As more and more nutritional research makes the news, it seems everyone is looking for healthy alternatives to their favourite foods. These substitutions are a great way to make smarter food choices helping to give you and your family a healthy boost. We promise, they won’t complain (or shouldn’t)!
INSTEAD OF: BUTTER OR MARGARINE
Butter and margarine contain four times more calories than avocado, says Jaclyn Reutens, a clinical dietitian at Aptima Nutrition & Sports Consultants. Weight for weight, butter also has a greater saturated fat content than the green fruit – 51g versus 2g. Hard margarine, which is highly processed, contains trans fat, which health experts agree is one of the worst types of fat you can consume. In processed foods, trans fat shows up on the ingredients list as partially hydrogenated oil. It’s used to help food last longer on the shelves and to make it taste good – but it is bad for the heart as it can raise your bad cholesterol levels.
Avocado contains no trans fat, and is packed with fibre, vitamins, minerals and mono-unsaturated fat, which has been shown to lower bad cholesterol and boost good cholesterol levels in the body.
TRY IT: Mash a ripe avocado and use it as a spread on toast or for sandwiches. It can also be used in baking, in place of butter or margarine, in a 1:1 ratio.
INSTEAD OF: SPAGHETTI
USE: ZUCCHINI OR SQUASH
“Zucchini or squash is an excellent substitute for starchy pasta, and a smart way to lower your grain intake and get extra vegetables in,” says Pooja Vig, nutritionist and co-founder of The Nutrition Clinic. Zucchini and squash are significantly lower in carbohydrates than pasta, which means they will not cause your blood-sugar levels to spike and crash. Plus, they are gluten-free, which is good news for people who are gluten-intolerant.
TRY IT: You need a spiraliser to turn the zucchini or squash into “noodles”. There’s no need to cook the noodles. Serve them raw, topped with a meat bolognese or tomato-based veggie sauce, and grilled meat or fish.
INSTEAD OF: BUTTER OR OIL
USE: SUGAR-FREE APPLE SAUCE
When baking muffi ns or cupcakes, Pooja says it’s a good idea to replace the butter or oil with sugar-free apple sauce. Not only will you be reducing the fat content of your baked treats drastically, you will also save on sugar calories by almost halving the amount of sweetener in the recipe. Apple sauce, unlike butter or oil, also contains fibre.
TRY IT: Whether you are making cakes or muffins, the ratio for substituting the butter or oil for the apple sauce is 1:1. Look for sugar-free apple sauce.
INSTEAD OF: BISCUIT OR CRACKER CRUMBS
USE: HIGH-FIBRE CEREAL
Most cheesecake recipes call for a base of finely crushed digestive biscuits or graham crackers. High-fibre bran cereal offers the same kind of crunch, without all the fat and sugar. Plus, according to Jaclyn, the same amount of cereal contains about twice the amount of fi bre as biscuits or crackers. Look out for good-quality cereal that does not contain a lot of sugar, fl avouring or preservatives.
TRY IT: Simply crush the cereal and add some melted butter or coconut oil to the crumbs. Press the crumbs into your cake tin, and top with your cheesecake filling.
INSTEAD OF: BREADCRUMBS
USE: ROLLED OATS
They might not look sinful, but just half a cup of packaged breadcrumbs contains about 200 calories. You can get the same crunchy texture and bulk with plain rolled oats, a type of wholegrain that is high in heart-friendly soluble fibre. As oats have a low glycaemic index, their sugars are released into your bloodstream more slowly, so you’re less likely to feel that dreaded “sugar crash”.
TRY IT: Use ground rolled oats wherever you would breadcrumbs – to coat pieces of chicken when making chicken cutlets or vegetable croquettes, or to add texture and bulk to a roast chicken or turkey stuffing.
INSTEAD OF: WHITE RICE
If you are trying to eat less refined carbohydrates, swop white rice for cauliflower “rice”. Finely chopped and cooked until tender – but not mushy – cauliflower has a similar texture to rice, plus it provides a host of nutrients, such as protein, B vitamins, vitamin C and fibre. It is also lower in calories than steamed white rice, and is diabetic-friendly.
TRY IT: Pulse uncooked cauliflower florets in a food processor, and steam the “rice” for a few minutes. Serve it as a side dish, or use it in stir-fries or salads.
INSTEAD OF: MAYONNAISE
USE: GREEK YOGURT
A 100g serving of Greek yogurt contains 110mg of calcium and 10.2g of protein, compared with the same amount of mayonnaise, which has 8mg of calcium and 1g of protein, says Jaclyn. Store-bought mayo also has a lot of fat and sugar, and unwanted additives like preservatives, and artificial colouring and flavours.
TRY IT: Greek yogurt imparts a natural tangy flavour to salads. Mix it with a little olive oil, lemon juice and herbs, and drizzle it over your favourite greens. It can also be used as a condiment for burgers, or mixed with canned tuna, chopped onions and celery for a delicious faux tuna “mayo”.
INSTEAD OF: ICE CREAM
USE: FROZEN BANANAS
When your family craves an icy treat, finely mash a few ripe bananas and freeze the puree. A few hours later, you should have a tub of creamy-smooth frozen bananas that is about as close as you can get to the dairy dessert. Besides being lactose-free, bananas have a negligible amount of fat and are high in fibre, says Jaclyn. Ice cream, on the other hand, is high in sugar, fat and calories, and, depending on what brand you buy, may contain additives like colouring, flavouring, stabilisers and preservatives. “Eating frozen mashed bananas will keep you full longer but if you eat ice cream, the sugar in it will leave you craving for more sugary foods,” Jaclyn adds.
TRY IT: Serve the frozen mashed bananas plain, or topped with healthy ingredients like dark chocolate bits, berries or low-fat yogurt. You can even freeze whole bananas and serve them on sticks,
INSTEAD OF: CREAM
USE: PUREED BEANS OR NUT BUTTER
Cream is often used to thicken soups and stews, but in place of this ar tery-clogging ingredient, use pureed beans or nut butter instead. Cream is loaded with saturated fat and cholesterol, and has low amounts of protein. Pureed beans, on the other hand, are a good source of protein, naturally fat- and cholesterol-free, and high in soluble fibre, says Jaclyn. Nut butter, too, is packed with protein and is cholesterol-free. Both are also good choices for people who are lactose-intolerant.
TRY IT: If your soups or stews are too watery, add pureed cooked beans or nut butter until you get the desired consistency.
INSTEAD OF: WHITE POTATOES
USE: SWEET POTATOES
White potatoes are nutritious, provided they are not deep-fried or topped with fattening ingredients like cheese, bacon or sour cream. But for an extra dose of nutrients, substitute these humble root vegetables with their sweeter cousins. Sweet potatoes have more soluble fibre, which is effective in lowering blood cholesterol, plus they have lots of beta-carotene, the antioxidant that gives them their colour, says Jaclyn. Beta-carotene protects the body from damaging free radicals and is converted into vitamin A once ingested.
TRY IT: Bake slices or wedges of sweet potatoes and serve in place of regular potato fries. You can also mash the sweet potatoes and serve it as a side dish to meats or seafood, or as a topping for shepherd’s pie.
- JACLYN REUTENS, a clinical dietitian at Aptima Nutrition & Sports Consultants
- POOJA VIG, nutritionist and co-founder of The Nutrition Clinic
By Sasha Gonzales, Simply Her, September 2015