Many people have the misconception that “eating healthy” means giving up all of their favorite dishes forever. In actuality, maintaining variety is critical to upholding a healthy diet so learning how to make your favorite dishes comply with a new, healthier diet proves an important investment of time.
Whether you have been diagnosed with a condition that necessitates diet change, want to lose some weight, or are just trying to eat a little healthier, here are three steps to help integrate your favorite dishes into your new lifestyle:
1. Substitute ingredients
Switching less-healthy ingredients for more-healthy ingredients can significantly improve the nutritional quality of a dish. Some especially useful substitutions include:
- 1 stick of butter (or ½ cup oil) = ¼ cup butter/oil + ¼ cup applesauce
- 1 cup sour cream = 1 cup plain yogurt
- 1 cup all-purpose flour = ½ cup white flour + ½ cup whole-wheat flour
- ½ cup cream = ½ cup evaporated skim milk
- 1 cup sugar = ½ cup sugar + 1 teaspoon vanilla, nutmeg, or cinnamon
- Any amount of salt = herbs, spices, vinegar, or hot sauce to taste
The Mayo Clinic published an extensive list of helpful substitutions for all types of recipes, which can be found here.
2. Try different preparation methods
One of the best ways to save calories, fat and sodium is to choose healthier preparation methods. For example, this Eating Well recipe for oven fried chicken (baked) has 224 calories, 7g fat, and 237mg sodium per serving versus the 540 calories, 29g fat, and 1660mg sodium in a KFC Original Recipe Go Cup with dark meat (fried).
Baking is a healthier alternative to frying, steaming is healthier than sautéing in oil, and smoking or grilling is healthier than pan frying. The internet is a great resource to find alternative preparation methods for your favorite fried foods.
3. Watch portion sizes
This may be the most obvious of the suggestions, but perhaps also the most important. If you are working to include all types of food in a new diet the key to success is portion control. If your diet is medically necessary it may be prudent to eliminate certain foods, but in general any food can fit in any diet if eaten in moderation.
For example, if you were recently placed on a heart-healthy diet full-fat cheese can no longer serve as a staple; however, a small amount can add a lot of flavor in dishes like burritos or lasagna. The key is remembering that a serving of shredded cheese is ¼ cup – not ¾ cup. If you, like most people, are not familiar with what a proper portion is, here is a great note from the American Heart Association that compares the size of correct portions with common items to help you visualize healthy portions.
Next time you find yourself in the kitchen craving an old favorite, try these changes to make your beloved food a bit healthier. While it may not taste exactly the same, it will likely taste similar and hopefully satisfy your craving.
This blog post was contributed Rachel Wilson, a dietetic intern on the staff at Baylor Regional Medical at Plano.