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05/29/2014 - 6:08am by Kate Morin
Here at Greatist, we're always looking for ways to make our favorite foods healthier without sacrificing flavor. So we compiled a list of our best substitutions and discovered some new ones along the way. Below are our 83 (!) top picks, guaranteed to make that next meal a delicious, healthier hit. It wasn't easy taste-testing all this food, but someone sure had to. Right?
1. Black beans for flour
Swapping out flour for a can of black beans (drained and rinsed, of course) in brownies is a great way to cut out the gluten and fit in an extra dose of protein, Plus, they taste great. When baking, swap out 1 cup flour for 1 cup black bean puree (about a 15oz can).
2. Whole wheat flour for white flour
In virtually any baked good, replacing white flour with whole wheat can add a whole new dimension of nutrients, flavor, and texture. Because whole wheat includes the outer shell of the grain, it also provides an extra punch of fiber, which aids in digestion and can even lower the risk of diabetes and heart disease. For every cup of white flour, substitute 7/8 cup of whole-wheat.
3. Unsweetened applesauce for sugar
Using applesauce in place of sugar can give the necessary sweetness without the extra calories and, well, sugar. While one cup of unsweetened applesauce contains only about 100 calories, a cup of sugar can pack in more than 770 calories! This swap is perfect for oatmeal raisin cookies. Pro tip: You can sub sugar for apple sauce in a 1:1 ratio, but for every cup of applesauce you use, reduce the amount of liquid in the recipe by 1/4 cup.
4. Unsweetened applesauce for oil or butter
Don’t knock this one till you’ve tried it. The applesauce gives the right consistency and a hint of sweetness without all the fat of oil or butter. This works well in any sweet bread, like banana or zucchini, or in muffins (like in these low-fat blueberry muffins)—and even with pre-boxed mixes! On your first try, only try swapping out half the fat (so a recipe using 1 cup of oil would use 1/2 cup oil and 1/2 cup applesauce). If you can't tell the difference with that swap, try swapping a bit more of the fat next time around.
5. Almond flour for wheat flour
This gluten-free switch gives any baked good a dose of protein, omega-3s, and a delicious nutty flavor. Check out these classic butter cookies for a simple example. A word of advice: almond flour is much heavier than other baking flours, so when subbing go 1/4 cup at a time (so 1 cup wheat flour would become 3/4 cup wheat flour and 1/4 cup almond flour). Or, if it's all or nothing for your recipe, remember to increase the amount of rising agent (by about 1/2 teaspoon per cup of almond flour added) to account for the extra weight.
6. Avocado puree for butter
They’re both fats (albeit very different fats) and have nearly the same consistency at room temperature. The creaminess and subtle flavor of the avocado lends itself well to the texture of fudge brownies and dark chocolate flavorings. Check out this recipe for perfect proportion guidelines. It can take some experimenting to get this swap perfect, but generally, using 1 cup of avocado puree per cup of butter works.
7. Brown rice cereal with flax meal for Rice Crispies
Brown puffed rice has the same texture as conventional white rice, but with half the calories. The flax adds extra fiber, omega-3 fatty acids, and phytochemicals to the mix without compromising flavor!
8. Marshmallow Fluff for frosting
Replacing the fat and sugar in frosting with marshmallow achieves the perfect consistency with many fewer calories. While two tablespoons of marshmallow has just 40 calories and 6 grams of sugar (and no fat!), the same amount of conventional frosting can pack up to 100 calories, 14 grams of sugar, and 5 grams of fat. Need we go on?
9. Natural peanut butter for reduced-fat peanut butter
While they may appear better than traditional Skippy or Jiff, reduced fat versions of peanut butter can actually have more sugar—and an extra-long list of artificial additives—than the classics. Natural peanut butter (preferably unsalted) provides the same sweetness without call the extra junk.
10. Vanilla for sugar
Cutting sugar in half and adding a teaspoon of vanilla as a replacement can give just as much flavor with significantly fewer calories. Assuming the recipe originally calls for one cup of sugar, that’s already almost 400 calories cut out! You can't sub this one in equal ratios, but next time you're whipping up some cookies, try cutting 2 tablespoons of sugar and adding an extra 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla extract.
