Heart-Healthy Cooking with Recipe Substitutions

Think about some of your favorite recipes. Do they include heavy cream by the cupful? Butter by the stick? Those meals may be tasty, but they aren’t doing your heart any favors. Fortunately, you don’t have to throw out your recipe books — or sacrifice flavor — to make your meals more heart healthy.

All it takes is a little translating. When the casserole recipe calls for heavy cream, you read “evaporated skim milk.” In your mind, two cups of all-purpose flour can transform itself to one cup of all-purpose flour plus one cup of whole-wheat flour. With just a few simple substitutions, you’ll be well on your way to a low-fat, high-fiber, heart-friendly diet.

Tweaking recipes

Here are some easy and satisfying ways to tweak your recipes. These tips have been collected from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the American Cancer Society, the Ohio State University Extension Service, and the Purdue University School of Consumer and Family Sciences.

  • Instead of one large egg, try two large egg whites. If baking, replace half of the eggs with egg whites. (For instance, instead of using two whole eggs, use one egg and two egg whites.) Desserts and breads baked with egg whites only tend to be tough. You can also use egg substitutes in recipes. Generally, one-forth cup of egg substitute is equal to one whole egg. If a recipe calls for two or more eggs, you can use one whole egg and use either egg whites or egg substitutes for the others.
  • Go easy on the oil. If a recipe calls for a cup of oil, use 3/4 or 2/3 of a cup instead. If making a sweet bread such as banana bread, cut the oil in half and replace it with pureed plums or prunes, mashed banana, applesauce, or canned pumpkin. However, it’s best not to skimp on oil when making yeast breads or pie crusts. (Eliminating the oil completely makes for a pretty “gummy” product.)
  • When baking, use one cup of plain low-fat yogurt instead of one cup of sour cream. You’ll hardly notice the difference, and you’ll end up with 350 fewer calories, 44 fewer grams of total fat, and nearly 28 fewer grams of saturated fat.
  • If you’re baking something sweet, you can replace regular sour cream with nonfat sour cream. Don’t try this in a savory casserole — nonfat sour cream turns sweet when heated.
  • Think skim. Skim or 1 percent milk makes a perfect stand-in for whole milk.
  • Cut down on heavy cream. If making soup or a casserole, use evaporated skim milk instead. If baking, use light cream.
  • Instead of evaporated whole milk, try evaporated skim milk.
  • Switch to healthier fats. That means cutting out lard, butter, palm oil, coconut oil, and shortenings made with these oils. Instead, use healthy oils such as olive, canola, soybean, sunflower, safflower, sesame, peanut, and cottonseed.
  • You can use low-fat or nonfat cheese in place of regular cheese. Since nonfat cheese doesn’t melt, though, it’s not a good choice for cooked meals. Another alternative is to decrease the portions while boosting the flavor. Instead of adding a cup of regular cheddar, use 3/4 cup of extra sharp cheddar. Likewise, 3/4 cup of freshly shredded Parmesan will add just as much zip as a cup of the grated stuff from the shaker.
  • Low-fat cream cheese is a good alternative to regular cream cheese. Keep in mind that nonfat cream cheese will get very runny in cake frosting and dips.
  • If you add nuts to a recipe, reduce the quantity and make sure to toast them. This helps bring out the flavor with fewer calories.
  • When cooking with all-purpose flour, use half of the usual amount. Then complete the recipe with whole-wheat flour, an excellent source of fiber. (If the flavor seems a little strong, you can cut back a bit on the whole-wheat flour.)
  • If you’re on a low-sodium diet, you can reduce (or eliminate) the salt in many recipes without killing the flavor. Try adding herbs and spices instead of salt.


Purdue University School of Consumer and Family Sciences. Top 20 Healthy Recipe Ingredient Substitutions. Compiled by Cheryl Armstrong, MBA, RD, CD for the Nutrition and Food Safety Workshop for Quantity Food Providers, April 27, 1999

United States Food and Drug Administration. Eating for a Healthy Heart.

Ohio State University Extension Fact Sheet. Preparing Healthy Food: How to Modify a Recipe

American Cancer Society. Savory Innovations.

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