Are you worried that some of your favorite foods may be a thing of the past following a heart event? Are you afraid to ever eat chicken alfredo, Chinese food or anything with cheese again without feeling as if it’s going to lead to your arteries clogging?
If the answer is yes, then I have great news for you. The answer is USING RECIPE SUBSTITUTIONS! Preparing all of your favorite crave-worthy recipes at home is a must however. The main reason for this is because you will have total control over the ingredients and how much you add to your meal.
With a little tweaking of the ingredients, you can still eat the foods you love. And make any recipe more heart healthy with little effort.
Recipe Substitutions and Heart Health
If you have heart issues and eat high fat or high sodium often, then you’ve likely been told at some point in time by your physician to make some changes in your dietary habits. Using recipe substitutions when cooking is a great way to add nutrients to recipes and eliminate the things your heart does not need.
Small changes can lead to big results when it comes to heart benefits. I explain 5 common recipe substitutions below along with a brief explanation of how each substitution may help prevent heart disease. I hope you enjoy learning why these are all great substitutions to make and get inspired to try some of these soon!
5 Common Recipe Substitutions
#1: Whole Grains
The main difference between whole grains and refined grains is in the amount of processing the product goes through. Whole grains are less processed and therefore contain more components (and nutrients) from the original plant. On average, whole grains provide more protein, B vitamins, fiber, and trace minerals than their refined counterparts. This is because refined grains go through more processing. The bran and germ parts of the plant are removed in this process. This results in a finer texture and longer shelf life. However, it strips the product of valuable nutrients.
Diets rich in whole grains have been known to help lower risk of heart disease, including total and low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol levels. Because of this, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends replacing refined carbohydrates with whole grains in addition to fruits, vegetables, and legumes.
#2: Low Fat Dairy Products
Switching out full fat dairy products in cooking and baking for lower fat versions is also a great choice for heart health. This can be anything from replacing the regular sour cream on your baked potato with a low fat or fat-free version, to making whipped cream using skim milk (which can be tricky) instead of heavy whipping cream.
Many dietary guidelines recommend limiting dairy fat consumption in order to lower saturated fat intake and heart disease risk. For one, the American Heart Association recommends including mostly low fat and nonfat dairy sources. However, some recent studies showed the opposite by concluding the more fatty acids participants had in their blood or fat tissue, the lower their risk of cardiovascular disease appeared to be.
There were limitations to this study, however. More studies need to be done in order to fully define the relationship between full fat dairy and heart disease risk. So, we cannot say yet that this justifies switching to full fat dairy products.
Overall, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics still recommends limiting saturated and trans fats in your diet.
Here are some substitutions to try that will help you limit saturated and trans fats:
Instead Of: Try This:
Whole Milk ——-> Fat free or low-fat milk
Mayonnaise ——> Reduce fat or fat free version or low-fat Greek yogurt
Cheese ———-> Low-fat or low sodium cheese or cheese alternative
Cream Cheese ——–> Fat free or Neufchatel cheese or pureed low-fat cottage cheese
You may have noticed on some boxes of cake mix, muffin mix or bread mixes that there is an alternative recipe that uses applesauce in place of the oil.
Substituting applesauce for oil in any baked goods recipe is healthier for several reasons. First, by using unsweetened applesauce, which is preferred over sweetened applesauce, you are avoiding added sugars in your diet. And since unsweetened applesauce contains naturally occurring sugars that are already sweet, it reduces the need for using the full amount of sugar in your recipe. Second, the applesauce will keep the product moist without adding saturated fats. And third, applesauce contains less calories per cup than oil. So, you would save overall calorie intake as well.
For reference, 1/2 cup of vegetable oil = 883 calories, 0 gm carbohydrates, 103 gm total fat and 15 gm of saturated fat.
In comparison, 1/2 cup of unsweetened applesauce = 50 calories, 12 gm carbohydrate, 0 gm total fat and 0 gm of saturated fat.
So essentially you are saving a whopping 833 calories, 103 gm of fat and 15 gm of saturated fat per recipe!
#4: Herbs and Spices
I LOVE and will always encourage the use of herbs and spices in cooking.
