Healthy Substitutions 101

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According to Dr. Ann G. Kulze, founder and CEO of the Just Wellness LLC education firm, and my newest idol, “aside from smoking status, your body weight is the single most powerful predictor of your health”. Basically, if you don’t smoke, the best thing you can do for yourself is achieve or maintain a healthy weight. (If you do smoke, QUIT NOW!!!!) Significant amounts of evidence show that being overweight (BMI > 25) puts you at an increased risk for a variety of premature diseases and even death.

Weight loss is a simple (yet complex) equation. If you consume more calories than you expend, you will gain weight. If you expend more energy than you take in, you will lose weight. If they are equal, you will maintain weight. (Generally speaking).

I’m sure many of you, including myself, have heard that there are 3,500 calories in a pound, so if you consume 500 fewer calories than you burn each day, you will lose a pound a week. Unfortunately, it is much more complex than that. Researchers are now saying that the 3,500 calories-per-pound rule is “dead”. According to findings in the past few years, this equation may be effective short-term for small weight loss, but for people who are trying to lose a significant amount of weight for the long-term? Not so much. The 3,500-calorie rule doesn’t take into account many of the factors that may be occurring over time while someone is dieting. This includes changes in metabolic rate, composition of the diet, changes in eating and exercise habits, compliance and consistency. It also doesn’t account for the different types of body mass that can be gained and lost: fat vs. muscle. For example, you will lose more weight if you lose muscle rather than fat, but that obviously isn’t the desired outcome.

This is an extremely complicated topic and there is a ton of research out there that I still need to decipher myself – but I won’t bore you with that. What it all boils down to is that weight loss is a long, slow process, and consistency is key. So be patient and STICK WITH IT! Most important to note: each individual is different. You can’t follow the exact same diet/exercise routine as someone else and expect to have identical results. However, what you can do is improve your health by eating nutrient-rich foods, reducing overall calorie intake (if needed), and exercising regularly to help achieve or maintain a healthy weight.

There are so many easy ways you can reduce calories in your diet to help jumpstart your weight loss. First off, include foods that promote fullness, such as those that are protein and fiber-rich. These foods keep you feeling full and satisfied longer, so you eat less frequently, therefore reducing the number of calories you consume each day. Foods that are high in fiber include whole grains, high fiber whole-grain cereals, beans, and fruits and vegetables (especially with the skin on!).

Many of us don’t realize how many small changes we can make to the foods we eat on a regular basis to make them even a little bit healthier. Those numbers can really start to add up. I mention healthy substitutions in almost all of the recipes I share, because I don’t understand why you wouldn’t make something healthier if possible! I never feel deprived because of healthy substitutions; in fact, I usually can’t even tell the difference and I feel a lot better afterwards knowing it was a “healthified” version.

WARNING: just because you made something using healthy subs does NOT give you a golden ticket to have excessive amounts of it! Stick to the normal serving sizes and stay satisfied, not stuffed. (Portion control is another key to weight loss!)

Now I’m going to throw some numbers at you to try to put this in perspective. Some of the main substitutions that I use on a regular basis make a huge difference in calories & fat – once you see the numbers, I bet you’ll want to start making some of these substitutions yourself.

                       Skip this ————–> Sub that!

Butter Unsweetened Applesauce
Serving Size ½ cup ½ cup
Calories 800 50
Fat (g) 90 g 0 g


I almost always use applesauce in place of butter in my baked goods, especially my famous whole-wheat banana bread! It turns out just as delicious and is so much better for you. Just look at the calorie and fat difference! Although I have never tried them myself, I have read that mashed bananas and avocados can also be used as substitutes for butter in recipes.

Here’s a pic so you know what the container looks like if you want to buy the Smart Balance butter!
If you like to use butter on breads or in certain dishes, I recommend trying a lighter version. I like to use Smart Balance Light Buttery Spread – it has 50 calories per tablespoon rather than 100, and only 5 g of fat rather than 11 g.

Peanut Butter PB2
Serving Size 2 tbsp 2 tbsp
Calories 190 45
Fat (g) 16 1.5

I love to spread PB2 on whole wheat toast at breakfast or dip fruit in it as a healthy snack!


Sour Cream Chobani Plain Greek Yogurt
Serving Size 1 cup 1 cup
Calories 492 130 calories
Fat (g) 48 g 0 g

Greek yogurt is an extremely versatile healthy option and can be substituted for a ridiculous amount of foods. Some other foods it can replace besides sour cream include: mayonnaise, oil, butter, cream cheese, and buttermilk! See conversion chart above.

My favorite place to substitute Greek yogurt is in my all-time favorite lunch recipe: chicken salad. 🙂 (Recipe available in WFTW Cook Book!)

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Healthy Chicken Salad

PS: Not all Greek yogurt is created equal! Some actually has a lot of fat in it, so check the label for brands that are fat free.

Plain Greek yogurt can also be used as “sour cream” on tacos or other Mexican dishes!

White Spaghetti Spiralized Zucchini “Noodles”
Serving Size 2 oz 1 medium zucchini
Calories ~200 33
Fat (g) 1 g 0
Total Carbs 41 g 6 g

Look at the huge difference in the amount of calories and total carbohydrates! With the veggie pasta, there is so much room to add even more vegetables, a protein, some light sauce or even low-fat CHEESE! I recently got a Veggeti Pro, and if you follow me on Instagram, you know how I obsessed I am with it. It’s the best invention EVER! Does it taste just like spaghetti? No – I’d be lying if it said it’s the same thing. BUT it still tastes deeeeelicious and it’s so much better for you! If you just can’t part with pasta for “zoodles” or another type of veggie noodles (I really like squash noodles too), at least convert to whole grain pasta! Then add some veggies on top to get your servings in for the day. 🙂

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Picture on the left is spiralized yellow squash sautéed with one wedge of Laughing Cow Swiss Cheese, cherry tomatoes, and topped with fresh basil.

