It can be difficult to choose just the right ingredients that make your dishes the very best quality and taste. Lucky for you, I’ve scoured the internet and the shelves of grocery stores to find the best of the best. Hopefully, reading this will inspire you to replace some of the not-so-healthy foods in your pantry with healthy alternatives.
Cane sugar and high fructose corn syrup are “empty calories.” Cane sugar has tons of fructose, which is great… if you like obesity and diabetes.
The liver is the only organ that can metabolize fructose. When the liver is overflowed with fructose and too many calories, it turns it into fat.
DATES & DATE SUGAR
Dates have lots of fiber, vitamins and minerals, like calcium, iron, magnesium and more potassium than bananas. Their nutritious qualities prevent constipation and heart disease. Unlike cane sugar, date sugar is not refined or processed. It’s simply ground dates, which is a much healthier sugar-making strategy, Most sugars leave you wanting more sugar, but luckily, date sugar’s carbs make you fuller longer and give you energy.
Dates are packed full of natural sugar, with a whopping 29 grams in every date. There are about 20 calories in a pitted date. Once they’re made into sugar, it has fewer calories than other processed sugars.
I would consider dates and date sugar the healthiest refined sugar alternative. Luckily, there are many ways to eat dates, other than using its sugar as a substitute in baking. I especially like to stuff 2-3 of them with peanut butter or almond butter as a post-workout snack.
PURE MAPLE SYRUP
Maple syrup is made from sap from maple trees. It’s natural and unprocessed, unlike cane sugar. Unlike honey or agave, maple syrup has plenty of nutrients, along with its natural sugar content. It has very beneficial nutritious antioxidants, giving you a healthy immune system. It also has minerals, like calcium, iron, magnesium, potassium and zinc, protecting the heart against diseases.
The only downside to maple syrup is that it is very high in natural sugar. However, much like dates, this sugar is accompanied by enough nutrients to be considered a “health food.” With 2/3 of it’s content being sucrose, it should definitely be consumed in moderation.
Coconut sugar is produced from the sap from the cut flower buds of the coconut palm. Coconut palm sugar is not exactly the same, but they both contain similar nutritious qualities.
Coconut sugar is unrefined, much like date sugar and maple sugar. It makes a delicious and easily-measurable substitute for cane sugar or brown sugar. It contains many nutrients, unlike sugar. Its minerals include iron, zinc, calcium and potassium. The only downside to coconut sugar is its calories and low glycemic index. Overall, I would not call it a “health food,” but I would definitely consider it a more nutritious option than cane sugar.
I like to substitute coconut palm sugar for brown sugar, because of its strong, robust taste. It’s great in cookies, like peanut butter blossoms and quinoa walnut chocolate chunk cookies. With less calories and unhealthy ingredients than cookies on other food blogs, these cookies are a much smarter, guilt-free option. Give it a try!
I think honey is given more credit than it deserves. Sure, it’s a healthier alternative to sugar, but it’s not as healthy as maple syrup.
Much like maple syrup, honey has more nutritious qualities than refined sugar. However, unlike maple syrup, it only contains trace amounts of vitamins and minerals, making it a less nutritious option. Honey has been given a good reputation for its healing qualities. It is anti-inflammatory, contains many antioxidants, can be used as an effective sleep aid and can trigger immune responses when you’re sick. It also contains calcium, for brain health, and can prevent dementia and improve the mood.
There are good and bad things about honey as an alternative sweetener. It’s another unrefined, unprocessed option, but it does raise blood sugar more than other natural sweeteners. Darker honey contains more antioxidants, which makes it a healthier option than light honey. However, it should still be consumed in moderation. If you’re given the option to use a liquid sweetener in a recipe, I recommend using maple syrup, but honey is a close second.
I grew up thinking that agave nectar was by far the healthiest sweetener. I was unaware of what a bad reputation it had. It comes from a starchy root bulb that’s converted into a syrup, through a chemical process, including genetically modified enzymes. Some agave products are even prevented from entering the US because of their chemical levels.
Agave nectar is high in fructose and has even more than high fructose corn syrup. However, on the up side, it doesn’t raise blood sugar as much as most sweeteners. Overall, I would not recommend agave nectar above any other liquid sweetener, but I would consider it healthier than refined sugars.