Two popular and basic salt-free spices that add a huge flavor punch are onion and garlic powder. However, the possibilities are endless! And of course, the forms that are available are also endless: fresh, powdered, minced, flaked, sliced, etc.
Likewise, some herbs and spices are used more frequently than others depending on the type of cuisine you are cooking. Use the handy list of herbs and spices I created below to see which herbs and spices are most commonly used based on some different cuisines. Just remember that when using dried herbs and spices, you don’t need as much as you would when using fresh herbs and spices.
Rule of thumb: Use 1 teaspoon of dried herbs for every 1 tablespoon of fresh herbs. Adjust further according to your tastes.
Herb and Spice List- Based on Cuisine
Click the download button below to view a handy list of common herbs and spices to spice up your international recipes. There are certain herbs and spices that are so universal, they are used in all six cuisines listed! Which are your favorites and how do you use them? Comment below.
#5: Sugar Substitutes
When I refer to sugar substitutes, I am not talking honey, molasses, maple syrup or organic cane sugar. Which are all very natural and delicious options. However, the aim is to reduce the amount of calories and added sugars in a recipe. Most sugar substitutes are non-caloric sweeteners, meaning they have zero calories, fat, sodium, and carbohydrate, unless they are mixed with real sugar. These zero calorie options are great for diabetics as they won’t promote spikes in blood sugars, if using a reasonable amount.
I’m sure you’ve heard of Splenda, NutraSweet, Equal, Stevia or Sweet N’ Low. You know, the ones in the yellow, pink, or blue packets that you can use to sweeten coffee, tea or whatever else you’re drinking? Well, there are also plenty of options for cooking and baking when it comes to sugar substitutes.
In terms of heart health, every top scientifically based heart healthy diet out there recommends limiting added sugars. This is because added sugars may lead to obesity. And obesity is a risk factor for heart disease. Diabetics are also more likely to experience heart failure. If you bake a lot, sugar substitutes are a great way to reduce added sugars in your diet.
Below are some of the many sugar alternative options available out there.
Most of these sugar alternatives are zero calorie and measure cup for cup like sugar and claim to taste like sugar. All the above are approved by the FDA for consumption.
Splenda which is sucralose, has been around for years. Truvia (made from the stevia plant), monk fruit (also known as Luo Han Guo) and allulose are all plant-based sweeteners. And Swerve granular, which is erythritol, is a sugar alcohol made by fermenting glucose with a microorganism.
Recent research does make some positive claims about lesser known allulose. This plant-based sweetener has 90% fewer calories than sugar however the label above says “zero calorie sweetener”. Recent research states that allulose will not spike blood sugars, making it suitable for diabetics. It also claims to have anti-obesity effects.
Likewise, monk fruit research makes similar claims with being suitable for diabetics. This sweetener also contains antioxidant mongrosides, which research shows may reduce oxidative stress in lab rats.
I understand that even though sugar substitutes are FDA approved and generally recognized as safe for human consumption, people may still be hesitant. Reading up on all the sugar alternatives may make your head spin. Some of them are even difficult to pronounce.
Research is still in progress for many, even if promising results and claims have been made. If this is your view, I suggest using the “if you can’t read it, don’t eat it” rule. Along with exercising moderation when consuming.
Impact of Ingredient Substitutions
One thing you may notice when making one or more ingredient substitutions is that the final product may not look or taste quite like the original recipe. This is because cooking and baking are essentially chemical reactions that lead to delicious (or occasionally not so delicious) results.
Okay, let’s be honest. This is the whole reason why you need to use recipe substitutions in the first place. Or at least it SHOULD be.
Using the substitutions listed will reduce unwanted calories, saturated fat, sodium and/or added sugars to your recipes. And is hopefully the reason you are reading this article now. Wanting to make all your current not-so-healthy recipes a little healthier so that you can enjoy them more often or without guilt is the goal.
Likewise, reducing the fat content or sugar content of a recipe will affect the consistency of the final product. A lot of times this is because the moisture content is being altered.
Fat acts not only to flavor foods but results in more tender baked goods. You may notice cookies are more delicate or crumble when eaten if they are made with too much butter. So, substituting lower fat ingredients may lead to a drier baked good. And when using lower fat dairy in place of heavy cream, the consistency is also very noticeable. One example is using 2% milk in place of heavy cream to make a cream-based pasta sauce recipe. This may lead to a much thinner, watery sauce versus a rich, creamy version the original recipe would have resulted in.
