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Healthy Substitutions: Tips to Make Recipes Lighter

Over the years, we've collected many registered dietitians' best healthy substitution ideas—ingredients that transform recipes but still make them taste delicious. Now, we've compiled them all in one place. Bon appétit!

Healthy Substitutions for Cooking (General)

Traditional Ingredient
Healthy Substitution
Butter and cream in mashed potatoes Buttermilk instead of cream and light butter instead of regular. —Tsang
Cream in soup recipes
  • Fat-free half-and-half for a smooth texture without cream's saturated fat. Duryea
  • Evaporated skim milk, to save 600 calories per cup (versus heavy cream). —Ruggiero
Oil for sauteing Defatted broth or white wine. Substitute 2 tablespoons. —Ruggiero (Editor's note: On the other hand, a small amount of oil with your vegetables can be nutritious. Read more in the box on this page, where it talks about salads and salad dressings.)
Meat and breadcrumbs in meatloa

Half extra-lean ground beef (like ground round) and half turkey, with whole-wheat breadcrumbs, for more fiber and reduced saturated fat and calories. (Also, drain the excess fat after the meatloaf's done cooking; this won't dry it out.) Hingle

Oil for deep frying chicken

Oven "frying" the chicken: Spray chicken tenders with cooking-oil spray. Roll in bread crumbs. Bake at 400º for 20 minutes, turning after 10. —McDonald



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Healthy Substitutions for Baking

Traditional Ingredient
Healthy Substitution
Butter in baking

Smart Balance spread. It bakes and cooks well, with about 65 percent less saturated fat and 20 percent fewer calories. Duryea (Editor's note: Smart Balance contains palm fruit oil. Read about ventolin in the box labeled "Palm Oil Controversy" on this page.)

Butter in frosting or icing Marshmallow creme, for creaminess without fat. —Ruggiero
Flour and butter in buttermilk biscuits Whole-wheat pastry flour and half canola oil/half butter (instead of all butter), for more fiber and less saturated fat. Hingle
Oil added to brownie mixes Plain, nonfat yogurt. The brownies are chocolaty and delicious without the fat! —Owens
Sour cream in baked goods or recipes Fat-free plain yogurt. It tastes amazing in ambrosia-style fruit salads and is even delicious in stroganoff! (It also has more calcium than sour cream.) —Ruggiero

The Experts

  • Cynthanne Duryea, R.D., L.D., Cooper Clinic (Dallas and McKinney, Texas)
  • Samantha L. Heller, M.S., R.D., C.D.N., nutrition counselor, Fairfield, Conn.
  • Melanie Hingle, M.P.H., R.D., senior research specialist, University of Arizona.
  • Linda McDonald, M.S., R.D., L.D., editor, Supermarket Savvy newsletter
  • Mindy Podolsky Owens, M.S., R.D., owner, Have a Healthy Home, Los Angeles
  • Robyn Priebe, R.D., C.D., director of nutrition, Green Mountain at Fox Run health retreat, Ludlow, Vt.
  • Tina Ruggiero, M.S., R.D., corporate and private nutrition consultant, Tierra Verde, Fla.; blogger, Voice of Reason
  • Gloria Tsang, R.D., founder, nutrition community

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Last updated and/or approved: January 2012.
Tips originally appeared in various issues of the former print magazine. Bios current as of that issue. This general health-care information is not meant as individual advice. Please see our disclaimer.

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