bowl of cereal, which is processed carbohydrates, try a bowl of oatmeal with nuts, apple and cinnamon, which offers a much better mixture of nutrients. “Having that combination of protein and fiber helps people feel full and satisfied,” Ranks adds.
Here, you should focus on whole foods, but also portion size. “For weight loss, it’s about creating a calorie deficit,” Ranks says. “You want to do that in a way that you’re still eating a plentiful amount of food.”
So eating plenty of fruits and vegetables will help you feel full while delivering fewer calories and plenty of vitamins and nutrients. Even better: pair it with low-fat dairy, like adding berries to Greek yogurt for a great source of protein, calcium, nutrients and antioxidants. It’s a much better alternative nutritionally than the equivalent amount of calories from a doughnut.