11. Mashed bananas for fats
The creamy, thickening-power of mashed (ripe!) banana acts the same as avocado in terms of replacing fat in baking recipes. The consistency is ideal, and the bananas add nutrients like potassium, fiber, and vitamin B6. One cup of mashed banana works perfectly in place of 1 cup or butter or oil!
12. Nut flours for flour
A word of caution: Nut flours don’t rise the same way as wheat flour so an additional rising agent might be needed when replacing more than ¼ cup of wheat. Many gluten-free blogs detail how to streamline nut flour-based baking. And while these flours are typically higher in calories and fat, they also have more fiber and protein. Nut flours do tend to be heavier than classic wheat, so make sure to up the amount of baking powder and baking soda in the recipe so the dough can rise as normal. Another option is to replace only part of the flour in a recipe with nut flour!
13. Coconut flour for flour
High in fiber and low in carbohydrates, coconut flour is a great partial substitute for wheat flour in baking recipes. Be careful, though—using more than half a cup at a time could allow the flour’s bitterness to take over. Substitutes can be tricky in baking, so when using coconut flour, be sure to add an equal amount of extra liquid! In baked goods, you generally want to substitute only 1/4 to 1/3 cup of coconut flour for 1 cup of wheat flour. (Take a look at this easy-to-understand chart for more specific substitution instructions!)
14. Meringue for frosting
Made from just egg whites and sugar, meringue can be a great fat-free substitution for traditional frosting. Feel like going a step further? Take a torch to it. Lightly charring the edges of the meringue can add a nice caramelized flavor. (Not to mention a cool visual effect!)
15. Graham crackers for cookies (in pie crusts)
Who doesn’t love a fresh baked cookie-crust pie? Next time, refrain from the traditional sugar or Oreo cookie crust and grab the graham crackers. Reduced-fat graham crackers offer the same consistency and flavor with about half the calories of the conventional options.
16. Evaporated skim milk for cream
It's the same consistency with a fraction of the fat. Evaporated milk tends to have a bit more sugar (only about 2 grams), but the major drop in fat content is well worth the switch. This substitute is an even swap, too (1 cup cream = 1 cup evaporated milk)!
17. Stevia for sugar
The natural sweetener stevia is lower in calories and up to 300 times sweeter than sugar. But watch the grocery bill—this fashionable sweetener can also cost up to 5 times as much as granulated sugar. Since it's so much sweeter, swap with caution: A recipe calling for 1 cup of sugar should be swapped for 1 teaspoon liquid stevia (or about 2 tablespoons stevia powder).
18. Prunes for butter
In brownies and other dark baked goods, prune puree makes for a perfect butter substitute while cutting more than half the calories and fat. Combine 3/4 cup prunes with 1/4 cup boiling water, and puree to combine. Sub in equal amounts in most dark baked good recipes!
19. Cacao nibs for chocolate chips
News flash: Those chocolate chips actually start out as cacao nibs—the roasted bits of cocoa beans that then get ground down and turned in to chocolate. Opting for these unprocessed (or at least less processed) morsels cuts out the additives and added sugar in chocolate, while also delving out a healthy dose of antioxidants.
20. Chia seeds for butter
These funny lookin' little seeds are good for more than just growing countertop pets. Combine 1 tablespoon chia seeds with 9 tablespoons water, let sit for 15 minutes, and you get a gel that's the perfect consistency to stand in for fat in baking recipes. One word of caution: don't try to cut out all the fat with this substitute—it works best when subbing an equal amount of this mixture for half of the fat in a recipe.
21. Chia seeds for eggs
Surprise! Combining 1 tablespoon chia seeds with 1 cup of water left to sit for 15 minutes yields a perfect 1-to-1 egg substitute for baking. (But we probably wouldn't suggest subbing chia for butter and eggs in the same recipe!)
22. Flax meal for eggs
This one's an old vegan trick. Mix 1 tablespoon ground flax seeds (aka flax meal) with 3 tablespoons of warm water and whisk with a fork to combine. Now let it sit in the fridge for 5-10 minutes before subbing for 1 egg in any baked recipe. Voila!
23. Brown rice for white rice
When white rice is processed, the "brown" bran layer gets stripped away, cutting out essential nutrients (like fiber). Opt for brown rice for a fuller nutritional profile.
