You know that you need to eat right for your heart. You may even be starting to adjust to what a heart-healthy diet means: eating plenty of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains while limiting your fat, cholesterol, and sodium intake.
But what’s often less clear is exactly how you can make changes in your diet to ensure that you’re getting enough of the foods you need—and not too much of the ones you don’t. One smart way to accomplish this is by understanding what foods can be used as low-fat substitutes for less healthy options.
Fortunately, there are many food substitutions that will allow you to continue to enjoy many of your favorite recipes (including desserts) while taking better care of your heart. Before you start making specific substitutions, keep in mind these general guidelines from Johns Hopkins Medicine:
- Try to limit the number of substitutions you make in any given recipe. By making more than one or two substitutions at a time, you risk changing the original texture and taste of the food.
- Pay special attention to measurements when using substitutions. Using too much or too little of a substitution can affect the outcome of your meal.
- In addition to the substitution ideas below, ask your doctor or nutritionist for advice. Cookbooks and magazines might have other suggestions and some food packages list substitutions as well. Compile a list of your favorites to use again.
Here are some heart-healthy substitutions for different types of meals recommended by Johns Hopkins Medical, the Mayo Clinic, and the American Heart Association (AHA):
Although you may be a stickler for following a recipe to the “T”—especially if you’ve been using it for years—rethink your method. You can make many recipes healthier for your heart by simply substituting lower-fat or fat-free ingredients in place of saturated fats, trans fats, and cholesterol.
Worried they won’t taste the same? Many of these substitutions are so good that you’ll notice little or no difference in taste when they’re used in recipes. Here are some standard swaps to try.
If you want to try a few more creative options for substitutions, you have many choices. It might surprise you to find what kinds of ingredients you can use with success in place of the standard ones in your favorite recipes.
It’s not just recipes that you can improve upon by using low-fat, healthier substitutions: snack foods including desserts are also fair game. Try these alternatives the next time you feel a snack attack coming on.
There’s no limit to the kinds of substitutions you can use for different types of foods. Try these additional ideas for heart-healthy meals.
- When using dressing on your salad, choose a fat-free or low-fat dressing instead of regular salad dressing—or choose oil and vinegar.
- Instead of using a cream-based pasta sauce, try tomato, marinara, or clam sauce—or make a low-fat sauce from blended non-fat yogurt, lemon, garlic, and parmesan.
- Top your baked potato with salsa or low-fat yogurt rather than butter or sour cream.
Instead of thinking of substitutions as limitations, think of them as what they are: creative variations on foods you already know and love. Don’t be afraid to by swapping ingredients. While decreasing the fat and cholesterol in your diet, you just might find a new favorite dish.