Healthy Alternatives For Your Favorite Indulgences

As the warm weather descends upon the city and we pack away our winter gear, many of us are looking for quick fixes to drop those last few pounds of winter weight and look our best for spring. Each year, though, it’s the same story — we commit to a rigid diet and workout regimen, vowing to cut carbs and kick sugar to the curb, and things go great, for a while. But right around that third or fourth week of a strict diet and exercise program, things get hairy. Friends extend invites to happy hours, there are seemingly endless birthday party invitations to field, and late nights at the office mean takeout from less-than-diet-friendly restaurants. One slip-up becomes two, and before we know it, that once strict diet has fallen to the wayside and we’re right back to our old habits. Here’s the thing about strict diets — they don’t work. Cutting out entire food groups and committing yourself to unrealistic meal plans is a sure-fire way to fail, and often, that failure can mean packing on the pounds and taking two steps backward from where we started.

Instead of dreading that strict spring diet plan this season, why not try healthy alternatives to your favorite foods? By replacing a few ingredients in your favorite comfort foods, you can enjoy that same great taste with none of the guilt. Below, we’ve compiled a list of some of our favorite healthy alternatives to not-so-healthy foods, so you can stick to your diet and feel great for spring.

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Try These Healthy Alternatives to Not-So-Healthy Foods

Pasta — Zucchini Noodles

If you’re a living, breathing human being, you likely have a thing for pasta. We don’t blame you! Pasta is one of our favorite indulgences, but we don’t love the extra weight we carry around after overindulging in carbs. Nor do we love the food coma we experience with a block of pasta sitting in our gut. As a healthy alternative to pasta, we love zoodles, noodles made from strings of zucchini.

Yes, you will need to purchase a vegetable spiralizer in order to enjoy this alternative, but we think it’s well worth the investment. Not only are zucchini noodles much lower in calories than traditional pasta, they also provide an excellent source of antioxidants, vitamin C, potassium, and energizing B vitamins. Plus, they take just minutes to prepare. Simply spiralize your zucchini and saute over medium heat for a few minutes until the zoodles are tender. Then, toss with your favorite sauce and enjoy!

You may also want to experiment with other vegetables aside from zucchini. Some of our other go-tos include spaghetti squash, carrots, apples and sweet potato. Get creative and try your favorite produce!

Butter — Ghee

We’ll be the first to admit that a healthy dose of butter makes every meal better. Better for you, not so much. Yes, butter may enhance the flavor of our favorite meals, but it’s also packed with calories and cholesterol, and can lead to health issues if consumed in high quantities. Instead, we opt for ghee as a healthy alternative.

Ghee is kind of like clarified butter, but it is heated for a longer period of time to remove all milk solids and water and enhance its naturally nutty flavor. It’s got a much higher “smoke point” than standard butter, meaning that it can be used when cooking on high heat without losing any of its nutrient content or producing cancer-causing free radicals.

Ghee offers a number of added health benefits. It’s an excellent source of fat-soluble vitamins and can help increase your intake of vitamins A, E and K. Plus, it contains no lactose or casein, two substances that many of us have a difficult time digesting. If you generally suffer symptoms of lactose intolerance after consuming butter, such as bloating, upset stomach, flatulence or nausea, ghee is an excellent lactose-free alternative.

Potato Chips — Kale Chips

Everyone knows that it’s humanly impossible to eat just a few potato chips. Once you crack open a bag of those salty, greasy chips, you can consider it a single serving, no matter how large. Unfortunately, that bag of potato chips is packed with calories, saturated fat and tons of sodium, none of which are conducive to a healthy eating plan.

Next time you feel a potato chip craving coming on, pick up a bag of kale chips instead. Kale chips are simply shredded kale, a bit of coconut oil (or ghee) and a pink of salt. You can even add other flavors like garlic or cayenne pepper to spice up the taste. We love kale chips as a healthy alternative because you can enjoy that same satisfying crunch as a potato chip and sneak in a serving of leafy greens.

Kale is low in calories, high in fiber, and contains absolutely zero fat, so you can fill up without regretting it later. Plus, per calorie, kale actually provides more iron than beef! Iron is important for proper cell regeneration, transporting oxygen throughout the body, and maintaining healthy liver function.

Cream Cheese — Cashew Cream

As we mentioned above, dairy isn’t everyone’s best friend. More often than not, consuming dairy means spending the rest of the day feeling bloated, and some people even suffer from skin conditions like acne after consuming dairy. Plus, many dairy products are high in calories and saturated fat, neither of which we want to see in a spring diet plan.

One of our favorite healthy alternatives to cream cheese is cashew cream, and it’s so easy to make at home. Simply soak a handful of cashews overnight in a bowl of water, then rinse and drain. Add the cashews to a food processor with a tablespoon each of nutritional yeast and water, a squeeze of fresh lemon juice, and a pinch of salt. Blend until smooth, and enjoy!

Cashews are packed with protein and provide a healthy dose of iron, copper, phosphorus, as well as vitamins E, K and B6. They can help improve eye health and protect against cataracts, and they help maintain good heart health.

Rice — Quinoa

Did we mention how much we all love carbs? Of course, rice is no exception, but with very little nutritional benefit and quite a few calories per serving, white rice isn’t exactly diet friendly. The good news is that quinoa provides an excellent alternative to white rice in almost any dish. 

Quinoa is actually a flowering plant in the amaranth family, though it is grown as a grain. Unlike rice, it is gluten-free and provides a high amount of fiber per serving, so you can stay fuller, longer. Quinoa is also packed with protein, and is actually a complete protein source, meaning that it contains all nine essential amino acids on its own. Plus, it packs an added healthy punch with lysine, magnesium, iron and vitamin B2.

Flavor-wise, it can be used as a rice replacement in pretty much any traditional rice dish, as it’s an extremely versatile food. It’s got a mild nutty flavor, and we love it mixed with sauteed veggies, as a filler in tacos, or as a side on its own.

Ice Cream — Frozen Banana “Nice Cream”

This is definitely one of our favorites on the list, as it’s easy to make and so incredibly delicious. If you’re an ice cream lover (and in the warmer months, who isn’t), then you’ll love this ice cream alternative.

Nice cream is made by blending frozen bananas in a blender with a milk of your choice (we love coconut or almond). Then, add a pinch of salt and blend until smooth. That’s it!

You can add so many different flavors to your nice cream, from cacao to vanilla extract to coconut butter and more. Don’t be afraid to get creative with flavors and toppings.

Frozen banana nice cream is free of saturated fat and added sugar and is a great low-calorie healthy alternative to standard ice cream.

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With These Healthy Alternatives, You Don’t Need to Deprive Yourself

Thanks to a few simple food swaps, you can enjoy all of your favorite recipes without blowing your diet plan. As you can see, it’s easy to start incorporating healthier alternatives into your diet. More often than not, you won’t even miss your old ways! Trust us when we tell you that enjoying healthy foods doesn’t have to mean boring, tasteless meals. It simply means consuming more consciously, and being aware of healthy alternatives when you can.

This spring, instead of setting yourself up to fail with strict rules and unrealistic goals, eat a healthier version of the foods you love and you’ll be amazed not only by how great you look, but how energized and confident you feel. After all, isn’t that what’s most important?
 

Taylor Rohwedder