At first, replacing common baking ingredients, like white flour, butter and cane sugar, can seem like a huge hurtle to get over. It takes most of us more time to get over the mental hurtle on the way to healthy changes than actually making the changes. If you’re like me, you might need a little nudge in the right direction. Luckily, I’m here to help.
I should start by explaining how I chose these ingredients. I spent countless hours during my weight loss journey studying which foods to include more of in my diet, which foods to use less of and which foods to eliminate completely. I learned that, generally, foods with a low glycemic index should be consumed more often than those with a high glycemic index.
The glycemic index, or GI, measures how a carbohydrate-containing food raises blood glucose. Foods are ranked based on how they compare to a reference food — either glucose or white bread.”
Foods that have a low GI are much healthier than those with a high GI. For example, pretzels, white rice and russet potatoes have a low GI and whole grain flour, oatmeal and sweet potatoes have a high GI.
TO REPLACE WHITE FLOUR
It may seem obvious, but whole wheat flour is a much healthier choice than white flour. It contains more dietary fiber, prevents constipation, lowers cholesterol and has higher vitamin levels. Unlike white flour, whole wheat flour has much more folate, vitamin B1, B3 and B5. White flour is also heavily processed, unlike whole wheat. It tastes heavier and grainy, but in things like bread and bars, that’s not such a bad thing.
Oat flour is also a great white flour alternative. I mean, you can’t go wrong with oats, right? You can also make your own oat flour very easily by processing oatmeal in a food processor. With tons of fiber, oat flour makes a wonderful alternative in breakfast foods.
Coconut flour is made from dried coconut meat, giving it a dense texture and robust flavor. It’s high in fiber, protein and healthy fats, making it a much healthier alternative to most wheat flours. I absolutely love to use coconut flour in baked goods. I love how coconut-y it tastes, without overpowering the taste of other ingredients.
Spelt flour is also a good alternative to most wheat flours. It’s not too different, nutritionally, but has a bit more vitamin K and selenium. I’m not much of a fan of the taste of spelt flour, but it certainly can be a substitute in recipes.
Quinoa is another great flour alternative. I used it in my quinoa walnut chocolate chunk cookies and they turned out amazing! Quinoa has a pretty bland taste all on its own, so in baked goods, it absorbs the flavors of the other ingredients. Adding quinoa is a great was to add more whole grains to your diet.
TO REPLACE UNHEALTHY NUT BUTTERS
Natural peanut butter and PB2 powder (powdered peanut butter) are great foods for weight loss. Both are high in protein and healthy fats, which are necessary for weight loss. Peanut butter is often pegged as a guilty pleasure food, but in moderation, it’s very healthy. Its high protein and fiber content keeps you fuller longer. Indulging in a spoonful now and then can ward of unwanted cravings during weight loss. With bone-building magnesium, muscle-friendly potassium and immunity-boosting B6, it decreases risk of heart disease and diabetes. In my experience, a Tablespoon with breakfast keeps my stomach flatter throughout the day and prevents bloating.
Other nut & seed butters, like almond butter, cashew butter, hazelnut butter and sunflower seed butter are also great for weight loss, providing healthy fats and protein. Some say that almond butter is the healthiest of all nut butters because it contains 3 grams more monounsaturated fats than peanut butter. It’s important to choose the right kind of nut butter. Always go with raw, unsalted, natural and organic products. My favorite brands are Smucker’s, Artisana and SunButter.
Nutella is a different story. I’m sure I’m not the only person who’s eaten an entire roll of Ritz crackers dipped (I mean drenched) in Nutella. I even used to eat heaping spoonfuls of the stuff after I got home from school every day. Unfortunately, we all get to an age when high-fat, high-sugar foods start to make our waistlines expand. Luckily, I’ve found the best alternatives. Of course, you can make your own delicious chocolate hazelnut spread, but if you’re set on buying an alternative, you’ll have to settle for a spread containing cane sugar. If that’s okay with you, I recommend Justins. It’s still pretty high in sugar, but has less than Nutella. There are countless ways to use chocolate hazelnut spread, including spreading it on toast (my favorite), substituting it for Nutella in recipes and melting it to pour on pancakes or french toast.
