Does anyone else feel SO refreshed going into the week? After a bit of traveling last weekend and not-so-stellar eating habits on my part, this past week(end), I stuck to the grind and consumed a strict, plant-based diet, void of any meat or processed products. First of all, I’ll point out the fact that you never truly realize how many processed products you consume on a daily basis until you completely cut them out of your diet. I actually had to put thought into planning my meals instead of just reaching for a box or a bag out of the pantry (which ended up being really fun!). And, before you ask, I’ll declare loud and clear that by no means did I try this to test the waters on become a vegetarian, vegan, etc. I enjoy meat, but I was very interested in how my body would react to cutting it out of my diet for five days. I won’t go into detail about my experience; that might be a post for another day (if anyone is interested), BUT I just wanted everyone to know that I feel GREAT and was, as always, reassured that I don’t need to spend a bunch of money on plans, shakes, supplements, etc. to lose weight or feel better on a physical level. The improved diet and a restful weekend have me ready to tackle the week. I am also am super excited to head back to the mountains this weekend! Lane and I are headed to Johnson City, Tennessee on Thursday night and I can’t wait to see cooler temperatures and maybe some red, orange, and yellow in the tree leaves!
I wanted to come behind my last blog post and continue to talk about food (hopefully no one is complaining about that). You may have been scrolling through some of the recipes I posted last week and saw some ingredients that made you feel completely uncomfortable and you chose not to pursue the recipe because of it. Jumping into cooking with foreign ingredients can be a scary thing. We know what we like, and switching up our cooking routines (or any routine for that matter) can not only be intimidating, but difficult to get acclimated to. The ingredients we use these days are so processed and so synthetic that we don’t know what “real” tastes like anymore. Not to mention that it takes time to retrain our palates and get familiar with these new, foreign tastes, to actually start to enjoy healthier choices.
Some of these healthy ingredient swaps I have been doing for years, and others, I have just caught on to. There have been times where I have tried swapping out an ingredient in one recipe and disliked it and then tried it again with another recipe and loved it. The science of cooking is all about trial and error and I encourage you to take the risk.
Here are a few ingredient swaps happening in my own kitchen!
Let’s start out with an easy one. If you’re looking to make some changes in your diet by swapping out some of the foods you’re currently consuming for healthier options, trading ground beef for ground turkey is a good place to start. In our home, if we are having the occasional get-together with friends or family, beef burgers are most likely going to be making an appearance on the grill. In almost any other case I can think of, we willingly opt for ground turkey. What makes this trade-off so easy is that other than if you’re eating plain turkey meat, ground turkey and ground beef taste very similar when jazzed up with spices or a light sauce. When mixed in with casseroles and other dishes, they taste practically identical.
Using turkey in place of beef CAN reduce the amount of saturated fat and cholesterol in your diet. The key word there is CAN. When chosing your meat, make sure to select only fat-free varieties or no less than 90-95% lean. The ground turkey purchased at your local grocery store is most likely a mix of both dark and light meat. Darker turkey meat contains more fat and calories than light turkey meat, which can increase the overall fat content of the product. As always, is important to check your nutrition labels before purchasing.
Start out simple and try ground turkey in your whole grain or spaghetti squash dishes, in chili, or my personal favorite, healthy ground turkey enchiladas. The great thing about ground meat is that it is perfect for a quick and easy skillet dish for individuals on the go!
Try it out!
If you don’t like avocado, I don’t know if I can trust you. Obviously that isn’t true, but all jokes aside, I really do love avocados. I personally could put avocado on just about anything, but I typically use it as an alternative for butter or mayonnaise on sandwiches. I also think it is a great alternative for people who like the taste and texture of any type of cream sauce. Dishes like fettuccine alfredo or creamy dressings can be made skinny by switching out the cream component for avocado. This can also be done with Greek yogurt, but we will get to that one later!
Some people shy away from avocados due to the high fat content. The fat contained in avocados (oleic acid (also found in olive oil)) is of the heart-healthy monounsaturated variety, aka, “the good fat.” According to The Dairy Council of California, these fats have been shown to lower the “bad” cholesterol in the body and increase “good” cholesterol. As with any type of food you should always exercise moderation.
Avocados are also nutrient-rich and contain many antioxidant vitamins such as vitamins A, C, and E. They are great for the health of our skin, can assist in proper regulation of our hormones, as well as aid in our cardiovascular health by regulating blood pressure. They are also a good source of dietary fiber which means they are easily digested and create a feeling of fullness.
Try it out!
Not only are almonds a quick, delicious, energy-packed snack on their own, they can also act as ingredient and topping alternatives, which can add great flavor and crunch to our favorite meals! I personally love almonds in my oatmeal or in a fruit and yogurt parfait as a substitute for granola. I also enjoy them on top of salads in place of croutons and in homemade cranberry almond chicken salad.
