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Healthy eating: substitutions

Our people use every part of the broccoli. Image by

A big part of eating healthily is cutting down on the food that we all know is full of saturated fat and/or carbohydrates.  There are some very obvious substitutions such as using wholemeal instead of white pasta and switching to wholegrain bread.

There are others that are less obvious, such as the clever trick shared in the comments here by our reader SJ a while back – use the stalk from a head of broccoli as the base for a thick soup, providing a healthier alternative to cream or potatoes.  There are plenty of ideas like this that will allow you to eat nutritious unprocessed food, rather than processed ‘low-fat’ versions of everything.

Some useful substitutions are:

  • Brown basmati rice instead of white rice. Standard brown rice can be a bit boring and many people have a strong aversion to it; brown basmati has a better flavour and is less stodgy.
  • Sour cream (my own personal weakness) can be replaced with low fat yogurt.
  • Homemade salsa and guacamole are excellent healthy dips and can replace the creamy style dips.
  • Sweet potatoes are a fantastic alternative to potatoes. They make great wedges/chips and mash, or a half and half normal potato and sweet potato mash is also very good.
  • I thought for years that couscous was a grain; in fact it is a type of pasta made from semolina rolled with water into tiny pellets.  It is already healthier than white pasta and you can get a wholemeal version, making it lighter again.
  • Pancakes can be made with wholemeal flour and stuffed with healthy fillings, such as spinach and cottage cheese, curry, chilli or roasted vegetables. Make sweet versions with stewed apple with cinnamon, or chopped fresh fruit.
  • Puy lentils can be substituted in many recipes that call for minced beef. They make a great bolognese, and I think that puy lentil cottage pie is even more delicious than the meat version.

What are your favourite substitutions? Do any of you have any magical alternatives to life necessities but arse-fatteners like cheese and coconut milk?


  1. Lidl do an amazing Greek Yoghurt in a huge one litre tub. I use it for cream, sour cream and creme fraiche. It’s low fat and extremely creamy and rich. Awesomeness.

  2. I use

    cottage cheese instead of mayonnaise in tuna, sweetcorn and cottage cheese – not the same texture but is very nice

    evaporated milk instead of cream (9% fat) and does not curdle, made pasta carbonara just the other night and it was great as I personally hate cream in cooking and you can always have a tin in the cupboard!

    wholemeal flour I smuggle into most things including scones, flapjacks – not 100% but say 30% and it goes pretty much unnoticed

    Low fat super milk instead of full fat – I’d hardly notice the difference

  3. Hi Deb – was in Lidl in lunchtime and saw the yogurt you mention, it’s only €1.99 for litre of natural and €2.49 for strawberry – amazing value!

  4. Bulgur wheat in place of couscous or to vary a bit,
    Red lentils to thicken soups,
    Going half and half (lentils/mince) on the cottage pie is an option too…
    homemade houmous (chickpeas) or other dips made with beans (butter or cannelini)
    Tsatsik made with yogurt and lots of fresh herbs

  5. Like Brenda, I subsitute 1/3 to 1/2 brown flour to white flour in pastries, scones, etc… Spelt is also good.
    I make creamy soups by adding 2 or 3 portions of low fat Laughing Cow instead of the cream. Also a handful of red lentils in carrot and/or butternut squash soups will thicken them.
    Make brown rice more palatable by cooking it “pilaf”: fry an onion in a little oil, add the rice, cook it for a minute, then add stock.
    I sneak in as many vegies as I can in everything: carrots, mushrooms, peppers… in sheperd’s pie, lasagne, bolognese… The trick is to chop them very small, or even better, blend the sauce once cooked. Also parsnips and sweet potatoes mixed with potatoes in mash.
    Quorn to replace meat in preparations that call for mince or in fajitas (the ‘chicken’ pieces are very good)

  6. Just one question: do people really give up butter and use spreads instead? I find them appaling. I would rather eat less but real butter and use olive or rapeseed oil in cooking

  7. I agree with you Nanazolie. Butter is natural and has vitamins.

  8. Absolutely agree. Real butter and real cheese. If you grate parmesan on a really fine grater a little goes a long way on pasta. And if you put olive oil in a spray bottle you only need a tiny bit in a non stick pan for frying or a few sprays for roasting veg or wedges. Plenty of spices, herbs, lemon etc and there’s no need sacrifice flavour for health.

  9. Definitely agree re: the butter. Not to mention all the new research that shows the spreads are more unhealthy than butter ever was. All in moderation!

    Yeah that yoghurt is definitely good value Jean and so yum!

    The lentils mentioned above reminded me that a small handful of basmati rice in vegetable soup that will be pureed gives it a lovely silky cream texture without any of the fat of cream.

  10. I always find what people define as ‘healthy’ really interesting, i’m sticking to whole grains and real food this year and think that this site is so helpful if you are trying to give a new lifestyle a go, this part talks about how we’ve all been duped into the low fat craze.

  11. Really useful link Nikki, thanks, and very interesting comment. You’re right, we need to all research healthy eating ourselves and not be duped by ‘low-fat’ labelling. We also need to question our own assumptions and received wisdom – for example, I said above that potatoes can be swapped for sweet potatoes as I’ve always heard that the latter is much healthier. Someone on Twitter queried that, and I looked it up – in fact there’s not *that* much difference between them. Sweet potatoes do contain slightly more nutrients and have a lower glycemic index, but ordinary potatoes are not as bad as they’re often made out to be:

  12. I used to always have a packet of noodles in the press for a quick fix. But they are very bad, full of numbers. I discovered that couscous is just as quick, even easier. I jus put some in a bowl, sprinkle some stock cube or whatever flavourings take your fancy and just cover with boiling water, wait a few minutes and its ready. Mix it with beans, pulses, veg, an egg, tuna – anything you can think of. Personally I love broccoli with some soy sauce. Ready in less than five mins.