Lighten Up! 6 Easy Substitutions to Lighten Your Favorite Meals

Food swaps for a slimmer you

It's almost swimsuit and shorts season again … and if you're like most of us, you've packed on a few extra pounds during the cold winter. Before you sign up for the latest fad diet, why not try a few simple, everyday changes in your favorite recipes that will shave off fat and calories more painlessly than a strict (and often unrealistic) diet. We're betting you won't miss the fat … and will probably continue to use the smarter new versions long after you've shed those extra pounds!

Trade yogurt for sour cream

When I make fajitas or chili, I make sure to have all the fixings — fresh lime wedges, chopped cilantro, sliced black olives and guacamole. But instead of fatty sour cream, I pass around a dish of yogurt. The thick, Greek-style yogurt (like FAGE Total brand) has the same dense creaminess as sour cream, and I like its tangy flavor. An ounce (about 2 tablespoons) of low-fat yogurt has about 18 calories and less than a gram of fat. In contrast, even reduced-fat sour cream will add some heft to your meal, with 38 calories and about 3 grams of fat per ounce. (Regular sour cream is about twice the amount of fat and calories as its reduced-fat version.)

Swap soy creamer for heavy cream

"We do an alfredo sauce that's just incredible, and it doesn't have any heavy cream in it," says John Procacci, executive chef of Healthy Chef Creations, a national meal delivery service. His secret? Soy creamer. With 15 calories and 1 gram of fat per tablespoon (compared to 52 calories and 6 grams of fat for the same amount of heavy cream), soy cream like Silk can be used in many cream-based recipes, such as cream soups and bisques and cream sauces. Procacci suggests adding soy creamer at the very end of the recipe, since it won't reduce like regular cream. Soy milk can also be used in place of dairy milk or cream for sweet and savory recipes; at 100 calories and 4 grams of fat per cup, it has one-third fewer calories and half the fat as whole milk. Silk Soymilk has recipes and cooking tips on its website.

Use cheese where it counts

In cheesy dishes, such as macaroni and cheese or lasagna, be judicious about what types of, and how much, cheese you use. The amount called for in the typical mac 'n cheese recipe is way more than you need. I make my favorite recipe using 1 percent milk and cutting the amount of cheese by one-third, and my picky family is none the wiser. While many reduced-fat semi-hard cheeses, such as cheddars or colbys, don't melt as nicely as their full-fat counterparts, part-skim mozzarella melts quite nicely. When you're using cheese as a topping, such as in vegetables au gratin, you can also opt for smaller amounts of strong-flavored cheeses. A tablespoon of Parmigiano or Pecorino Romano sprinkled on a dish of chopped broccoli, then broiled until it bubbles, will pack a flavor punch at about 4 grams of fat and 50 calories.

Sub apple sauce in baked goods

Did you know that a cup of vegetable shortening has a whopping 1800 calories and 205 grams of fat? You can significantly cut the fat in cakes, muffins and other baked goods by replacing up to one-half of the shortening or butter in a recipe with unsweetened applesauce or prune puree—it's another method that Procacci uses to keep his dishes lean. This works best in dense fruit or spice recipes like carrot cake, gingerbread, or blueberry muffins (prune puree is good in chocolate cake or brownies). Add the applesauce or puree with the liquid ingredients and when baking, watch it carefully that it doesn't get overdone (otherwise it might get gummy). The texture will be a little denser and moister. Neither applesauce nor prune puree contain fat, and a half-cup of applesauce has 50 calories; the same quantity of prune puree has about 290 calories.

Easy on the egg yolks

When I make omelets or bake cakes or cookies, I save a few grams of fat by reducing the number of egg yolks in the recipe. To do so, just substitute two egg whites for one of the eggs. There won't be a noticeable difference in the richness or texture of the mouthfeel of the recipe if you do this for half the eggs (i.e. a recipe that calls for 2 eggs would have one whole egg plus 2 egg whites). A whole egg has about 71 calories and 5 grams of fat, but roughly the same amount of egg white (1 ounce) has only 13 calories and no fat. Just keep in mind that while the fat resides in the yolk of the egg, so does much of the nutrition, including nutrients like choline, B vitamins and folate.

Losing the beef

For casseroles, chili, lasagna and any other recipe that calls for ground beef, it's easy enough to exchange it for a much leaner substitute. My favorites are ground turkey and ground chicken, which I use in the same quantities, following the same instructions. We've gotten so used to the taste of ground turkey in our favorite chili recipe, that when we made it with ground beef recently, it tasted gamey to us. Ground chicken has 53 calories and 3 grams of fat (per ounce, cooked), which saves about one gram of fat and 13 calories over the same amount of cooked ground turkey. (Ground beef has about 76 calories and 5 grams of fat per ounce, cooked). Procacci also notes that free-range meats are often as much as 30 percent leaner than conventional meats, since the animals get more exercise. The best substitute is meat substitute, like Boca Ground Burger. It only has 30 calories and less than a gram of fat per ounce. It doesn't need to be browned like raw meat, so just stir it, frozen, into a sauce or other hot ingredients so that it can heat up.

Once you get comfortable with making substitutions in recipes, it'll become second nature to reduce the amount of high-fat ingredients, and to seek out more nutritious and less caloric alternatives. So you can head to the kitchen, without dreading your first trip to the beach!

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palomasenisa's picture
User offline. Last seen 8 years 12 weeks ago. Offline
Joined: 05/05/2008

Love the suggestions - thanks!

awensmom's picture
User offline. Last seen 5 years 13 weeks ago. Offline
Joined: 04/28/2011

I've been using greek yogurt to make dips I used to make with sour cream for the last couple of years. The only difference I've found is with spicy or peppery dips I use a little less seasoning or it comes out "hotter". The wonderful thing is that you don't need to refrigerate it for an hour before serving. The flavor comes together in just a few minutes. With the exception of onion dip, that needs to go in the fridge for the onions to soften.

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