Just when you think you’re eating healthy, you realise a food you’re eating is holding you back. It’s happened to me more than once. From oil to maple syrup, many nutrition surprises have forced me to rethink my food. That’s where healthy food swaps come in.
Healthy food swaps help me optimise my meals while still eating my favourite foods. Well-dressed salads, frosted cakes, and caramelised onions aren’t exclusive to unhealthy choices. Use these healthy food swaps to get the best of both worlds.
I have a huge list of healthy eating swaps. While I wish I could share them all with you, I’ve picked my favourite 5 healthy food swaps. These clever food hacks are the most versatile. Once you pick them up and master them, you’ll find yourself using them on a regular basis.
Healthy food swap for maple syrup on pancakes
The traditional topping for fluffy Sunday pancakes is maple syrup. There are less healthy choices for topping your pancakes. However, there are many healthier options, too.
My favourite maple syrup swap is blended fruit. Simply blend whatever fruit you have on hand with water and a dash of lemon juice. If you’re eating right away, you don’t need to cook it to prevent it from oxidising.
Blending works for a range of fruits from bananas to mangoes to oranges to dates. Endless possibilities. You can even try sweet vegetables like carrots, beets or yams. Customise it with your own fruit blend and your favourite flavours. Add chunks if they’re your style.
If you love maple syrup flavour, you can have it without the sugar rush. Add a tablespoon or two to your blended fruit, so there’s a hint of maple goodness.
If you want to cook a batch of fruity pancake topping, consider adding a tablespoon of cornstarch. It’ll thicken the mixture and keep the texture consistent until your next pancake feast. Cornstarch makes the texture less smoothie-like and more like jam.
Healthy food swaps for sugary frosting
You might assume you have to kiss sweets goodbye after you’ve devoted yourself to eating clean. Surprise! You don’t. My carrot cake recipe defies that myth.
For my carrot cake, I opted to create a simple frosting of using peanut butter. This frosting calls for two ingredients: water and peanut butter.
Add peanut butter and water to a small blender or food processor and let it rip. The blender whips air into the mixture to form a fluffy peanut butter version of cake frosting. The fat in the peanut butter emulsifies and is the key to the fluffy frosting. Aquafaba (a.k.a. bean can liquid) can replace the water if you have it. The savoury peanut butter balances out and accentuates the sweetness from your cake.
Peanut butter not for you? Try the same thing with another nut or seed butter. Cashews are dreamy to blend and are ideal for pairing with different flavours.
I have an option for those sticking to low-fat eating, too: dates. Blend soaked and pitted dates with water for a smooth caramel frosting. It’s not as creamy as the high-fat version, but it has the benefit of being naturally sweet. Dates are 97% sugar so that you won’t miss the sugary frosting with this choice.
Though I haven’t tried it myself, you could get the best of both worlds with a combination of dates and nuts.
Healthy food swaps for processed salad dressings
My favourite replacement for bottled salad dressings was a simple combo of lemon juice and white wine vinegar. Though it gets the job done in a pinch, I’ve graduated to more complex salad dressings these days.
My second healthy salad dressing is a combination of lemon juice, ground flax, and dates. Since I eat flax every night anyways, this is a seamless way to combine it into my meal whenever I eat a salad with dinner.
To make enough salad dressing for one large salad, combine:
• 1.5 tablespoons of ground flax
• 2 tablespoons of lemon juice
• 2-3 soft pitted dates
• And water to thin
All you need to do is blend. Customise with your favourite herbs and spices. This salad dressing is surprisingly creamy.
My last go-to salad dressing is close the one from above but uses peanut butter instead of flax. To make, combine:
• 1.5 tablespoons of peanut butter
• 2 tablespoons of lemon juice
• Your favourite herbs and spices
• And water to thin
This dressing is perfect if you don’t have a blender. Make the dressing easier to mix by warming up the peanut butter with the liquid. Then add your favourite flavours. I love black pepper, parsley, paprika and garlic powder.
Healthy food swap for caramelising with oil
I used to think you needed butter or oil to caramelise onions. Then I learned from Kris Carr how to do it without. The secret is using a hot pan.
Steps to caramelising onions without oil:
1. Preheat nonstick pan to high heat. Cover your pan to achieve maximum temperatures.
2. Add onions.
3. Push onions around your pan for 5 minutes to caramelise.
4. Deglaze the pan with liquid.
Balance covering your pan and moving the onions around during the caramelisation process. On the one hand, you want to keep the liquid in the onions. On the other, constant contact between the cold onions and hot pan caramelises the sugar. It’s a delicate balance.
Through use and experimentation of cooking, I’ve come to use vinegar for deglazing. Some kinds of vinegar are pungent and sour. But others provide sweetness to dishes. Each type provides a unique flavour profile to work with.
Deglazing is essential because you’re washing the delicious flavour of the caramelised onions off the pan. You don’t need much liquid—between 2 and 4 tablespoons.
Healthy food swap for sauces
The last healthy food swap I use is an odd trick, I admit. But it’s proven useful when I’m finishing dinner, and I realise I forgot about the sauce.
I’m usually a minimalistic gal and don’t get fancy with adding a handful of sauces to my meals. I’m not a restaurant chef. But I still like to elevate my meals with moisture and contrasting flavours. That’s where sauces are helpful.
My clever food hack for sauces? Heat and blend leftovers from another meal. You have a flavourful sauce in less than 5 minutes provided your leftovers are tasty.
You need to exercise caution with this food hack. It doesn’t work on all leftovers. Avoid leftovers with lots of starches or grains. For example, anything with potatoes, rice, or quinoa isn’t a good choice. Avoid foods made with flour, too. Rather, use vegetables from a stir fry or refried beans.
Thin out the sauce with a combination of an acid (e.g. lemon juice or vinegar) and water. Blend, heat and enjoy! I use this food hack for lentil loaf, bean burgers and more.
Over to you: which healthy food swap are you going to try first?