Sugar helps baked goods retain moisture, which means they will store better and last longer. You can sometimes reduce the amount of sugar the recipe calls for without much change in consistency. However, keep in mind that depending on the sugar substitute you use, replacing sucrose (sugar) with something else may have a big impact on the overall consistency.
Substituting one type of flour for another is also likely to change the consistency. This is because of the protein content. Protein in flour lends to the strength of the final product. Bread flours are highest in protein and cake flours are finer and have much less protein. So substituting whole wheat flour for all-purpose flour may lead to a tougher, firmer or chewier product.
Substituting one ingredient for another may also cause changes in the flavor of your final product.
For instance, salt is used in many recipes, even if just a pinch. This acts as a subtle flavor enhancer and often keeps foods from tasting “flat”.
Some of the flavor changes you experience may not be bad. I actually prefer the taste of brown rice over white rice, for example. And by lending more flavor to foods using herbs, spices, vinegars, lemon juice, etc. you do not have to sacrifice flavor for health.
The five substitutions I mentioned above are only a few of the more common ingredient swaps out there. Download your free handout below to see other substitutions you could be making.
I suggest trying only 1-2 changes per recipe to see how it affects the final product. If you don’t mind the difference in consistency and/or flavor, then you’ll be fine. But for some, you might not be able to bear the thought of altering grandma’s delectable potato bisque in order to reduce the overall calorie, fat and cholesterol content. Either way, it is your choice, and I will always encourage you to take moments when needed to savor the foods you truly can’t live without.
Remember, no food is ever off limits. Allowing yourself to eat the high fat or high sodium foods you love every so often is good for the soul. Besides, the practice of moderation and mindful eating is another blog topic altogether 😊.
Get your free heart healthy substitutions handout HERE or click the image below.
Interested in some of my favorite heart healthy recipes to try? Check out the recipe section, HERE. Expect new additions to the collection monthly!
Or for some more tips on how to live a heart healthy life right NOW. Check out my post “5 Things You Can Do to Support Heart Health NOW“.
- Xu Q, Chen SY, Deng LD, Feng LP, Huang LZ, Yu RR. Antioxidant effect of mongrosides against oxidative stress induced by palmitic acid in mouse insulinoma NIT-1 cells. Braz J Med Biol Res. 2013;46(11):949-955.
- Trieu K, Bhat S, Dai Z, et al. Biomarkers of dairy fat intake, incident cardiovascular disease, and all-cause mortality: A cohort study, systemic review, and meta-analysis. PLOS Medicine. 2021;18(9). Accessed: 5 December 2021. Available at: [https://journals.plos.org/plosmedicine/article?id=10.1371/journal.pmed.1003763].
- Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Dietary Fatty Acids for Healthy Adults Position Paper. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Jan. 2014. 114(1):136-153. Accessed: 5 December, 2021. Available at: [https://www.andeal.org/vault/2440/web/DietaryFatty_JADA.pdf].
- American Heart Association. 2021. Whole grains, refined grains and dietary fiber. Accessed: 5 December, 2021. Available at: [https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/healthy-eating/eat-smart/nutrition-basics/whole-grains-refined-grains-and-dietary-fiber].
- Whole Earth Brands Inc. 2021. What puts the sweet in Swerve sweetener? Accessed: 14 December, 2021. Available at: [https://swervesweet.com/explore/how-swerve-is-made].
- Lawandi, Janice. 2021. A guide to baking substitutions. The Bake School. Accessed: 15 December, 2021. Available at: [https://bakeschool.com/a-guide-to-baking-substitutions/].
Kiran Campbell is a registered dietitian and entrepreneur with 13 years of experience. She has a degree in psychology as well as dietetics. She is also a proud member of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics’ and its Cardiovascular Health and Well-being Dietetics Practice Group among others. Kiran proudly presents and promotes the most up-to-date, science-based nutrition information on all things heart-related. She aims to serve not only individuals with heart disease, but also those wanting to protect against it. Learn more about Kiran by visiting her About Page.