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Smart Substitutions for a Healthy Heart
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Jennifer Fleming, MS, RD and Penny Kris-Etherton, PhD, RD

March is National Nutrition Month. It was initiated by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics to focus attention on the importance of good nutrition and physical activity for health. The theme for 2016 is "Savor the Flavor of Eating Right," which encourages everyone to appreciate the pleasures, great flavors and social experiences that food adds to our lives. With a focus on health, here are some simple ingredient swaps you can make in your favorite recipes to create heart healthy recipes and still enjoy delicious food.  These are some of our favorite ingredient swaps:

1. Applesauce. As a replacement for butter or sugar in recipes.  Without butter, you’re cutting the saturated fat content of baked goods like muffins, breads and the occasional brownie.  In addition, applesauce adds sweetness to recipes without all the calories of sugar and provides the added benefit of dietary fiber.  

2. Nonfat Plain Greek Yogurt.  Can be used to replace mayonnaise or sour cream in recipes and dips. Nonfat Greek yogurt has far fewer calories and fat than mayonnaise or sour cream, but its consistency is very similar.  Hint: when replacing sour cream, squeeze 1 lemon into the yogurt, stir and serve. Incorporating yogurt into a meal is an easy way to add some protein, B vitamins, calcium and healthy bacteria. 

3. Mashed Avocado.  Using a one-to-one substitution for butter in baked goods the avocado helps increase the nutritional value by contributing nearly 20 vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients.  To figure out how much you'll need, it helps to know that one avocado yields about three-quarters of a cup. Hint: Avocado also makes a great substitute for cheese or mayonnaise on sandwiches, wraps or in salads. 

4. Mashed Bananas.  Substitute for sugar, butter or other fats.  Baking tip: if you’re using mashed bananas as a sugar substitute, cut down on the moisture in your recipe by using less milk or water. That way, your baked goods will come out with the right texture and firmness.  For a heart healthy dessert, substitute frozen bananas and cocoa powder for chocolate ice cream. Peel and freeze two bananas, then cut into 1-inch pieces and blend in a food processor with 2-3 tablespoons of unsweetened cocoa powder for a few minutes until it gets just as smooth, thick and rich as chocolate ice cream. Serve immediately. 

5. Rolled oats.  Replace half of the flour in baked goods with quick oats or use instead of bread crumbs in your favorite entrée. Instead of using high sodium bread crumbs, try rolled oats with a little seasoning. Oats are high in fiber and healthy carbohydrates, and like all whole grains, they’re packed with nutrients like B vitamins, iron and fiber.

6. Spaghetti Squash or Zucchini Ribbons. Spaghetti squash is nature’s pasta, simply cook it in the microwave or bake in the oven, once the outside is tender use a fork to remove the stringy pulp.  Similarly, using a vegetable peeler or a mandoline you can make long, thin noodle-like slices of zucchini.  Skip the boiling and simply bake or sauté the “noodles” for a few minutes. You can use either veggie in side dishes or to replace high-carb pasta in dishes like lasagna. It’s an easy way to cut the calories in your favorite pasta meals and “sneak” more vegetables into your meal.

7. Cinnamon.  Use cinnamon to reduce the amount of sugar in recipes. The spice is known to intensify sweetness (vanilla does this too), so desserts might only need half the called-for sugar.  Start with a teaspoon and add to taste from there. The end result may be a little less sweet but the calories saved will be worth it.  

Boost your vegetable intake by replacing traditional pasta with spaghetti squash for a new twist on an ordinary dish and replace sour cream with yogurt for a veggie dip the whole family will love.  

Try the following heart healthy recipes:

Spaghetti Squash Bake

Walnut-Feta Yogurt Dip

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