Whether a self-proclaimed health junkie or kitchen newbie, you’re likely familiar with the ever-popular food substitution trend. Swap sour cream for Greek yogurt; use almond milk instead of full-fat dairy milk; try turkey bacon instead of beef! Sound familiar?
As health becomes more of a hot topic, food swaps grow in popularity. In fact, nearly every health publication posts content with suggestions for healthier options to popular, high-calorie bites. And that's not necessarily a bad thing. Being able to enjoy indulgent flavors without worrying about negative health consequences (like the dreaded ‘beetus) is awesome! Why not sub spaghetti squash for pasta when it cuts out a significant amount carbs and calories? Plus, it really doesn’t taste that different—especially when covered with a delicious pesto sauce.
But in the never-ending quest to make healthy eating more appealing, it also seems people are losing sight of what delicious really means—and what cheese really tastes like. So much so that some of these suggestions deserve false advertising warning labels. “May actually taste like cardboard” rice cakes or “Bring a change of pants” baked chips are two that come to mind.
This isn’t to say that all healthy substitutions are subpar (these 83 are actually pretty amazing!), but instead that a better approach may be embracing foods for their all-around deliciousness. After all, bacon has health benefits, as does practicing a well-balanced lifestyle that doesn't expect perfection and leaves room for reward. So let’s ditch the guilt that’s often associated with eating and kiss those unworthy, bland swaps goodbye.
Here are some of the worst offenders, and some seriously delicious solutions for those who really want to kick up their health a notch.
Healthy Swap Hilarity
1. Lemon Juice Instead of Salad Dressing
There are several ways to make a healthy and delicious salad dressing that don’t involve a single splash of lemon juice. Sure, using lemon juice as part of the salad dressing is a great idea, but don’t forget to whisk in the heart-healthy extra-virgin olive oil, red wine vinegar, diced shallots, Dijon mustard, and a pinch of salt and pepper. (You’re welcome for helping you avoid this not-so-hot lunchtime look.)
2. Rice Cakes for Cookies
This might be the biggest snack substitute crime imaginable. What is it even suggesting? That eating a bland disc of puffed rice will satisfy cravings for sweet, morsel-filled bites of heaven? No way, no how. Instead, try a healthier cookie that’s full of oats, dark chocolate, and a fruit base like mashed banana or applesauce—all ingredients that are super nutritious! There is such a thing as the lesser of two evils.
3. Low-Fat... Anything
A majority of the time, low-fat labels are a red flag. Why? Because the products that tout this usually remove fat and add sugar (or artificial sweeteners) in its place. This is neither tastier nor better for you. So anytime someone suggests opting for low-fat yogurt or cream cheese, feel free to respond, “Nope, gimme all the fats, thanks!” Or you can go the polite route of rattling all the various health benefits of fat. Plus, a little full-fat dairy goes a long way when it comes to flavor—the key is a little!
4. Nutritional Yeast Instead of Cheese
Did you know that the origins of cheese actually pre-dates recorded history? Think of all the centuries of cheese development and recipe perfecting that you’re negating by using nutritional yeast in its place! Sure, the yeast flecks are a great option for those who are vegan or lactose intolerant, but when you’re looking for creamy, dairy-filled goodness, it simply won’t do. Instead, mix cheese with grated cauliflower or butternut squash to cut down on the cheese volume but not the flavor.
5. Buffalo Cauliflower for Wings
This is another misguided attempt at giving a healthy makeover to something that has little to no business being altered. Serving a dish of vegetables disguised as wings (using only buffalo sauce as the costume) is bound to get you booed off the field. If you’re looking for healthier game-day grub, try bell pepper nachos, homemade French fries, or grain-free pizza with extra veggies.
6. Mashed Banana for Ice Cream
All natural, fruit-based frozen yogurt certainly hits the spot. But when you’re craving creamy, decadent, full-cream ice cream, blended bananas just don’t cut it. After all, it still tastes like bananas, not triple-swirl chocolate chunk. To sweeten up frozen banana concoctions, try adding peanut butter, chocolate chips, and other (still healthy) ingredients that will make the treat taste like more of, well, a treat. If you’re really screaming for ice cream, go ahead and treat yo’self. One scoop (or pint) can’t hurt every once in awhile.
