by Kristen Smith, MS, RDN
When you decide to change your dietary habits, it can feel daunting to think about how to create balanced meals and recipes. You may find yourself being afraid of never being able to eat the foods that are familiar and comforting to you. These are normal feelings commonly felt when dietary changes are made. The good news is that pursuing a healthier lifestyle doesn’t mean you have to say “goodbye” to all your favorite meals and recipes.
Before you begin making recipe substitutions, it’s important to evaluate the function of the ingredients in the recipe. Some ingredients provide flavor, some offer texture or moisture, and others are used as a binding agent to hold ingredients together.
For example, cheese can have multiple functions in a recipe including adding flavor, improving texture and acting as a binder for other ingredients. At the same time, liquids such as milk help with leavening and provide moisture. You probably didn’t realize how important each ingredient is for the recipe!
It’s usually advisable to start with just one ingredient substitution and evaluate the result before making another substitution. For some recipes, only one ingredient will be substitutable without significantly losing the quality and flavor of the recipe. You want your recipe to resemble the flavor of the original dish but just use healthier or more mindful ingredients.
Let’s walk through the different functions of recipe ingredients and discuss possible substitutions.
Most ingredients have multiple functions; however, typically more than one ingredient will function as a flavoring agent for the recipe. When you are trying to modify recipes for a healthier result, the ingredients that affect the flavor but minimize health benefits are those higher in fat or sugar. Numerous recipes include fats such as butter, oil or shortening to help balance and blend the flavors of certain ingredients or enhance the overall flavor of the recipe. Sweeteners such as sugar and honey are used in recipes to help balance sour or bitter flavors.
Here are some recipe hacks to decrease the fat and sugar used to flavor recipes:
Greek Yogurt Twice Baked Potatoes
The texture of foods can be affected by ingredients that add moisture or the types and amounts of starchy ingredients. Higher-fat dairy products or cooking oils are often added to recipes to keep them moist and creamy. Starchy ingredients such as pasta or breadcrumbs can add a chewy or crunchy texture. When making substitutions to create a healthier recipe, it can be difficult to maintain the recipe’s original texture. Here are some tips for swapping out ingredients without significantly steering away from the original texture of the recipe.
Binding agents are any ingredient that can help a recipe hold its shape or remain bound together. In some instances, binding agents may also add texture to the recipe. Egg, flour and cheese are some of the most popular binding agents, but other food binders include breadcrumbs, rice, milk and oatmeal.
Below are several tricks to substitute some of the higher-calorie and less nutrient-dense ingredients used as binding agents in recipes:
Making healthier substitutions can be easy and leave your dish tasting just as delicious! Cooking with healthier ingredients doesn’t have to completely change the taste of the dish, and most of the time, you won’t even notice anything is different!
About the Author:
Kristen Smith, MS, RDN, is a bariatric surgery program coordinator in Atlanta, Georgia. Kristen has been a practicing registered dietitian for nearly two decades and is a national spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Her nutrition expertise has been featured in interviews on Good Morning America, The New York Times, WebMD, US News and much more!
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