Do you have a favorite family recipe that you’d like to improve on? Are you interested in learning how to be a more mindful and health-conscious cook? Use this list of cooking substitutions to improve the nutritional quality of your favorite recipe!

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Some tips to keep in mind:

  • Think of substitutions in cooking as “trial and error.” Sometimes they’ll work out great and other times they might flop, but it’s all part of the process. Every recipe is different – you’ll never know unless you try!
  • If you’re tweaking an old favorite recipe, try changing just 1-2 ingredients at a time. Then, if it doesn’t turn out, you’ll know which change didn’t work.

Happy cooking (and eating)!

If your recipe calls for… Try this instead… For this nutritional benefit…
Condensed milk or evaporated milk Evaporated skim milk
  • Fewer calories
  • Less saturated fat
Sour cream Nonfat plain Greek yogurt or (depending on the texture desired) nonfat cottage cheese
  • More protein
  • Less saturated fat (compared to whole sour cream)
Cream cheese Neufchâtel cheese (find it right next to the cream cheese in most grocery stores)
  • Fewer calories
  • Less saturated fat
Bacon Canadian bacon, turkey bacon, or lean prosciutto
  • Fewer calories
  • Less saturated fat
  • Less sodium
Mashed potatoes Steamed, pureéd cauliflower
  • Fewer carbohydrates
  • Fewer calories
  • More vitamins and minerals
Potatoes Sweet potatoes
  • More vitamins
White rice or pasta Whole grain pasta, brown rice, bulgur, couscous, barley
  • More fiber
  • More vitamins and minerals
  • More stable blood sugar response
No vegetables Add any vegetables you have around!
  • More fiber
  • More vitamins and minerals
  • Improved satisfaction after the meal with fewer calories eaten (veggies take up a lot of space!)
Butter Canola oil or avocado oil
  • More omega-3s and healthful monounsaturated fats
  • Less saturated fat
Salt Herbs (oregano, parsley, thyme, sage, basil, chives, garlic), spices (turmeric, cumin, curry, lemon pepper, black pepper), lemon juice, or use half the salt
  • Less sodium
  • More anti-inflammatory properties

When you’re aiming to be less inflamed, it can be worthwhile to look beyond regular foods to supplements and what I’m calling “add-ins” – foods/condiments to intentionally put on or in your food because of their anti-inflammatory benefits. Check out all the options:

 

1. Brightly-Colored Spices (like ginger, cinnamon, turmeric, etc)

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Brightly-colored spices have high antioxidant content that can be powerfully anti-inflammatory. Several have specifically been researched and tested for efficacy in managing blood sugar in diabetes, though their anti-inflammatory properties can be beneficial for muscle soreness, recovery after exercise, and metabolic syndrome.1-4

You can take these supplements in concentrated capsules (stick to the recommended dosage) or make a concerted effort to add brightly-colored spices to your food regularly.

 

 

 

 

2. Fish Oil/Omega-3s/Borage Oil

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Increasing intakes of omega-3 fatty acids have been demonstrated to reduce inflammation. They are currently being researched and tested for treatment of many health factors, from prevention of dementia (dementia rates decreased in 19 out of 22 reported studies in a review)5 and cancer to lower cholesterol.6-7

To increase your intake of omega-3s, you can eat more fish, walnuts, flax seed, and chia seeds. Chia is one of my personal favorites because it contains a high concentration of omega-3s and has nearly no flavor. I mix them into oatmeal, smoothies, and yogurt. If you take a capsule supplement, be sure to find one that states it is “burpless” or “enteric-coated.” That ensures the capsules go alllllll the way into your intestines before dissolving, preventing unpleasantly fishy-tasting burps/breath.

 

 

3. Tart Cherries

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These tart little guys are becoming big news in the anti-inflammatory scene, largely for treatment of inflammatory joint pain caused by conditions like arthritis and gout. Some research with dosing tart cherry has shown similar decreases in pain to leading medications for arthritis and gout.8-10

You can eat them canned, dried, in supplement form, or drink 100% tart cherry juice.

 

 

 

 

 

 

4. Vitamin D

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Photo from betterbodygroup.co.uk

Vitamin D has been shown to be important not only for preventing cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis, and many types of cancers, but also plays a role in improving depression.5

We get a lot less vitamin D these days than we used to. Our primary sources are sunlight (15-20 minutes of sunlight helps our skin make its own vitamin D!) and fortified foods like milk, other dairy, and fruit juices. Supplements are also an option. Ask your doctor to check your vitamin D levels and if they are low, consider working on boosting your intake with food or supplementation.

1. http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.3181/0902-MR-78

2. http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/193229681000400324

3. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2225411016300670

4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3665015/

5. Pawlak, Laura. The Hungry Brain. 2012. Biomed Books. p. 177.

6. http://europepmc.org/abstract/med/2836574

7. http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/07315724.2002.10719248

8. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1756464614002886

9. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0166432803004650

10. http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/03009740600704155