6 Ingredient Substitutions for Healthier Recipes

I am not an extremist when it comes to eating healthy. I live to eat, rather than eat to live. However, there are some easy ways to improve recipes that don't detract from flavor and can really give you a healthy boost. Here are some of them.

1. Substitute up to 1/3 of all-purpose flour for whole grain oat flour

You can use oat flour in quick breads, cookies (and it makes them stay soft after they cool), yeast breads, and even some cakes--think cakes with a bit of a rougher consistency, like spice cake or carrot cake. Not only are you adding in whole grains, but oats have a lot of health benefits, like:
  • they improve the function of the immune system
  • they may reduce certain types of cancer, like colon cancer
  • they reduce constipation and reflux
  • they help to control the release of starch and avoids a spike in blood sugar after eating
  • oats boost heart health
  • they add protein and calcium to your recipe, promoting stronger bones

2. Use olive oil instead of butter or margarine

I do this in savory dishes, like Alton Brown's baked macaroni and cheese. Let's face it, baked macaroni and cheese is never going to be good for you, but 6 total tablespoons of butter? No one needs to eat that much butter. I suppose I could just stop making the recipe altogether. But that's just not going to happen.

Olive oil is high in fat, but the main type of fat in olive oil is monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs), which are considered a healthy dietary fat. Here are some of the potential heatlh benefits of eating olive oil:
  • lowered risk of heart disease by lowering total cholesterol
  • normalize blood clotting
  • may benefit insulin levels and blood sugar control
And it's just healthier than butter.

3. Substitute yoghurt for sour cream

No h?
And in some cases, you can substitute it for butter, like in instant mac & cheese (there seems to be a theme here). Even most whole plain yoghurts have less fat than whole sour cream, and in many cases you can opt for low fat or nonfat plain yoghurt and really improve things. Choose whole yoghurt if you need the fat to thicken a sauce or to moisten the batter of a baked dish. But in dressings or as a topping on potatoes or in burritos, I can tell no difference between whole and low or no fat.

Yoghurt is really good for you. Here are some of the benefits:

  • it's a good source of calcium, vitamins B2, B5, and B12, zinc, potassium, iodine, phosporus, and protein
  • it contains live bacteria, which may fortify your immune system and help you live longer
  • live cultures can also help regulate your digestion and prevent yeast infections
  • studies show that yoghurt lowers LDL (bad) cholesterol and raises HDL (good) cholesterol
  • a diet high in calcium may help regulate your weight
  • calcium makes strong bones
  • some active cultures mayhelp prevent and heal arthritis
  • they also may protect against ulcers
  • full fat yoghurt and other whole dairy products may reduce the risk of colorectal cancer

4. Add nonfat milk where it calls for water or broth

 Or you might even choose whole milk for the cancer prevention benefit mentioned above. The main reason to use milk is to add calcium, because if you're like most Americans, you're not getting enough.
Plus, using milk can make a recipe creamier and richer, even when you use nonfat.

Plus, here are some more health benefits of milk:

  • milk has most of the same vitamins and minerals as yoghurt, plus vitamin D, which aids in the absorption of calcium and may also prevent some autoimmune disorders, cancer and high blood pressure
  • it's a good source of protein, and if you're trying to increase your protein due to pregnancy any other reason, anything that gives you 9 to 11 grams of protein per serving is a good thing
  • drinking milk may reduce your chance of dying by heart attack or stroke by 15 to 20 percent

5. Use ground turkey instead of beef

Okay, I don't do this every time. Beef just has more flavor, so sometimes, I have to use it. But the health benefits of lean turkey breast instead of red meat are compelling, so I try to be good more often than not and substitute it.
  • consumption of red meat has been linked to colon cancer
  • turkey is high in protein and may help keep post-meal insulin levels in a good range
  • it's a good source of niacin, B6, and B12, all of which contribute to energy production and are associated with heart health
  • it's rich in zinc, which boosts the immune system
  • it's high in selenium, which also boosts the immune system and may help protect against cancer and coronary artery disease

6. Substitute canned salmon for tuna

Actually, eating salmon in general is really good for you. But it's a good idea to eat less tuna because of the problem of mercury and other heavy metals. If you haven't heard of this before, here's my quick and dirty explanation: we pollute water -> algae absorb the pollutants -> small fish eat the algae -> bigger fish eat the small fish -> the biggest fish eat the bigger fish. As you move up the food chain, the concentration of mercury and other pollutants in the fresh of the fish goes up. Wikipedia has a cute diagram, if you're interested. Now, tuna is high on the food chain. And salmon is relatively low, but it's
still a really good idea to only buy wild-caught Alaskan salmon, which is the least contaminated. 

Salmon is also a good choice because:
  • salmon and other fatty fish are high in omega-3s, which are really good for you:
    • they strengthen cardiovascular and heart health
    • may improve arthritis
      Not a salmon.
    • combat depression and anxiety
    • reduce the incidence of stroke
    • protect against breast, prostate, and colon cancer
    • improve immunity development in infants
    • promote joint and eye health
  • salmon is also a great source of protein and may help regulate insulin and digestion
  • it has a lot of vitamin D, which we've already seen above is very healthy for you
  • it has a lot of selenium, which we've also seen is really healthy for you
Well, that's all for now. Allow me to reveal my inner nerd, by saying, "Eat well and prosper."
For a great book on healthy foods, I recommend SuperFoods Rx: Fourteen Foods That Will Change Your Life by Steven G. Pratt and Kathy Matthews. Much of the information on this page comes from that book, as well as from the following websites:


  1. Very nice little space on the net you have here...glad I stumbled upon you via Twitter.

  2. Thanks! I'm glad you stopped by. :)