5 tasty ways to tweak recipes for healthier eating

Want to cook healthier? These 5 tips will help you slice and dice recipes to cut fats and sugars, but pump up flavors.

By Mayo Clinic Staff

Most of us have gotten the message: Upping our quota of fruits and veggies, and lowering our intake of salt, sugar, processed foods and red meat is a good idea. But if you're struggling to master the art of cooking for wellness, you're definitely not alone.

Nutrition pros have developed many techniques and tricks that can help you modify recipes for healthier eating — and evidence-based research tells us they taste great, too.

These five tips will help you get started.

1. Start fresh, stay positive

Nutrition experts often recommend starting with some new-to-you recipes to launch your healthier eating journey. But you'll soon be savvy enough to transform favorite recipes into healthier versions, too.

Remember: "Healthier" doesn't mean "less tasty." Keep your mind open to experiencing new flavors. Enjoy the process as you experiment with fresh ingredients and create dishes that don't rely on fat and salt for taste.

2. Reduce fats, sugars and salt, increase herbs and spices

Most of us consume too much saturated fat. But fat adds flavor, so scaling back fat alone is not the answer. Studies have found, though, if you scale back fat and pump up flavor by adding herbs and spices, you can get the great taste you crave.

For instance, instead of 80 percent lean meat, choose 95 percent lean meat. Then, use a heavier hand with the basil, oregano, garlic and other favorite flavors for a really satisfying result.

Researchers have tried the approach with dessert, too. In one study, they cut the sugar content of apple crisp by more than a third, but added an extra jolt of Saigon cinnamon to compensate. It worked: Tasters liked that version just as much as the full-sugar original.

Build up your store of herbs and spices, set the salt aside and you've got a solid formula for healthier, tastier eating.

3. Swap this for that

Learn some basic ingredient swaps and you'll instantly up your healthy cooking quotient. Here are just a few examples:

  • Heavy cream or half-and-half = fat-free half-and-half
  • 1 egg = 2 egg whites
  • Garlic salt = garlic powder
  • Syrup = pureed fruit
  • Ground beef = extra-lean beef, or ground chicken or ground turkey
  • White rice = wild rice, pearl barley or bulgur wheat

4. Learn new cooking techniques

  • Beware the fryer! Eating a lot of fried food has been associated with a higher risk of type 2 diabetes, obesity and heart disease. Instead, learn to bake, grill, steam and roast.
  • Pre-heat your saute pan. Adding cold ingredients to a cold pan results in drier, less tasty food; starting with a hot pan lets you sear in flavor.

5. Stock the right tools

  • Nonstick pan. Does your recipe call for sauteing vegetables in oil? Using a good nonstick pan, you can usually saute without added fat.
  • Steamer basket. Many top chefs steam fish, chicken or seafood atop a layer of aromatic herbs or vegetables for moist, flavorful results without adding fat.
  • Kitchen shears. Invaluable for snipping away fat from meat, cutting up dried fruit for sauces and toppings, or quickly clipping fresh herbs.

Armed with your new knowledge and a few essential techniques and tools, you'll be able to tackle any recipe, and make it your way — the healthy, delicious way.

April 05, 2018 See more In-depth

See also

  1. A healthier take on a breakfast favorite
  2. A new way to enjoy fresh fruit
  3. A spoonful of sugar helps the veggies go down
  4. Add kick to fresh fruit
  5. Secrets of low-fat cooking
  6. An easy way to add omega-3
  7. Bake with less sugar
  8. Beans and other legumes: Cooking tips
  9. Canned pumpkin
  10. Benefits of cooking at home
  11. Cooking dinner? Try these techniques
  12. Strategies to prepare and enjoy healthy meals at home more often
  13. E. coli in food
  14. Easy fish for four
  15. Fit more fruit into your diet
  16. Fit in more fruit with a smoothie
  17. Flip your burger
  18. Food safety
  19. Foodborne illness
  20. Get a fiber boost
  21. Gluten-free alternatives to wheat flour
  22. Grilled fruit? Try it!
  23. Healthier recipes? Delete 1 ingredient
  24. Healthy cooking for singles or couples
  25. Healthy cooking make-over
  26. Healthy eating: One step at a time
  27. Ingredient substitutions
  28. Healthy-cooking techniques
  29. Hold the soap when washing fruits and veggies
  30. How long are leftovers safe to eat?
  31. How to wash fresh fruits and vegetables
  32. Include food safety in your party plans
  33. Ingredient substitutions that pack a punch
  34. Lentils: How do I cook with them?
  35. Mashed potatoes: Cut the fat
  36. Meatless meals
  37. Menu planning for 1
  38. Mold on your cheddar? Don't despair
  39. Moldy cheese
  40. Olive oil
  41. One-pot meals for healthy eating
  42. Pizza for dessert? Try it!
  43. Put fish on the menu
  44. Quick fix: Acorn squash
  45. Quick fix: Bean salad
  46. Quick fix: Flatbread pizza
  47. Quick fix: Sauteed corn
  48. Quick lunch: Veggie pita pocket
  49. Recipe makeovers
  50. Safely reheat leftovers
  51. Salsa: Not just for chips anymore
  52. Simple steps to making fall soups
  53. Simple ways to cook healthier
  54. Vegetable recipes
  55. Fruit 5 ways
  56. Guide to gourmet salt
  57. Cooking fish
  58. Guide to beans and legumes
  59. Guide to herbs and spices
  60. Sodium: Smarten up
  61. Soup recipes
  62. Summer recipe collection
  63. Sweet endings: Poached peaches
  64. Take breakfast with you
  65. Cooking frozen turkey
  66. Top it off with fruit
  67. Try a new salad: Corn and barley
  68. Veggie how to: Grilled vegetable kebabs
  69. Want a healthy dessert? Grill fruit!
  70. Want healthier recipes? Swap ingredients!
  71. What are legumes, anyway?
  72. Cooking oil
  73. Whole grains for a healthy heart
  74. Whole grains
  75. Cook a perfect Thanksgiving dinner