24. Quinoa for couscous
While couscous is made from processed wheat flour, quinoa is a whole-grain superfood packed with protein and nutrients. Bonus points: They have almost the exact same texture.
25. Zucchini ribbons for pasta
Thin strips or ribbons of zucchini are a great stand in for carb-packed pastas. Plus, it’s one excuse to skip the boiling—simply sautee for a few minutes until soft.
26. Turnip mash for mashed potatoes
While one cup of mashed potatoes made with whole milk racks up about 180 calories (and that's before the inevitable salt and butter), a cup of mashed turnip (which doesn’t need milk or butter to get that creamy consistency) has only 51 calories. Add some fresh herbs in place of the salt and it’s a much healthier stand-in for classic mash.
27. Grated steamed cauliflower for rice
Cut both calories and carbs with this simple switch. The texture is virtually the same, as is the taste.
28. Mashed cauliflower for mashed potatoes
Just like the turnip mash, mashed cauliflower has only a fraction of the calories of potatoes and it's nearly impossible to taste the difference. Got picky eaters at the table? Try mixing half potato, half cauliflower.
29. Rolled oats for breadcrumbs
While breadcrumbs can pack extra sodium, using rolled oats seasoned with herbs is a great way to sneak another whole grain into any meal.
30. Whole wheat pasta for regular pasta
Just as with bread, whole wheat pasta beats regular with a higher fiber content and about 50 fewer calories per serving (depending on the brand).
31. Crushed flax or fiber cereal for bread crumbs
Crushing a fiber-rich cereal and mixing it with some herbs makes an easy lower-sodium substitution for traditional breadcrumbs.
32. Spaghetti squash for pasta
Roasted and pulled apart with a fork, spaghetti squash is a great low-carb and lower-calorie substitute for pasta. One squash will make between two and three servings.
33. Pita for bread
One 4-inch whole-wheat pita runs around 80 calories and only 1 gram of fat (though there is some variation from brand to brand). Two slices of whole-wheat bread typically comes in at around 138 calories!
34. Lettuce leaves for tortilla wraps
It's not a perfect swap, but forgoing the carbs for fresh lettuce is a fun (and easy) switch that can lighten up any wrap or taco dish.
35. Corn tortilla for flour tortilla
Half the calories and fat. ‘Nuff said.
36. Whole wheat bread for white bread
You've heard it all before, but it's just that important! Whole-grain wheat beats out processed white with a complete nutrition profile and better flavor and texture.
37. Quinoa for oatmeal
Cooked with milk (cow, almond, hemp—whatever’s on hand) and some cinnamon, quinoa makes a perfect protein-packed hot breakfast.
38. Steel-cut oatmeal for instant oatmeal
Chewy and a little crunchy, these guys are nothing like their instant oatmeal cousins. While rolled oats are—literally—rolled into a flat grain, steel cut oats are diced whole grains that maintain more of their fiber-rich shell. Rich in B vitamins, calcium, and protein, steel-cut oats also lack the added sugar that often comes with instant varieties.
39. Dry beans for canned beans
Canned beans are convenient, sure, but they also tend to have excess sodium and plenty of preservatives. Plus, even though the canned versions are dirt cheap, dried beans are even cheaper! It may take a little more work (just some simple soaking and boiling), but this switch is still well worth it.
40. Prosciutto or pancetta for bacon
Bacon is often the go-to for that smoky flavor in savory dishes (and even in some sweet ones). But opting for a few slices of prosciutto or pancetta can help cut both calories and fat. While bacon has about 70 calories and 6 grams of fat for two slices, prosciutto has just 30 calories and 4 grams in an equally weighted sample.
41. Two egg whites for one whole egg
One egg yolk holds more than half the recommended daily cholesterol for the average adult. Trading out the yolk for a second white will cut out the cholesterol while doubling the protein. If making a dish that requires more eggs, keep one to two yolks for their rich vitamins A, E, D, and K content, but consider swapping out the rest.
42. White-meat, skinless poultry for dark-meat poultry
The biggest chicken debate to date: white meat vs. dark meat. And the white meat has it beat—lower in calories and fat, higher in protein and iron.
43. Egg Beaters for egg yolks
A solid substitution for many egg dishes (like omelets or frittatas)—and even for something more complicated, like Hollandaise sauce.