Picture on the right is spiralized sautéed zucchini with grilled chicken, topped with marinara sauce and a sprinkle of low-fat parmesan cheese!

My mom and I’s favorite dinner meal – whole wheat pasta with grilled chicken and steamed broccoli and cauliflower! Filling and so yummy.

Instant Mashed Potatoes (prepared with butter & milk) Homemade Whipped Cauliflower
Serving Size 0.7 cup 1 serving (~1/2 cup)
Calories 150 75
Fat (g) 7 g 2 g
Total Carbs 19 g 9 g

Whipped cauliflower is about half the calories and carbohydrates of mashed potatoes, and a third of the fat! (I use the Smart Balance Butter in these) Whipped cauliflower also has a lot more fiber than white potatoes, so you won’t need seconds or thirds!

Granulated Sugar Splenda Sugar Blend
Serving Size 1 cup ½ cup
Calories 774 387
Sugars (g) 192 g 96 g

Note: when you are substituting Splenda Sugar Blend for regular granulated sugar, you only have to use half the amount. That’s why the serving sizes are listed that way!

I have found that Splenda Sugar Blend works great in a variety of baked goods – banana bread, cookie cake, and just regular old cookies. I’ve never had anything turn out badly because of this swap! Don’t be afraid to try it!

White chocolate macadamia nut cookies are my weakness! Soooo yummy!
All-Purpose (White) Flour Whole Wheat Flour
Serving Size 1 cup 1 cup
Calories 455 407
Fiber (g) 3.4 g 14.6 g

While there isn’t a significant difference in calorie or fat content, whole-wheat flour is much better for you than white flour, as white flour is considered a “refined” carbohydrate. I can’t say this enough. The process of refining a food removes the fiber along with most of the nutritional value (vitamins and minerals), and these foods can increase your risk for cardiovascular disease even more than some types of saturated fats. Notice the difference in fiber content between the white and whole-wheat flour! Reduce or eliminate refined carbohydrates in your diet wherever possible. This includes sugars, sweets, soda, sugary cereals, white rice, white pasta, white flour products, etc. These foods have also been linked with type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome and some types of cancers! Go whole-grain!

Mayonnaise Mashed avocado
Serving Size ½ cup ½ cup
Calories 720 184
Fat (g) 80 g 17 g – 2.5 g saturated fat, 11 g monounsaturated, and 2 g polyunsaturated

IMG_2924            IMG_2925

Use mashed avocado as a spread on sandwiches or wraps instead of mayonnaise and save tons of calories and saturated fat!

Coconut Oil Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Serving Size 1 tbsp 1 tbsp
Calories 117 120
Fat (g) 14 g: ~12 g from saturated fat 14 g: ~10 g from monounsaturated fat (only 2 g from saturated)

Coconut oil is high in saturated fat, which has been linked to increased risk for cardiovascular disease. Canola oil and olive oil are good sources of unsaturated fats, which have a positive effect on cholesterol levels.

Now you know a few of the substitutions that I make on a regular basis to make the foods that I eat just a little bit healthier! I encourage you to try some of them and see what you think! Do you know of any other great swaps that you make at home to boost the nutritional value of your meals? If so, let me know in the comments!

Here in the US of A we looooove our burgers and fries. Unfortunately, our waist lines are showing it. So what can we do to satisfy those cravings without packing on the pounds? I know – find a healthy alternative! (Did you pay any attention to this whole post?) Deep fried white potatoes Sweet potato fries! (Note: I’m talking about homemade sweet potato fries people – the ones you eat in restaurants are still fried, therefore, cooked in bad fats.) This version is BAKED and equally the All it takes is some sweet taters and spices and you have an awesome, nutritious side dish that’ll please anyone and everyone.

Baked Sweet Potato Fries 


  • 2 medium-sized sweet potatoes, rinsed and dried
  • 2 Tbsp. vegetable oil
  • 2 tsp. paprika
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. garlic powder
  • 1 tsp. pepper
  • 1/2 tsp. cumin
  • 1/4 tsp. cayenne (optional)


  • Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.
  • Cut the potatoes into 1/4″ strips, or to your desired thickness and length.
  • Combine oil and spices in a storage-sized Ziploc bag.
  • Add cut up fries to bag, seal zipper, and shake to evenly coat with oil-spice mixture.
  • Spread the potatoes out evenly onto baking sheet prepared with cooking spray or parchment paper. Try to make one layer of fries so they are not overlapping.
  • Place baking sheet in oven and cook for 20-25 minutes, turning the fries a few times throughout so they cook evenly. Cooking time may vary depending on thickness. Remove once the edges slightly brown and fries begin to crisp.

Sweet potato fries alongside pretzel crusted chicken tenders! Recipe in WFTW Cook Book!

Sweet potato fries with baked salmon, grilled shrimp, and whipped cauliflower!
Now go have an awesome, relaxing weekend! Take advantage of the last few weeks of summer weather and grill out or eat a home-cooked meal out on the patio! I dare you to try one of my recipes or healthy substitution ideas. 🙂

Thanks for reading, my loyal blog friends! You’re the best.

As always,

eat well. live well. be happy. 

Shanna, RD, LD


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