Healthy substitutions for better eating

Alabama Living Magazine -- By

Food styling and photos: Brooke Echols

If you’re looking for some ways to substitute healthy alternatives for ingredients in your everyday eating, it’s easier than you think. Just a few simple adjustments can make a difference in the amount of fat and calories  you consume, and the nutritional boost you can get in return.  Brooke Burks, our partner at The Buttered Home, offers these handy tips:

  • Substitute unsweetened low-fat Greek yogurt for mayo    in sweet and savory dishes. You get protein and healthy fat!
  • Cook with real butter. We need some fat in our diet for organ function. Butter is easy to use and of course, tasty!
  • Use almond flour in place of regular white flour. This is considered a protein-packed swap with far fewer carbs and calories.
  • Pay attention to what you are drinking. Most of us are drinking a lot of our calories every day, even with diet sodas. Sodium is also hidden in most drinks, which can lead to fluid retention.
  • Spaghetti squash, zucchini slices and eggplant slices also can be swapped for pasta. Once you start, it will be hard to tell the difference.
  • Unleash the power of cauliflower! You can mash it, rice it and with proper seasoning, you won’t miss those starchy alternatives.
  • Eat fresh! Shop the outer aisles of the grocery store and look for ways to incorporate more vegetables in your diet. Adding spinach to shakes and smoothies goes undetected! Trust me!
  • When you want something sweet, reach for a low-glycemic fruit like berries or even a dill pickle to curb that sweet craving. It works!

Cook of the Month: Bobbie Canada, Tallapoosa River EC

Bobbie Canada loves a good, moist bran muffin, but finding one that’s not overly dry, especially when dining out or on a cruise ship which she and her husband enjoy, can be difficult. So, inspired by her daughter to seek out healthier dietary choices, she came up with her own recipe for “Best Raisin Bran Muffin Ever.” Instead of sugar, she uses molasses, and instead of an egg, she uses a flaxseed and water mixture: “You can actually taste the difference,” she says. For buttermilk, she did some research to see what would be a good substitute. Online searches showed using whole milk with lemon juice, “So I thought if it works with whole milk, it’s got to work with almond milk.” And it did. “I even use it in a recipe I have for pound cake and my husband likes it better,” says the retired elementary school art teacher. (Another hint: For the wheat bran cereal, she recommends the Publix brand bran flakes.)  Making the substitutions might take longer in the planning and prep work, but she adds, “It’s worth it if you want a nice, moist, healthy muffin.”  She usually makes two recipes and freezes one: “They freeze well and last a while.” — Lenore Vickrey

Best Raisin Bran Muffin Ever (Plant-Based!)

Egg substitute:

  • 1 tablespoon organic ground flax seed
  • 3 tablespoons purified water
  • Measure 1 tablespoon ground flax seed into a glass cup. Add 3 tablespoons of purified water. Whip and set aside to allow “egg” to congeal.

Buttermilk substitute:

  • 1 tablespoon fresh squeezed lemon
  • 1 cup unsweetened almond milk
  • Measure 1 tablespoon of fresh squeezed lemon into a glass measuring cup. Fill with unsweetened almond milk to measure to 1 cup. Set aside and allow milk to curdle.


  • 1 1/2 cups wheat bran cereal
  • 1 cup buttermilk substitute, plant-based recipe above
  • 1/3 cup organic grape-seed oil, or other light oil
  • 1 egg substitute, plant-based recipe above
  • 1/2 cup molasses
  • ½ teaspoon organic vanilla extract
  • 1 cup organic white whole wheat flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup organic raisins
  • ¼ cup organic ground flax seed
  • Purified water
  • Muffin pan liners or baking spray

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Use muffin pan liners or spray muffin pan lightly with organic baking spray. Measure wheat bran cereal and place into a medium sized bowl. In a separate bowl, measure organic white whole wheat flour, baking soda, baking powder, ground flax seed and salt. Stir with a wire whisk and set aside. Add the buttermilk mixture, which should be curdled by now, to the bowl with wheat bran and set aside to soften. Hand beat oil, flax seed egg mixture, molasses and vanilla into the buttermilk/wheat bran mixture. When blended, add the flour mixture. Stir until blended, then toss in raisins and stir again. Spoon into muffin cups and place into the oven for 30 minutes. Cool and enjoy.