There are so many benefits to making almonds a part of your diet. They are rich in monounsaturated fats, which help protect against heart disease by lowering blood cholesterol levels (remember the “bad” cholesterol we talked about?). Almonds are also rich in the antioxidant, vitamin E, that protects against free radicals that attack healthy cells in the body. Almonds are also high in calcium, which makes them a good substitute for people who are intolerant of dairy products.
At a minimal, start grabbing a handful of almonds in the morning to start your day or for a mid-day snack to increase your productivity, but I highly recommend implementing them into your cooking routine! This tiny nut has a lot to offer!
Try it out!
We do not consume a ton of milk in our household. The extent of my milk consumption comes from blending a protein shake or smoothie, or if I’m adding a bit to my oatmeal or morning coffee. I know that there are some heavy opinions about what type of milk is best for us and I’m not here to spew the scientific reasons as to why one is better than the other. I am merely going to share, from my own personal experience, what form of milk I prefer, based solely on the fact of how I feel after consuming it. There are many forms of milk out there and it is important to find which option works best for you and for your body.
I can’t remember when I stopped buying dairy milk, but coconut milk is something relatively new I’ve been trying out and I’m loving it. I’ve also used almond milk and cashew milk as a substitute for dairy milk in the past. If someone offered me a glass of 1% or skim dairy milk, I would gladly accept it. I love the taste, and I drank it my entire life, until recently. The absence of lactose and added hormones in plant-based milk allows for consumption without feeling bloated, or the promise of an upset stomach. I’ve seen this overall trend when switching to a more plant-based diet from a diet focused on heavy consumption of animal products. When shopping for a plant-based milk, just make sure to read your labels and opt for an unsweetened milk.
Soy milk and rice milk are two other popular options that you can find at your local grocery store.
Slow Cooker Thai Peanut Chicken – Dinner then Dessert (Coconut Milk)
Tomato Basil Bisque with Italian Meatballs – Physical Kitchness (Coconut Milk)
Vegan Green Bean Casserole – Minimalist Baker (Unsweetened Almond Milk)
Try it out!
Truth be told, the first time I used Greek yogurt in my cooking, I didn’t like it. I know that for some people, first impressions are everything, but I tend to believe in second chances. I’m not sure what did it for me the second time; maybe using a different brand, but I could not believe how delicious it was! I typically use Greek Yogurt on chili and stews, in tomato-based soups and on baked potatoes, but it can also be used as a base for some popular salad dressings, dips, and in certain pasta dishes. Basically, you can use Greek yogurt in the place of sour cream, heavy cream, mayo, cream cheese, butter, etc. It’s a pretty versatile product.
Two of the most common reasons we use Greek yogurt as an ingredient alternative in cooking is to reduce calories as well as fat intake. 1 cup of fat-free Greek Yogurt has about 120 calories and 0 grams of fat which makes it a great way to slim down your recipes and add that necessary moisture, creamy texture, tang, or whatever it is that you’re looking for into your favorite recipes. Greek yogurt is also packed with protein as well as probiotics that keep your gut happy and healthy!
If you’re not ready to dive into using Greek yogurt in your cooking practices, I encourage you to try it in place of your regular yogurt. Dress it up in the morning with some canned pumpkin and cinnamon and add almonds on top. Get familiarized with the taste so that transitioning into using it as an ingredient in your meals is much easier for you!
Try it out!
If you haven’t tried swapping your pasta noodles for spaghetti squash yet, WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN? The great thing about spaghetti squash is that it’s one of those healthier options that doesn’t compromise your time or your pocket-book. You cut it in half and brush it with a little olive oil, salt and pepper to taste, then either throw it in the oven or in your slow cooker. Quick, easy, and delicious. It also is relatively cheap for the amount of food it yields.
Spaghetti squash is a low-carb, low-fat, gluten-free, and vegan alternative to pasta noodles. When you crunch the numbers, pasta noodles are about 200 calories per one cup, cooked, and in comparison, spaghetti squash has only about 40 calories. Aside from the calorie difference, which makes it a great food to promote weight-loss, spaghetti squash is enriched with vitamin A which prevents cell damage and vitamin B which promotes optimal cellular functioning. It is also packed with omega-3 fatty acids that aid in heart disease and inflammation prevention and fatty acids that promote optimal brain functioning.
If you’re not fully up to the idea of spaghetti squash, try switching to whole grain pasta, quinoa, or even veggie pasta. These alternatives are often lower in carbohydrates and will give you more nutritional value than the standard refined grain pasta noodle.
Try it out!