44. Bison for beef
Higher in B vitamins and lower in fat, bison is a great substitute for the ol’ beefy standard. (When available, of course.)
45. Ground Turkey for ground beef
Ground turkey (or chicken) is a great substitute for ground beef to cut down on saturated fat and calories. Reminder: Because of the lower fat content, ground poultry often ends up drier than beef, but a few tablespoons of chicken stock can solve the problem in a snap!
46. Quinoa and ground turkey for rice and ground beef (in stuffed peppers)
More protein and antioxidants in the quinoa and less fat in the ground turkey make this an all-around healthier option for this popular side dish.
47. Veggies for pita (as a dipping tool)
Forget the pita. Fresh veggies work as killer dippers with hummus and contain both fewer carbs and more vitamins.
48. Cauliflower puree for egg yolks (in deviled eggs)
For that devilish Southern favorite—deviled eggs—try replacing half the yolks in the filling with cauliflower puree. The taste remains the same, as does the texture, but without the extra dose of cholesterol.
49. Plain yogurt with fresh fruit for flavored yogurt
Pre-flavored yogurts often come packed with extra sugar. To skip the sugar rush without sacrificing flavor, opt for plain yogurt (or better yet, plain Greek yogurt) and add fresh fruit and/or honey or agave for a hint of sweetness.
50. Arugula, romaine, spinach, and/or kale for iceberg lettuce
51. Frozen or fresh fruits for canned fruit
Cut down on excess sugar and preservatives by choosing fresh or flash-frozen varieties.
52. Edamame hummus for regular hummus
While hummus might look innocent from the sidelines, it's on our list of potential dangerfoods, packed with more than 50 calories in two tablespoons. That’s why switching to an edamame-based hummus can help reduce the danger (read: fat and calories) while still providing a delicious dip.
53. Kale chips for potato chips
Who would’ve guessed that a leafy green could make such delicious chips? When lightly tossed in olive oil and some seasoning (salt and pepper, paprika, or chili powder work well) and baked, these curly greens turn into a delightfully delicate crunchy snack with less fat than the classic fried potato chip.
54. Dark chocolate for M&Ms (in trail mix)
The problem with most trail mixes? They pack in the sugar-filled, candy-coated chocolate and dried fruit. Instead, make your own trail mix with unsalted nuts and dark chocolate bits (lower in sugar), which are high in free-radical-fighting flavonoids—a benefit that completely outweighs that candy-coated sweetness.
55. Popcorn for potato chips
Lower in calories and fat, natural popcorn without pre-flavored seasonings is a great snack alternative to replace those oily, super-salty potato chips. Try made-at-home flavors by adding cinnamon, chili powder, or Parmesan.
56. Banana ice cream for ice cream
No milk, no cream, no sugar… but the same, delicious consistency. It’s simple: freeze bananas, then puree.
57. Sweet potato fries for French fries
Opting for sweet potatoes rather than the traditional white adds an extra dose of fiber, and vitamins A, C, and B6. Plus, it cuts out roughly 20 grams of carbohydrates per one-cup serving. Just don't overdo it!
58. Frozen yogurt for ice cream
Picking frozen yogurt over ice cream can help cut down fat content!
59. Coconut milk for cream
Coconut milk is a great substitute for heavy cream in soups and stews. And don’t be turned off by the word “coconut”—it doesn’t taste like the sweetened shredded kind!
60. Greek yogurt for sour cream
Half the fat and calories, yet the taste and texture are virtually identical. Plus, nonfat Greek yogurt offers an extra dose of lean protein.
61. Greek yogurt for mayo (in tuna/chicken salad)
Add some herbs and a squeeze of lemon juice, and they’ll taste almost identical. Plus, this swap will save on calories and fat, and provide an extra dose of protein.
62. Nutritional yeast for cheese
The taste and texture are a little bit different, but the creamy gooiness is pretty comparable. Instead of topping that taco with cheddar, try a sprinkle of nutritional yeast for a cheesy flavoring with much less fat.
63. Nuts for croutons (in salads)
Every salad needs that extra crunch. But rather than getting the extra carbs (and often fat and sodium) that come with croutons, try some lightly toasted slivered almonds, pecans, or walnuts.
