Thanks to cauliflower gnocchi, zucchini noodles, and a slew of other healthy hacks, eating a nutritious, satisfying diet has never been easier. You can even indulge in your favorite comfort foods without falling into an abyss of calories, carbs, and sugar—unless, of course, you drown that gnocchi in creamy sauce or shred a whole block of cheese onto your zucchini noodles.
Here, dietitians share how to ensure you don’t sabotage all the healthy food swaps you’re making—and keep your meals on the up and up.
The Swap: Flour Alternatives For White Flour
Whenever a recipe calls for white flour, swap in whole-grain instead, suggests dietitian Kelly Jones, MS, RD, CSSD, LDN. Typically, this will result in a heartier texture (a plus in quick breads) and give your baked goods a nutrient boost.
“When grains are sprouted, they have a higher mineral bioavailability, meaning their minerals may be better absorbed,” says Jones. “They also may be better tolerated for people with sensitive digestive tracts.”
Jones loves to use sprouted grain flour when baking or making pizza dough.
If you eat a gluten- or grain-free diet, you can also sub in almond flour, suggests dietitian Maggie Michalczyk, MS, RD. It has a nice texture and provides some healthy fats.
Just note that almond flour is not a one-to-one swap-in for regular flour, so do your research to ensure you get the right consistency when using almond flour, Michalczyk warns.
Keep it healthy: If you’re making pizza or savory dishes, make sure toppings like cheese and processed meats remain reasonable.
Plus, take your baked good swaps a step further by adding in other nutritious ingredients, like zucchini in quick breads, slivered almonds on cookies, or a scoop of protein powder in whatever batter you’re whipping up.
The Swap: Bulking Up Meaty Dishes With Veggies
Whenever making a meat-forward meal, add some extra veggies to the mix. On Taco Tuesday, for example, add shredded carrots and chopped mushrooms to your taco meat filling, Jones suggests. This increases the nutrient density of the dish and allows you to cut back on how much meat you use. (A plus for your wallet—and for anyone who wants to eat a more plant-centric diet.)
You can also add veggies like chopped spinach and onions to burger patties or meatballs.
Keep it healthy: Watch out for rich sauces and toppings, like mayo-based aiolis, bacon, and cheese. Focus as much as possible as nutritious toppings like Greek yogurt or homemade pesto.
The Swap: Peanut Butter For Butter
Yes, peanut butter can sub in well for actual butter in quite a few baked goods recipes.
“When making cookies or banana bread, swap half of the butter for natural peanut butter,” suggests Jones. By doing so, you’ll add healthy fats, vitamin E, fiber, and protein to your dish.
Keep it healthy: In baked goods, watch out for loads of extra sugars. Instead of milk chocolate chunks and candy bits, add dark chocolate, unsweetened coconut flakes or nuts to your batters. This way, you’ll cut down on some sugar and add some healthy fats, protein, and antioxidants.
The Swap: Pasta Alternatives For Regular Pasta
“Veggie noodles are a great low-carb, nutrient-dense swap for regular pasta,” says Michalczyk, who recommends using zucchini or spaghetti squash instead of typical noodles.
Bean pastas are another good option, and provide extra protein and fiber, which help keep you fuller longer. (They’re also typically gluten-free.)
Keep it healthy: First, make sure whatever sauces you put on alternative noodles are relatively light. Stick with light pestos and low-sugar tomato sauce, or a drizzle of olive oil and fresh herbs, says Michalczyk. Watch out for creamy sauces like Alfredo or anything butter-based.
Also consider adding a protein source like grilled chicken or salmon to your meal to keep it balanced and filling, Michalczyk says. (This is especially important if you’re eating a bean-based pasta and watching your carbs.)
The Swap: Cauliflower For Carb-Heavy Foods
Love mashed potatoes, pizza crust, rice, and pasta, but don’t love the carbs? Cauliflower can provide a similar texture for fewer carbs (and more vitamins, minerals, and fiber).
Keep it healthy: To make sure this swap works in your favor, keep your pizza or mashed cauliflower recipes clean. Skip layers of sausage, cheese, bacon, and other rich or processed toppings, and focus on fresh veggies and wholesome sauces like low-sugar marinara, instead.
The Swap: Applesauce For Sugar
Since applesauce provides natural sweetness, it’s a great sugar alternative in all sorts of baked goods. It also provides nice texture and moistness to breads and muffins, Michalczyk says. Not to mention, the extra fiber will keep you fuller a bit longer.
“Try swapping half of the refined sugar in a recipe for unsweetened applesauce,” she adds.
Keep it healthy: As always with baked goods, keep your other ingredients as low in sugar as possible, says Michalczyk. Swap dried cranberries, raisins, and milk chocolate chips for lower-sugar fruits like blueberries or raspberries, as well as nuts, seeds, and flax.