Lemon Garlic Butter Salmon with Zucchini Noodles

  • 1 salmon fillet, cut in 3 or 4 chunks
  • 4 zucchini, spiralized
  • 3 tablespoons butter, divided
  • 3-4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 cup fresh chopped parsley, divided
  • 1/2 lemon, juiced
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 tablespoon hot sauce of your choice (recommended: Texas Pete)
  • Fresh chopped scallion, garnish

Season salmon fillets on all sides with salt and pepper. Heat butter in a large cast iron skillet. Add the pieces of salmon to the skillet, skin side first, and cook for 2-4 minutes on each side, depending on thickness. For best results, use a fish turner to flip salmon. Remove from the skillet and set aside. In the same skillet, melt remaining 2 tablespoons butter. Add lemon juice, hot sauce, minced garlic, half the parsley and red pepper flakes (optional). Add the zucchini noodles and cook for 3 or 4 minutes, stirring regularly to coat in the butter sauce, until zucchini noodles are done but still crisp and juices have reduced a bit, drain out water. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper and garnish with more parsley. Push zucchini noodles on the side and add salmon fillets back to the pan. Reheat for a couple of minutes. Serve immediately garnished with chopped scallion and a lemon slice on the side.

Mary Beth Rich, North Alabama EC

Dill Chicken Salad

  • 1 pound of cooked, cooled and shredded chicken breasts
  • 2 eggs, boiled and chopped
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon pepper
  • 1 tablespoon mayonnaise
  • 2/3 cup non-fat, unsweetened Greek yogurt
  • ¼ cup dill pickle relish
  • ¼ teaspoon garlic powder
  • ¼ teaspoon smoked paprika
  • ¼ cup chopped red onion
  • 2 tablespoons prepared mustard

Prep ingredients. Shred cooled chicken with two forks or a hand mixer. Chop eggs. Combine both in a medium bowl.  Add salt, pepper, mayo, yogurt and pickle relish. Mix well.

Add garlic powder, paprika, red onion and mustard. Mix again. Chill and serve.

Making just a few changes in your recipes can make a big difference. Substituting unsweetened, low-fat Greek yogurt for full fat mayonnaise, and dill pickles for sweet, really makes a big impact on this beloved southern recipe.

Brooke Burks, The Buttered Home

The Buttered Home

Over the last couple of years, I have spent a lot of time trying to find a healthier alternative to some of my favorite things. Cooking is a great experiment and this challenge has been the most fun! When thinking about some pretty decadent dishes, I thought a lot about substitutions for the components that add carbs and fat to most recipes. This Banana Pudding uses a plant-based sugar substitute, low-fat options, and nuts in the place of cookies. But you get texture and all of the flavor you expect. Making dishes like these in individual portion sizes also is a great way to lighten things up! For more healthy substitution recipes and as well as great traditional ones, head over to

Mini Skinny Banana Pudding

  • ¼ cup almonds, chopped 
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch 
  • ¼ teaspoon salt 
  • 4 tablespoons sugar substitute
  • 1 egg yolk, lightly beaten 
  • 1 cup low-fat milk 
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla 
  • 3 sliced bananas 

Preheat oven to 350. Roast chopped almonds  in a baking dish for 10-12 minutes. Cool. 

In a saucepan, combine salt, sugar substitute and cornstarch. Mix well.

Add in egg yolk. Set heat to medium and slowly add milk. Stir well to combine. Continue to stir until it reaches a custard or pudding consistency. Remove from heat and stir in vanilla. Allow to cool for 5 minutes.

Layer in single serving dishes with sliced bananas. Top with roasted almonds. Yield: four individual servings.


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