TO REPLACE BUTTER
Coconut oil is my all time favorite baking substitute. Nobody can ever tell the difference from butter when I use it in my recipes. I like that, unlike butter, coconut oil is vegan. Although it may be a better choice, it’s still very high in fat, so it should be consumed in moderation.
Plain Greek yogurt is another good butter alternative. It’s definitely a healthier alternative than oil because of how low-calorie and high-protein it is. Unfortunately, it doesn’t taste as rich and doesn’t measure the same as butter when it comes to recipes. I like to use 1/2 Greek yogurt and half coconut oil when converting traditional recipes into healthy ones. This limits the calories, but still includes the buttery flavor of the coconut oil.
Olive oil is a great substitution in savory dishes because of its omega 3 fatty acids. Much like avocados, olive oil does wonders for clearing skin and making hair strong and shiny.
TO REPLACE MILK OR WHITE CHOCOLATE
Raw cacao powder is healthier than cocoa powder, because it’s less processed. The two have similar nutritious qualities, but in cacao powder, its nutrients are more intact. Cacao powder lowers blood sugar, improves circulation, improves digestion and suppresses the appetite, making it a great food for weight loss. It’s been called a “happy food” because of it’s energy and mood-boosting qualities. It also contains tons of antioxidants and fiber, making it a wonderful and healthy pick-me up after a long day. There are certainly more than enough ways to use cacao powder, including sprinkling over oatmeal or bananas, using as an ingredient in granola bars, brownies, fudge or energy bites.
Cacao nibs are made from roasted cacao beans. The cacao tree produces seeds that are dried, dehulled and roasted. It has dietary fiber, benefits cardiovascular health and controls blood pressure and glucose. When buying it, make sure you don’t mistake cacao nibs for cacao sweet nibs. Cacao sweet nibs have tons of unnecessary added sugar. Cacao nibs are great for breakfast, because of its energy and mood-boosting abilities. I especially like to sprinkle it on oatmeal, smoothies, granola, toast and bananas with peanut butter.
Avocados make a great substitute for butter in chocolatey recipes. Chocolate disguises the avocado, making it rich and creamy. Avocados are fruits that come from the avocado tree. It’s often called a “superfood” because of its vitamins and minerals, like vitamin B6, vitamin E, vitamin A, iron, zinc, magnesium and more potassium than bananas. They contain heart healthy monosaturated fatty acids, much like olive oil, giving you healthy skin, hair and nails. It also reduces blood pressure. Even though they’re pretty high calorie, people who eat avocados on a daily basis are healthier than those who don’t. There are so many ways to eat avocados, like putting them in chocolate frosting, chocolate pudding, salads, rice dishes, and sandwiches.
TO REPLACE COW’S MILK
Unsweetened almond milk is a great vegan alternative to cow’s milk. Some people argue that almond milk is not that much healthier than cow’s milk, saying that the thickening agents in it are just unnecessary chemicals. I happen to agree with those people, so I searched for a more natural almond milk. I usually buy So Delicious, which uses much less to thicken it. It is a bit thinner than most store brand almond milks, but I like it just as much. I love that almond milk is super low calorie. My favorite way to use almond milk is poured over granola with peanut butter and bananas.
Soy milk is another great vegan cow’s milk alternative. It’s a bit more caloric, but makes up for it in protein and ability to lower cholesterol. It’s most commonly used in coffee drinks. My usual coffee order is now a soy latte and I like the flavor much more than a latte with cow’s milk.
SUBSTITUTES IN BAKING
Sweet potatoes have a low glycemic index, making them much healthier than russet potatoes. Some say they’re one of the healthiest foods, providing tons of vitamin A, vitamin C, potassium, calcium, iron and beta carotine. They ‘re also great in baked goods, like brownies, pies and cupcakes. Much like avocado, its flavor gets disguised by the other ingredients, but it still provides a soft, creamy texture. Sweet potatoes pair wonderfully with coconut sugar, especially in pie.
Pumpkin is similar to sweet potatoes in baking substitutions. It also contains many of the same vitamins, minerals and health benefits as sweet potatoes.
Black beans and chickpeas are also great in brownies. Just like other substitutions, the flavor is completely disguised by the other ingredients.
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