Healthier Substitutions in Cooking

by Dannii on May 27, 2014

Healthier Substitutions in Cooking
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If you have been following Hungry Healthy Happy for a while and looking at all of the recipes, then you will notice that there are a few basic substitutions that I always make in my cooking and baking to make my food healthier. I thought I would share with you a simple chart of substitutions.

It is not that there is anything wrong with the original ingredients, I always say it is about balance, but when you can save yourself a few (or a lot in most cases) calories and grams of fat, and it doesn’t sacrifice on flavour (that is really important), then why not do it? It means you can have a bigger portion, or save room for dessert. I seriously have dessert on the brain at the moment.

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If you have read my weight loss story then you will know that when I decided that I needed to lose weight, I didn’t see why I had to give up any of the foods I loved – I just needed to find a way to make them healthier and that is exactly what I did. That is pretty much what the whole Hungry Healthy Happy blog is about – healthier alternatives to the foods you love.

There are too many people that avoid healthy eating because they think the meals will sacrifice on taste. That is not true, with so many amazing ingredients on hand now and with some little tweaks, you can make a surprisingly healthy meal. I say surprisingly, as you would never know it was healthy.

I thought it would be helpful to make a little guide of substitutions. Most of the measurements are like for like, except the sugar. With the sugar I replace 100g of sugar for 10 dates blended with 4 tbsp of water. This is obviously wetter than sugar, so you need to add some extra flour (or I add some ground nuts) to get the recipe back to the desired consistency. I use this method for baking.



You don’t need to give up all of your favourite foods, just make them yourself and make healthier substitutions.

Speaking of surprisingly health meals – I have a great one for you below. It uses quark, which is actually a fairly new ingredient to me, but it is a great substitute for cream cheese. I have been using it in a few things this week and I am a big fan.
This recipe is part of the week 5 Weight Watchers #StepInToSummer challenge that I have been hosting on the blog and this weeks challenge is to make a surprisingly healthy meal. How about you invite some friends round for dinner and serve them the meal below. I bet they would never know that it is full of healthy ingredients.

This is sadly the last week in the challenge and I hope you have all enjoyed making new healthy changes as much as I have.

Pasta with Creamy Asparagus Sauce - Serves 4 – 10 PRO POINTS PER SERVING

- 400g wholewheat tagliatelle

- 300g asparagus, woody ends removed and stems roughly chopped

- Calorie controlled cooking spray

- 4 bacon medallions, sliced into thin lardons

- 200g cherry tomatoes, halved

- 50g Quark

- 200g 0% fat Greek yoghurt

- 2 tbsp chopped fresh chives

- 2 tbsp chopped fresh basil

- Salt and freshly ground black pepper


1) Bring a large pan of unsalted water to the boil and add the pasta. Cook according to the packet instructions until al dente. Add the asparagus for the last 4 minutes of cooking time. Drain well, reserving around 150ml of the pasta cooking water.

2) Meanwhile, heat a large non-stick frying pan and spray with the calorie controlled cooking spray. Add the sliced bacon and cook until crisp. Add the tomatoes and cook for a further minute or so, until starting to soften.

3)Meanwhile, mix together the Quark and Greek Yoghurt with around 100ml of the reserved cooking water. Reduce the heat under the bacon and tomatoes and add the Quark and Yoghurt mixture,  plus enough of the remaining reserved cooking water to make a thick, smooth sauce. Heat gently without boiling.

4) Return the cooked pasta and asparagus to the pan and add the sauce and herbs. Season to taste and serve immediately.


C5 Image


There is also another competition this week, where you can win a Crock-Pot Brushed Stainless Slow Cooker. If you don’t have a slow cooker, then definitely enter this competition as my slow cooker saves me SO much time in the kitchen. If you do have one, enter and give it to a friend if you win. For your chance to win courtesy of Weight Watchers, upload a picture of one of your challenge meals to Twitter using hashtag #StepIntoSummer


What are your favourite healthy substitutions? Are you still joining in with the Weight Watchers challenges? Leave a comment below.

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{ 58 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Mary

Although I’ve never been a fan of bananas I’ve recently started using them as a substitute for butter in several recipes. I don’t mind them as part of something else, and it’s great to know that the banana in the recipe is much better for me than the butter would be!


2 Dannii

A little bit of butter is fine, but if I can sub some butter to lower the calories and then eat more cake, then that is all good with me lol


3 Joni

What us Quark?


4 Dannii

It is a type of soft cheese.


5 Nisha

Thanks for the handy little chart, I’m going to pop it up on my fridge so I can always see a healthier alternative when cooking! X



6 Dannii

You’re welcome.


7 Tina @ The Spicy Pear

That table is very handy. It’s so easy to forget how a little bit of butter or sugar can increase calories.


8 Dannii

Yes – substituting even a little of it can make a difference.