If you’re anything like me, you’re appalled at the amount of refined sugar that is in so many of the products American consumers purchase on a daily basis. I recently watched a documentary called That Sugar Film that was released in 2014. Australian, Damon Gameau, runs an experiment on himself, switching from a diet free of refined sugar to a diet low in fat and high in sugar (40 tsp of sugar per day). If you decide to watch, you will be surprised to see that the diet Damon transitions into looks much like a normal diet that many of us may consume. He doesn’t “over-eat” or go out of his way to indulge. I’ll leave the details out, but what it came down to was that on this seemingly “normal” diet, Damon became overweight, lethargic, and developed a fatty liver.
Having the power of knowing what sugar does to our bodies allows us to avoid and seek different options when we are able. I’ve tried a few different refined sugar alternatives and the one I’ve come to like best is raw honey (cinnamon is another favorite since it tastes delightful in coffee!).
When we think of the more common uses for honey, we think of adding it to herbal teas or drizzling it over oatmeal. What we don’t typically think about is adding it to some of the more bland-tasting, nutritious foods, to make the transition into healthful eating just that much easier.
When compared to refined sugar, since honey is lower in fructose and contains other trace (small amounts of) minerals (refined sugar offers no added minerals), it is processed and absorbed more slowly by the body than refined sugar. What does all this mean for us? It means that our body is able to digest honey much more easily, we have longer-lasting energy and our blood sugar does not spike as drastically when we consume it over refined sugar. So, that being said, pound-for-pound, honey is considered a much better option. Just make sure to consume in moderation because it is slightly higher in calories than refined sugar at 288 calories per 1 G (1 TBSP = 25 G).
We are so blessed here in Charleston to have a fantastic farmers markets that set up shop a large portion of the year since we experience warm weather most of the year. Check out your community’s farmers markets and search for local, raw, unprocessed honey varieties.
Try it out!
Well, since we wrapped up talking about honey with a roasted honey garlic cauliflower recipe, I suppose we shall talk about cauliflower next! I can’t even begin to describe the appreciation I have formed for this vegetable, even just over the past few months. Like many people, I have a difficult time saying no to carbohydrates. When introduced to the idea of using cauliflower to replace a category of food that I considered irreplaceable, I didn’t think It would be possible. Like me, you’re probably thinking the same thing, but I learned that you can’t knock it until you try it, folks. Cauliflower rice can replace any type of rice product, while mashed cauliflower is equally as satisfying as starchy mashed potatoes. You can make cauliflower pizza and quiche crusts as well as “cauliflower tots” and cauliflower that will trick your brain into thinking you’re eating a boneless chicken wing. Can you think of a more versatile food?
Cauliflower is only 25 calories per 100 grams, raw, but the low-calorie count is only one of the health benefits. Cauliflower is rich in antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds which lower oxidative stress and the presence of free-radicals in the body. The anti-inflammatory properties of cauliflower also help keep your arteries and blood vessels free from plaque build-up. In turn, you will have less of a chance of developing high blood pressure and heart disease.
Wouldn’t we all just love to rid our bodies of all toxins? Isn’t that one of the main reasons we don’t mind working up a sweat while working out or why we do a cleanse after a weekend of eating poorly? The compounds in cauliflower support proper absorption of the good nutrients we need and aid in toxin and waste removal from the body. Toxins be gone!
Try it out!
Have you ever incorporated sweet potatoes into a dish and it came out tasting bad? No? I didn’t think so. I had this thought as I was preparing a sweet potato-based recipe last night and thought back to when I wouldn’t touch a sweet potato with a ten-foot pole. Now I could probably eat them for every meal.
Many people choose to eat sweet potatoes in place of white potatoes for the health benefit. Others, choose to eat them because they enjoy the sweet flavor, and some eat them for both reasons! Introducing more sweet potatoes into our diet allows for a more nutrient-dense diet. Not only are sweet potatoes substantially lower in calories than white potatoes, but they also offer a good source of Vitamin A that comes from the beta-carotene (gives the sweet potato its orange pigmentation) in the root. Vitamin A is known for improving ocular health. Sweet potatoes contain many other vitamins and minerals such as Vitamin C, Calcium, Potassium, and Iron.
Sweet potatoes are easy to buy in bulk and keep in the pantry for 3-5 weeks, or the in fridge for much longer. They can be cooked in large quantities and stored in the freezer to be added to recipes when needed. As with all foods, you will get the most health benefit from a sweet potato by keeping it as close as possible to its natural state, so keep that in mind when preparing your meals.
Try it out!
And there you have it!
I hate to be cliché, but implementing these substitutes into my every day cooking routine has absolutely taken my meals to another level! You can create yummy dishes that are guilt-free by simply taking into consideration what you’re putting into the food you’re eating!
Share your favorite substitutions and follow me on Pinterest for more recipes and inspiration!