Tag Archives: Swaps

14 Nutrition Hacks to Cut Calories, Refined Carbs, and Unhealthy Fats

It might not be so easy to switch from potato chips to kale chips or to trick yourself into believing that chia seed pudding is just as delicious as chocolate mousse, but some swaps and tricks–like the ones below–are so easy and sneaky that’s it’s pointless not to try them. These “nutrition hacks” focus on cutting out unnecessary calories, unhealthy fats, and refined carbs; look out for the next set of nutrition hacks, which will focus on adding vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants and boosting their absorption!

1. Replace mayo, sour cream, or cream with Greek yogurt in both sweet (banana bread, muffins) and savory (tortilla soup, chili, spinach artichoke dip) recipes to slash saturated fat and boost protein. Or go above and beyond and try Greek yogurt in cupcake frostings, marinades, and French toast.

greek yogurt

2. Swap half of the ground beef for mushrooms in burgers, meatloaf, meatballs, and taco meat. Mushrooms have a similar meaty taste and texture in addition to valuable nutrients like vitamin D, niacin, copper, potassium, and antioxidants.

3. Add spiralized zucchini or carrots to spaghetti to bulk up your pasta dinner zucchiniand add vitamins and fiber.

4. Add equal amounts of potatoes and cauliflower to your favorite mashed potato recipe to cut calories and add glucosinolates, a type of antioxidant that helps in the detoxification process, as well as anti-inflammatory vitamin K.

5. Use hummus or avocado in place of mayo or butter as a spread in sandwiches or toast to add healthy monounsaturated fats, which have been shown to boost satiety and heart health.

6. Swap half of your favorite cereal for a low-sugar, high-fiber cereal (try Nature’s Path Multigrain Flakes, Barbara’s Shredded Spoonfuls Multigrain, or Kashi 7 Whole Grain Puffs) to cut sugar and calories and boost fiber. You’ll be able to enjoy a bigger and just-as-tasty bowl of cereal for a similar amount of calories and more nutrients.

7. Use fresh fruit instead of dried fruit in salads, oatmeal, yogurt, and cereal: one cup of fresh apricots totals 76 calories, while one cup of dried apricots adds 212 sugar-packed calories.

8. Skip the sugary syrup in your morning latte, and add flavor with cinnamon, nutmeg, or cocoa powder. A regular latte made with 2% milk contains 190 calories and 17 grams of sugar, compared to a flavored latte 250 calories and 35 grams (8.75 teaspoons!) of sugar.

9. Substitute riced cauliflower for rice in stir-fries, curries, pilafs, and burritos to cut down on refined carbs.

10. Skip the pizza dough and pile your choice of toppings on a portobello mushroom cap or eggplant slices.

Nutrition hacks

11. Serve your food on 9-inch plates as opposed to 12-inch ones: in a recent study published in the journal Appetite, diners ate 48% fewer calories (up to 275-350 calories!) when they ate off smaller plates.

12. Buy a good non-stick pan; the oil you use to prevent sticking adds 120 calories per tablespoon. The flavors of oil disappear during the cooking process anyway, so if you’re looking for flavor, add a light drizzle after cooking.

14. …or, instead of using oil for flavor, use vegetable or chicken broth to prevent vegetables, chicken, and fish from sticking to the pan.


Four Swaps for a Healthier Super Bowl

Chicken wings, spinach dip, and pizza will be on most people’s menus this weekend as Super Bowl Sunday kicks off–bad news for those of us that like to maintain some semblance of a healthy diet. And unfortunately, your guests probably won’t be too happy if you’re serving up raw sprouted chili and macrobiotic kale chips. But you can still make those traditional recipes healthier with a few minor tweaks–or even switch it up completely with these healthy, but just as tasty, recipes.

Healthy Super Bowl Swaps

Chicken wings
Chicken wings start out as a relatively lean protein–but when they’re deep-fried, covered in butter, and smothered with a sugar- and sodium-laden sauce, they become tiny, easy-to-overeat calorie bombs. Not convinced that a chicken can do that much damage? Lone Star’s chicken wings appetizer clocks in at 1,759 calories; just five chicken wings from Hooters adds 866 calories to your daily count.

Make it healthier: Begin by taking deep-frying out of the process: it not only adds unnecessary calories but also introduces acrylamide, a carcinogenic and neurotoxic by-product of deep-frying, into the equation. Use whole wheat flour and cornmeal for crunch, and call on herbs and spices for flavor; pan-fry the wings for that crispy finish.

Change it up: It’s the sweet and salty coating on chicken wings that most people crave–so try switching out chicken for shrimp. Shrimp is packed with astaxanthin, an antioxidant that reduces inflammation and boosts immune function, as well as selenium and omega-3 fatty acids, both of which contribute to heart health.

