We’ve all heard the rhetoric on replacing guilty cravings: if you’re jonesing for chips, try a carrot stick for that satisfying crunch. I appreciate the effort, but when I crave chips, it’s for the sodium-laden artificial chemical flavouring, not a satisfying crunch. Now, I’ll always advocate an occasional individually-sized bag of chips as healthy (mentally, at least). But when it comes to entire guilty meals, the justification gets a little trickier and the food babies get a little bigger. In honour of Health Canada’s Nutrition Month, we’ve compiled easy ways to help you make your cravings healthier. Read on to ease your guilt and cravings with these simple health tricks.
Bread crumb substitutes
Panko bread crumbs exploded onto the Western health scene last year, and it looks like they’re here to stay. For good reason, too: these Japanese bread crumbs are naturally crispier than Western bread crumbs and contain less salt. But they’re usurping the crumb throne mainly because they absorb less oil and create a lighter coating than our bread crumbs.
Nuts can also help replace bread crumbs for many fried foods, provided they’re ground finely enough. Throw some ground almonds into a bread crumb mix for a hit of omega 3 and a more filling alternative than bread. My favourite guilty pleasure use for these is to coat a few slices of goat cheese with your favourite nut and spices (I use walnuts and cashews, basil and dill) and fry them in a bit of canola oil for delicious salad toppers.
Low-fat dairy alternatives
Replacing full or part-skim milk with skim or fat-free milk seems like a no-brainer, but it’s not the only way to cut calories in dairy-laden foods. Replace a layer or two of mozzarella in a lasagna with a low- or non-fat cottage cheese to retain flavour and add an interesting texture with less than half the fat (just be sure to pick a low-sodium one as sometimes brands will compensate fat with salt).
Low- or non-fat Greek yoghurt also does wonders for foods that need to be thickened with dairy. Even swapping out heavy cream for a few spoonfuls of plain yoghurt will save a ton of fat. This works well in soups and for heavy pasta sauces like alfredo.
Not all oils are created equal. True, all oils have relatively high fat contents. But some fats are better than others. The health benefits of olive oil have been well-touted: it’s an excellent source of monounsaturated fat, which can help lower your risk of cardiovascular disease by reducing LDL (bad) cholesterol.
Almond and canola oil are also good choices. They have the lowest saturated fat content of the common cooking oils, and are good sources of mono- and polyunsaturated fats. Polyunsaturated fats will provide omega 3 and 6 fats: health-promoting fats that your body can’t produce on its own.
Pureed vegetables and fruit
Jessica Seinfeld had the right idea when she wrote Deceptively Delicious, a cookbook that contains all kinds of recipes with pureed vegetables and fruit snuck in. Sure, it was written to help get her kids to unknowingly eat their fruit and veg, but big kids can take a page out of her book as well.
Vegetables can be snuck in, but if you play your cards right, they can actually enhance ordinarily guilty foods. Cauliflower enhances the creamy texture and flavour of cheese sauces (try it in mac ˜n cheese or fondue and you’ll never go back). Pureed vegetables can be used in any creamy dish: add carrots to pasta sauce, spinach and peas to risotto, fruit to a barbecue sauce or marinade “ the possibilities are endless.
If you’re feeling leery, remember Jessica Seinfeld created a recipe for spinach brownies. Cauliflower and peas don’t seem so scary now, do they?