64. Avocado mash for mayo
Half a mashed avocado is a great substitute for mayo on any sandwich. Both give some moisture, but avocado packs a big dose of vitamin E and cholesterol-checking monosaturated fat. And while a typical two-tablespoon serving of mayonnaise has about 206 calories and 24 grams of fat, half an avocado has only 114 calories and 10.5 grams of fat.
65. Sliced tomatoes for tomato sauce (on pizza)
Cut out the extra sodium, sugar, and preservatives by replacing jarred tomato sauce with fresh sliced tomatoes. The texture is a bit different, but the flavor is much more vibrant and fresh!
66. Low-fat cottage cheese for sour cream
They both add a creamy texture to many dishes, but sour cream is packed with fat while low-fat cottage cheese is packed with protein.
67. Pureed fruit for syrup
Both sweeten flapjacks or a nice whole-wheat waffle, but pureed fruit warmed on the stovetop with a bit of honey packs much less sugar than classic maple. Plus, it provides an extra dose of antioxidants and vitamins.
68. Herbs or citrus juice for salt
You heard it here first: Food doesn’t need to be salted to taste good! Fresh herbs and citrus juice can provide just as much flavor without the added risks of excess sodium intake.
69. Garlic powder for salt
Just like fresh herbs, garlic powder can provide a flavorful-punch without adding sodium. A word of warning, though: don't mistake garlic powder for garlic salt.
70. Low-sodium soy sauce for standard soy sauce
The taste is virtually the same, but choosing a low- or reduced-sodium variety can cut down sodium intake by nearly half.
71. Homemade salad dressing for bottled dressing
By making dressing from scratch at home, it's easy to cut out the added sugar, sodium, and preservatives typically found in pre-made dressings. Try mixing vinegar or lemon juice and oil in a 2:1 ratio and flavoring with spices like rosemary, thyme, oregano, and pepper!
72. Seltzer water with citrus slice instead of soda
Instead of sugary sodas, opt for a glass of sparkling water with a few slices of citrus—grapefruit, lime, orange, and lemon all work well—for a little extra flavor.
73. Skim milk for whole or 2% milk
Fewer calories and fat with the same amount of protein makes this switch well worth it.
74. Cinnamon for cream and sugar (in coffee)
75. Unsweetened iced tea for juice or bottled teas
While delicious and convenient, bottled teas, juices, and sports drinks are packed with sugar and calories. When in the mood for something icy with a little flavor, opt for a home-brewed, unsweetened iced tea.
76. Americano for latte
Just by cutting the milk out of that daily latte in favor of hot water, the calorie count drops by more than 150. It's a smart switch, especially by the fourth or fifth cup.
77. Red wine for white wine
While white wine is usually lower in calories, red offers health benefits unmatched by the white stuff, including cancer-fighting compounds and natural cholesterol checks.
78. Soda water for juice (as a mixer)
Rum and coke. Cranberry and vodka. Sure, these sugary mixers take care of the inner sweet tooth. But try mixing liquor with soda water and a slice of fruit (or even just a splash of juice) and down goes the sugar (and calorie) count. Not inventive enough? Check out these 60 healthier cocktails.
79. Soda water for tonic water
Yes, it’s clear and bubbly, just like soda water, but tonic water is actually full of sugar. Adding plain soda water and a pinch of lime gives almost the same taste with 32 grams less sugar per 12 ounces.
80. Olive oil spray for olive oil from the bottle
Oil glugs out of the bottle, leading to overly-greasy dishes. Using a spray bottle is a great way to cut down on oil while still getting the non-stick benefits. A little mist is all that’s needed!
81. Olive oil for butter
When cooking eggs, this simple switch is a great way to cut down on saturated fats while getting a healthy dose of essential omega-3 fatty acids.
82. Oven or pan-frying for deep frying
Yes, those chicken tenders are deliciously greasy, but by foregoing the oil bath for just a misting of oil in a pan or oven, it’s easy to cut fat without sacrificing flavor.
83. Steaming for boiling
While both are great options for meats and veggies, steaming is king because it removes fewer nutrients from vegetables. While boiling can leech out some of the better nutrients (hence why water turns green after boiling broccoli), steaming keeps all that green goodness inside the veggies.
Did we miss one of your favorites? Tell us in the comments section below!
Originally posted March 2013, updated May 2014.