Alternatives to Chicken Wings
Recipes to try:
Boneless Buffalo Wings
Healthy Sriracha Chicken “Buffalo” Wings
Spicy Soy Glazed Shrimp Skewers with Grilled Pineapple and Green Onions

Spinach dip
Spinach dip and its close cousin, artichoke dip, don’t exactly count as vegetables. Those greens are hidden behind a heavy base of mayo, sour cream or cream cheese that add tons of saturated fat and calories. The average restaurant serving: 1,600 calories, 100 grams of fat, and 2,500 mg of sodium.

Make it healthier: Replace the mayo, sour cream, or cream cheese with Greek yogurt or cottage cheese to remove most of the dip’s fat-laden calories, add muscle-building protein, and keep its creamy taste and texture. Ingredients like shallots, garlic, herbs, and lemon juice add flavor for minimal calories; double the spinach in the recipe to boost fiber, iron, and vitamins A and K intake.

Change it up: For a vegan spin on spinach dip, use beans as the base: each half cup serving adds 10 grams of satiating fiber, which will keep you from going back for seconds and thirds. Or try a hummus and bean dip hybrid by combining edamame with garbanzo beans, cumin, and spinach.

Alternatives to Spinach Dip

Recipes to try:
Creamy Spinach Dip
Spinach and White Bean Dip
Edamame, Spinach and Garlic Hummus

Super Bowl Sunday is the number one day for pizza sales: this year, Domino’s expects to serve up more than 11 million slices. Unfortunately for Americans’ waistlines, saturated fat- and sodium-heavy pepperoni and cheese are the two most popular topping choices. An average slice of pizza holds around 200-300 calories–not bad on its own, but a pretty hefty serving when you eat four or five slices.

Make it healthier: Start with a whole-wheat, thin crust base: it’ll add three grams of filling fiber and remove around 100 calories of refined carbs from each slice. Ask for extra tomato sauce and pile on the veggies–the extra bulk will displace some of that greasy cheese. And stick with leaner meats, like chicken and ham; meatballs, sausage, and pepperoni are packed with sodium and saturated fat.

Change it up: Sub out the refined carbs of pizza dough — which contribute to many of pizza’s calories — for nutrient-rich portobello mushroom caps. Large portobello caps are the perfect vehicle for tangy sauce and melted cheese, and because they’re so low in calories, they offer more room for decadent toppings like pesto and prosciutto. Try slices of eggplant if you’re not a mushroom fan.

Healthy Alternatives to Pizza

Recipes to try:
Whole Wheat Pizza with Artichokes and Pecorino
Stuffed Portobello Mushroom Pizzas

Whether your chili lies atop a bed of spaghetti or drowns a hotdog, it’s probably too high in both calories and saturated fat thanks to generous servings of ground beef, cheese, and sour cream. An average bowl of beef chili can pack up to 600 calories–and that doesn’t count add-ons like chips and cornbread.

Make it healthier: Pick a bean-based recipe: beans are high in both protein and fiber (7 and 6 grams, respectively, per half cup), which help keep blood sugar levels–and thus energy and mood–stable during the big game. They’re also a good source of potassium, iron, folate, manganese, copper, and zinc. Sneak in vegetables (like tomatoes, zucchini, carrots and peppers) to add more nutrients; they’ll easily hide behind spices like cumin, paprika and chili powder.

Change it up: Posole, a traditional Mexican soup made with hominy and chicken (or sometimes pork), is fresh and light, making it a perfect side for heavier Super Bowl foods. Lime juice and cilantro add flavor for minimal calories, while radish and iceberg lettuce provide satisfying crunch.

Healthier Alternatives to Chili

Recipes to try:
Vegetarian Chili with Roasted Chilies
Superfast Chicken Posole

Pick the Perfect Pasta

It used to be that you just had to pick between spaghetti or fettuccine, penne or cavatappi. But now, the pasta aisle is crammed with so many varieties of pasta — quinoa! corn! spelt! — that it’s become more of a library (reading all those stats…). So instead of letting smart marketing get the best of you, consult this guide to find the best pasta for you.

Regular pasta

Nutrition (2 oz, 1 cup cooked): 200 calories, 1 g fat, 2 g fiber, 2 g sugar, 7 g protein

Good for: Believe it or not, regular pasta can have a place in a healthy diet. But it’s refined! you say. True; and it is best to eat most of your grains in their whole form. But when a recipe you’re making calls for other fiber-rich ingredients, like white beans, chickpeas, or lots of vegetables, it’s okay to use regular pasta every now and then. The taste of real, semolina pasta is hard to emulate with a whole grain version, and sometimes you just need that chewy, not-grainy texture. The other time to use regular pasta: when you want that perfect, unadulterated bowl of spaghetti, olive oil, and a pinch of pepper.

