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Smart food swaps: These knockoffs are good for you!

The foods you like to indulge in are most likely starchy, fatty, and sweet, because that's where all the flavor is. But if you're trying to eat healthier, TODAY's diet and nutrition editor Madelyn Fernstrom shows there are simple ways to swap out the carbs, oil, and sugar for different ingredients that still taste good.

We all have indulgent foods that we love and if you just tweak them with a few ingredients they can still be a delicious dish, but healthier for you. Like any other knockoff, it looks good – but it’s not the original. These knockoffs are tasty, real-life solutions that you can do any day.

Here are smart swaps for carbs (starches), fats and sugars. 


These knockoffs cut calories and increase the nutrient density of your meals. You’ll typically save between 100 and 200 calories, depending on your portion size. While this may sound modest, these are foods we eat daily or very often, so the calories add up. Cutting just 100 calories a day can translate into 10 pounds a year!

Instead of lasagna noodles:
Try: Zucchini squash slices

Instead of angel hair spaghetti:
Try: Spaghetti squash with marinara sauce

Instead of potatoes:
Try: Parsnips

Take some of the starch out of mashed potatoes by partially substituting mashed parsnips or cauliflower or a blend.  

Even if you substitute whole wheat pasta for a more nutritious meal, you wouldn’t be cutting the calories. And replacing the starch with colorful veggies boosts vitamin and mineral content. It’s not a hidden benefit, either!


Everybody wants to cut down on fats. Start with a heart-healthy fat instead of an artery-clogging one.  There are two ways to be healthier when it comes to fat intake -- replace animal fats like butter (or any product that comes from a cow) for vegetable oils such as canola or olive oil.

A rule of thumb: The softer the fat (liquid being the ultimate), the lower the saturated fat content. Then you reduce the fat, but still have the flavor and trim the calories. Because fat is the most flavorful of the macro-nutrients, you want to find the “sweet spot” of heart-healthy fat while cutting down on the total amount of fat. That’s good for both health and weight control.

Instead of sour cream/mayonnaise
Try: Buttermilk

Sour cream and mayo are two frequently used ingredients for making dips and salad dressings.  Low-fat buttermilk has the tanginess of mayo and thickness, but is lower in calories and still has the mouth feel and flavor you want.

Buttermilk Salad Dressing

1 cup low fat buttermilk (1%)

1/4 cup  light mayonnaise

1/2 cup low-fat Greek yogurt

Coarse salt, to taste (1/2 - 1 tsp)

1 tsp black pepper

1 heaping teaspoon chopped fresh dill

Instead of cream
Try: Evaporated milk

A knockoff of creamy soup is a vegetable puree soup, like the one found at Trader Joe’s (tomato or squash that comes in a box). Add evaporated milk as a substitute for cream or add potato flakes as a thickener. Three tablespoons per serving is about 150 calories, with about 5 grams of fat per tablespoon.

Instead of cream
Try: Potato flakes

Oil/Butter Knockoff

Instead of butter
Try: Greek yogurt

Cut down on the fat in cake or brownies with Greek yogurt. Use either whole milk or 2%, not fat-free. The yogurt cuts down on the oil in the recipe and adds the texture needed in baked goods. The yogurt also adds a little milk sugar.


Instead of frosting
Try: Marshmallow fluff

Commercial frostings are little sugar bombs. A great sugar knockoff is marshmallow fluff. It’s tasty and has 75% less sugar than frosting – and no fat! 2 tablespoons of marshmallow fluff have 40 calories, compared to frosting with 140 calories.

It’s Healthy Week! Learn the small steps you can take in your life to go healthy and "like" us on Facebook! And then follow up on Twitter at twitter.com/healthyatnbcu 

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