9 Julie

I try my hardest to susbstitue for healthier options but sometimes my lack of will power just gives in L(


10 Dannii

You don’t have to do it all the time, but every now and then will make your dishes healthier.


11 Jemma @ Celery and Cupcakes

I find healthier substitutions great, some I think wouldn’t work, but I’m always proved wrong. Great little chart for future reference too. :-)


12 Dannii

I have been surprised too, especially with the black beans.


13 Abbey

Great little chart. I am going to print it and stick it on my fridge as a reminder. Thanks!


14 Dannii

You’re welcome!


15 Rosie

Thanks for doing these challenges, I have actually learnt a lot and found some new recipes too.


16 Dannii

I am so glad you have enjoyed them.


17 Kate

How would I make my own apple puree?


18 Dannii

I cook apple chunks and then blend them.


19 Bintu @ Recipes From A Pantry

Hey Dannii, would love to know more abut the flour black bean substitution?


20 Dannii

There are some great black bean brownie recipes online that I have had success with.


21 Heather Haigh

I too try to substitute for healthier ingredients (I also have to avoid a fair few things due to intolerances). I’m still experimenting, have been using sweet freedom,or agave nectar or honey instead of sugar. Planning on trying coconut sugar out too.


22 Dannii

I love sweet freedom – I have been adding it to my tea.


23 Anna @AnnaTheApple

Good list! Didn’t realise about the black bean one. Little changes can definitely help in a big way.

But sometimes the real stuff is the good stuff ;-)


24 Dannii

Definitely, sometimes a full-fat, high in calories cake is needed.


25 London Unattached Lifestyle and Travel

It’s amazing how a few small changes can make a big difference!


26 Dannii

They really do.


27 Lucie

Such a helpful chart right there, thanks danni!


28 Dannii

You’re welcome :)


29 Jess

You have converted me to Greek yoghurt in my cooking through your recipes. I love it now, and like you say, I can have a bigger portion :) xx


30 Dannii

I am glad to see another Greek yoghurt convert!


31 sharon martin

I would never have thought of using a banana instead of butter what a great tip ! I’ve bookmarked your chart for future use thanks xx


32 Dannii



33 Jacqueline Meldrum

I liked the chart, that was a great reminder. Didn’t realise that sour cream was more cals/fat than Greek yogurt.


34 Dannii

Yes, about 100 calories more per 100g


35 Ceri

The bacon and asparagus pasta sounds really good. Should I not be avoiding bacon though? Or should I be having turkey bacon instead? Thanks for your help.


36 Dannii

Bacon in moderation is fine :)


37 Wendy

Where can I find carob nibs from?


38 Dannii

I get mine from a local health food shop. But you can order them online too.


39 Debbie

It’s such a shame that the weight watchers challenges have ended, I have really enjoyed your posts and I have done each challenge and lost 9lbs, which I am really happy with. I hope to see more challenges from you soon :)


40 Dannii

I have really enjoyed them too. Hopefully I will be bringing some new challenges to you all soon!


41 Alison Hanncock

Thanks for posting this! I have been wondering what to use in my cakes instead of sugar, so I am going to experiment with the date syrup suggestion.


42 Dannii

It gives a really nice sweetness to it, with extra fibre too!


43 Kati Bell

Hi Danii – I’m interested in your suggestion about using black beans instead of flour. I have diabetes (see my blog) and am always looking for low-carb substitutions. I’d love to try out some new low-carb cake recipes if you have any.


44 Dannii

There are some great black bean brownies on the internet, which is a great place to start.


45 Kevin green

well it’s wounderfull by using all common things and make them in a balanced diet which will help you to maintain your health.


46 Dannii

I try to use “normal” every day ingredients as much as possible.


47 Johnny

Thanks for the tips, I follow a number of them already.
Let me add a few of my own:
I like to substitute all purpose flour with self made oatmeal flour (prepared in a blender), it ads a nutty taste to meals :) .
I also replace sugar with the natural sweetener called Stevia (you can even get your own plant and use the leafs a sweetener ;) .
Keep up the sharing of great tips!


48 Dannii

Yes, I often use ground oats as flour too – can’t taste the difference. it’s great :)


49 Anna

Thanks for these, I am going to try them all.


50 Dannii

You’re welcome.


51 JackieToo

Thank you! I know that little changes can make a big difference. I just need to remember to make those changes. This will be a good reminder. :)


52 Dannii

They really do all add up to bigger changes.


53 Brenda

Black beans instead of flour? That’s a new one for me.


54 Dannii

Yes, it’s really good. It obviously doesn’t taste like a usual cake when you use it, but it us a great sub if you are trying to lighten things up.


55 Matilda

Ever since you mentioned it on your facebook page, I use Greek yoghurt instead of sour cream.


56 Dannii

That’s good to hear! You can’t really taste the difference, can you?


57 Vanessa

What a brilliant guide. I love that you always say you don’t have to give up things. It is so true and you are proof.


58 Dannii

Thank you :)


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