Pairs well with: high-fiber foods; olive oil and pepper; tomatoes and basil

Whole wheat pasta

Nutrition (2 oz, 1 cup cooked): 200 calories, 1.5 g fat, 6 g fiber, 2 g sugars, 7 g protein

Good for: Whole wheat pasta brings a healthy serving of fiber to the table, a nutrient that most Americans are lacking in. Fiber boosts satiety, which is especially important in a pasta, as it’s all too easy to down a bowl with three times the appropriate serving size. But it also helps maintain steady blood sugar levels, boosts digestive health, and improves cardiovascular health.

Pairs well with: Hearty, flavorful sauces like pesto; robust tomato sauces like arrabiatta; pasta salads

Spinach Pasta (or other flavored varieties)

Nutrition (2 oz, 1 cup cooked): 200 calories, 1.5 g fat, 2 g fiber, 2 g sugars, 7 g protein

Good for: Flavored varieties of pasta, be it spinach, tomato, or carrot, are good for one thing: presentation. Unfortunately, these vegetable-hued pastas won’t count towards your daily serving of vegetables. If you look on the ingredients list, you’ll see spinach, tomato, or another vegetable listed as one of the last ingredients; that’s because only a few grams of the freeze-dried produce is actually in the pasta. If you’re looking for vegetables, just add a handful of spinach!

Pairs well with: Thin or clear sauces, so that the color shines through. And serve it with a big salad!

Quinoa Pasta

Nutrition (2 oz, 1 cup cooked): 229 calories, 3.7 g fat, 4 g fiber, 4 g sugars, 8 g protein

Good for: Because it’s made from a seed, quinoa pasta hits the trifecta of satiety-boosting nutrients: fiber, protein and omega-3 fatty acids (don’t let the higher fat content scare you; those are healthy fats!). Quinoa is also gluten free, making this a good option for those with a gluten sensitivity or Celiac Disease.

Pairs well with: Anything: quinoa pasta has a mild flavor, so it won’t overpower delicate sauces. Since it offers fiber, you don’t necessarily have to pair it with fiber-rich sides (but vegetables are always a good idea!)

Brown Rice Pasta

Nutrition (2 oz): 190 calories, 3 g fat, 4 g fiber, 1 g sugar, 4 g protein

Good for: Another good gluten free option, brown rice pasta offers both fiber and protein. But since it’s lower in protein than other varieties, it’s a good idea to pair it with protein-rich fare like chicken, shrimp, or beans.

Pairs well with: Brown rice pasta can be stickier and chewier in texture than other varieties, so pair it with thick and chunky sauces.

Shirataki Noodles

Nutrition (4 oz): 20 calories, 0.5 g fat, 1 g fiber, 0 g sugars, 1 g protein

Good for: These Asian noodles are made from the flour of the Konjac yam and are extremely low in calories. They contain a type of fiber called glucomannan, which may help with cholesterol control; because they’re made with little else, they take on the taste of whatever sauce or ingredients they’re paired with (although some people think their smell is off-putting). These noodles are a good choice for those nights when you want to lose yourself in a big bowl of pasta, or if you have trouble with portion control when it comes with pasta.

Pairs well with: Flavorful sauces likes pesto and marinara. And because Shirataki noodles offer very little in the way of nutrition, pair them with lean protein and fiber-rich vegetables. Or, try Asian flavors: use them as the base in a stir-fry with teriyaki sauce or soy sauce.

Spaghetti squash

Nutrition (1 cup, or about 5.5 oz): 42 calories, 0 g fat, 2 g fiber, 4 g sugars, 1 g protein

Good for: Low in calories, spaghetti squash is a good vehicle for hearty, flavorful, chunky sauces — the kind where you really only want to taste the sauce and toppings anyway! It’s packed with fiber, vitamin A, beta-carotene, and other antioxidants. Spaghetti squash also works well in recipes that call for higher calorie toppings, like pesto, alfredo, or meatballs; the extra 200 calories from regular pasta won’t put your dinner over the calorie edge.

Pairs well with: Chunky vegetables sauces; sauces with meatballs; alfredo; pesto

Make Your Holidays Healthier

Happy Holidays from ThreeApplesADay! Make your holidays healthier this year by switching out notoriously fattening foods (green bean casserole, pecan pie, unidentifiable canapes) for healthier versions (roasted brussels sprouts, pumpkin pie, and two- and three-ingredient canapes). Check out my article at Food Logs and Feedback to see how and why to choose these swaps!