7. Kale Chips for Potato Chips
This popular snack emerged during the peak of kale craze. They’re consumed like chips (i.e. eating the entire bag in one sitting is standard procedure) and they taste like chips too. But the light, almost-too-airy texture of cooked kale doesn’t quite feel the same as eating crunchy, carb-filled potatoes that are tossed in salt and often fried. And packaged kale chips can pack on the fat and calories with the addition cashew and sunflower seed flavoring. Luckily there are various potato chip substitutes that extend far beyond roasted greens. Our go-to homemade chip: salt and vinegar sweet potato chips.
8. Dried Fruit for Candy
Unless in a trail mix, dried fruit won’t cure a serious case of sweet tooth. Sure, it’s fruit, but packaged, compressed kinds often have added sugars galore, and it can be tough to stop at a small serving. (Consuming a full bag of dried mango can be a whooping 1,000 calories!) If a healthy sweet is what you’re after, try dark chocolate, baked apples, cookie dough Greek yogurt, or a nutrient-packed dessert option.
9. Grain-Free Pizza Crust
Providing gluten-free options for meal favorites like pizza is a must—and can be done in a delicious, healthy way—but some of the suggestions out there should be banished. Cauliflower pizza crust, for example, is a great gluten-free alternative, but this labor-intensive process can quickly take a turn into a sad, soggy letdown. For those who don’t have wheat allergies, opt for thin crust varieties instead of deep-dish. Can’t do wheat? Buy pre-made, gluten-free crust from a trusted pizzeria, or try something sturdier like a spaghetti squash crust.
10. Mushrooms for Meat in Sauces
Mushrooms are awesome and a popular option for vegetarian eaters and meat lovers alike. But when you actually do eats the meats, suggesting a substitute that is anything but can sometimes feel like slap in the face—and not so satisfactory to your taste buds. So unless practicing Meatless Monday, opt for the real, meaty deal. Just choose healthier options like lean ground turkey instead of beef and chicken sausage instead of pork.
11. Apple Slices for Crackers
If you’re craving carb-rich cracker goodness, this is not the swap for you. Instead, try all-natural nut or rice crackers, which tend to be lighter and more nutritious. But if you’re looking for a healthier vehicle to get a cheese and nut butter fix, apple slices earn an A+. Their sweet, crispy bite is the perfect complement to creamy, rich dips.
12. Pureed Cauliflower for Mashed Potatoes
This is a thumbs-up substitution for the times you’re craving soul food but don’t want to suffer from inevitable post-meal bloating and discomfort. Plus, most recipes still call for goodies like cream, butter, and loads of garlic—making them just as drool-worthy as classic mashers. If hankering for carb-heavy options, try sweet potato or turnip mash.
13. Ground Turkey for Beef
In the game of ground meat, much of the flavor is created in the preparation process. And many preparations include a variety of spices and sauces that take the spotlight and mask even the meatiest of flavors. Burgers may be the exception to this rule, but it’s nothing a few creative condiments and toppings can’t solve.
14. Sweet Potato for White Potato
Just 10 years ago, sweet potatoes were still (mostly) associated with the overly sweet holiday side dish made with a crust of marshmallows—not exactly what one would classify as healthy. But more recently, these not-so-ordinary orange starches have emerged on the food scene as a delicious alternative for all kinds of traditionally white potato-based dishes, including French fries, loaded potatoes, potato chips, tots, potato pancakes, breakfast hash, and even gnocchi!
15. Spaghetti Squash for Pasta
Let’s face it: Flour-based pastas don’t actually have much flavor. As with many noodles, its flavor comes from what it’s being served with: sauce, added proteins, herbs and spices, and vegetables. Which is why spaghetti squash for traditional pasta is one of our favorite healthy substitutions. Not only does spaghetti squash come from nature in its whole form (as opposed to pasta, which is processed from grains and other ingredients), but it will save you 180 calories and 33 grams of carbs per cup compared to the traditional stuff. Mamma Mia!
16. English Muffin Pizzas
These tasty little treats satisfy pizza cravings without the temptation of three (or more) slices. Plus, when making your own ‘za, you can control the amount of cheese—and therefore, grease—that makes it on the pie, and throw on all the healthy veggie toppings you want without the added costs. Better for the waistline and the wallet.
17. Pickles as a Salty Snack
Pickles are so much more than a condiment—they are their own delicious mini-meal! Don’t forget these low-calorie options when looking to satisfy your savory cravings. Dill, bread and butter, spicy, sweet... There’s basically a pickle for everyone. And you can sing this while you eat them.