When it comes to cooking and baking there are easy (and tasty) heart-healthy substitutions you can incorporate in your daily meal preparation.
Substituting new foods for your tried and true staples might feel foreign at first. (I’ve been there.) But if you stick with it you will start to notice positive reactions from your body and even learn to love the taste.
Here are nine heart-healthy substitutions to try.
1. Whole-wheat flour
Instead of white, processed flour try to incorporate whole-wheat flour into your baking. Because whole grains, like whole-wheat products, contain the entire grain, they are more fibrous than their white counterparts—and more likely to keep you full throughout the day. But before you swap, be sure to check the recipe, as the ratio may need to be adjusted.
This substitution applies to bread and pastas as well. Whole-wheat options at the grocery store have become more readily available, so next time you’re shopping be sure to explore your market’s selection. Not sure your family will embrace whole-wheat pasta or flour? Mix it in with white to get them acclimated, suggests Dr. Janet Brill, nutrition expert and author of Cholesterol Down and Prevent a Second Heart Attack. Your family won’t even notice.
2. Unsweetened applesauce
In many baking recipes, you can reduce the amount of saturated fat by substituting butter for fiber-filled, unsweetened applesauce—or any fruit puree—and canola oil, Brill said. (Butter can be replaced with half canola oil and half puree.) Still looking to cut back? Brill suggests trying ground flax seeds in place of oil.
3. Greek yogurt
Delicious on its own, Greek yogurt can wear many hats. An easy, heart-healthy swap? Serve this naturally sour yogurt instead sour cream. You’ll need one small container of nonfat yogurt and a lemon. Squeeze the lemon into the yogurt, stir and serve. This is an easy way to sneak digestion-aiding probiotics into your meals. Just be sure the yogurt you choose is all-natural, plain Greek—flavored and fruit-filled yogurts are full of extra sugars your body doesn’t need.
This green fruit gets a bad rap from time to time, but is actually very good for you. Yes, it has a high fat content and yes, you should eat it in moderation (as you should most things), but avocados are full of the fats your heart needs to stay healthy. Try subbing the cheese or mayonnaise on your sandwich for a serving of avocado. You’ll get the creamy goodness you’re craving while yours heart gets a healthy boost. Don’t love avocado? Another great alternative is hummus, says Brill.
5. Ground turkey
For chili, pasta sauce and burgers take a break from beef and try lean, ground turkey. Reducing your consumption of red meat is a serious step in reducing your chances of heart diseases (or a recurrence). If you’re worried your family will fret, try the whole-wheat pasta trick and work on mixing it in over time.
6. Extra-virgin olive oil
“This should be your main go-to fat for heart health,” said Brill. Used for sautéing and cooking, extra-virgin olive oil is a tasty, heart-healthy substitution for butter. Olive oil taste and price can range drastically, so buy the highest quality you can afford. It must, however, wear the “extra-virgin” label, explains Brill. “It must be extra-virgin or it won’t contain the antioxidants that come with the cold pressing.”
Aside from the stovetop, extra-virgin olive oil is also a great replacement for creamy salad dressings. For an easy weeknight dressing mix balsamic vinegar, olive oil, a squeeze of a lemon, and salt and pepper. (A good ratio for balsamic to oil is 3:1.)
7. Dark leafy greens
Heart-healthy greens like spinach, arugula, watercress and kale can be used in place of watery greens like iceberg lettuce and romaine, which lack in important nutrients. As always, acclimation is key to long-term success, so if you or your family isn’t ready to commit to the dark stuff try mixing different greens in with lettuces you are comfortable with.
8. Skim milk
If dairy is a regular part of your diet, consider subbing your daily dose for skim milk or fat-free half and half. Reduced fat or skim milk can also be used in place of heavy cream and whole milk when it comes to baking. If it fits into your routine, Brill suggests substituting dairy entirely for plant-based milks like soy, almond and rice. Her rule of thumb: More plants, less animals.
9. Egg whites
When it comes to baking, egg whites can generally replace the need for a whole egg. (But be sure to check your recipe as it can sometimes vary.) The ratio tends to be two egg whites to one egg.
In addition to baking, eggs can play a large part in our everyday eating. Love hardboiled egg on your salad? Losing the yolk cuts your cholesterol intake without cutting the flavor. If you’re concerned about waste, consider buying the egg white cartons for easy omelets and cooking.