In the final part of my blog series on how you can swap your favourite foods for healthier versions, I'm focusing on dinner.
Dinner can be that real 'problem' meal for many. It might be the first time you've eaten since lunch, and you're really hungry. Or, you know when you've had one of those rubbish journeys home and you just want some comfort food to make you feel better!
Yes, I've been there too, and I know how easy it is to want to reach for something quick and lardy. Yet there's lots of swaps you can make to your favourite stodge that won't leave you feeling bloated - or guilty!
#1 Swap lasagne sheets for butternut squash sheets
It seems like carbs have almost become a "bad food" these days, with every health article reminding us that they help you pile on the pounds and keep them on! Low in fat, butternut squash delivers a generous dose of dietary fibre, making it an exceptionally heart-friendly alternative to pasta sheets. It provides significant amounts of potassium, important for bone health, and vitamin B6, essential for the proper functioning of both the nervous and immune systems.
All these goodies make it a delicious, healthier alternative to pasta, especially if you're trying to cut back on the carbs. All the major supermarkets sell them. Alternatively, if you prefer your veg organic you can slice your own. My multi slicer mandoline is perfect for this job.
#2 Swap spaghetti for spiralized veg
You've probably read a lot about the inflammatory impact of gluten! I know I know many people I speak to who are frequently avoiding it! Or maybe you again are looking for a way to reduce the amount of carbs in your diet. To be fair, who doesn’t occasionally crave a big bowl of pasta? I know I do!
You'll be pleased to know then that you can curb your carb cravings by swapping your favourite egg or spaghetti noodles for veggie noodles. Courgette (zucchini) and sweet potato noodles have a great pasta-like consistency, and are a deliciously quick and healthy replacement to have with your favourite sauce. Think of it as vegetable chow mein without the MSG! You also save time and nutrients, as once they're spiralized you just need to lightly stir fry them, or add to hot soups, allowing the heat to cook them for you - a great bonus for your veg count!
You know when the supermarkets start stocking products that consumer tastes have shifted, and they've now become a permanent feature on their shelves. Again, I've yet to see a pre-packaged organic version, so get past that problem by buying a spiralizer and making your own. Buy them online, in the larger supermarkets or in specialist kitchen gadget shops
#3 Swap rice for cauliflower rice
We can all agree that rice is a standard base for lots of meals, which is probably the reason it’s one of the most popular foods in the world. But the problem with rice in my opinion, especially the white variety, is that it packs a lot of calories and carbs without a lot of nutritional value. I personally also think it's been genetically modified to death!
Although it’s gluten-free, rice still has proteins that are similar to gluten that can be an issue for people struggling with inflammation and gastrointestinal problems. It's high carb count can also mess with your blood sugars. That's where cauliflower rice can come to your rescue!
Another reason cauliflower is an excellent substitute for rice is that both of them have a fairly mild flavor. They really take on the taste of other ingredients in the dish, and they’re similar enough in texture that you’ll barely be able to tell the difference, especially if your dish has a thick sauce. I don't do calories, but if I did, I know that there would be much less of them in this sub. Try it, and tell me that you don't feel anywhere near as bloated as you do after a rice dish. Here's some ways to sub it:
Bonus - #4 Swap fries for sweet potato fries
Is there anything more wonderful than a hot, crispy, salty, crunchy french fry dipped in ketchup or your favourite dip? Yes, there is! Sweet potato fries are fast becoming a staple on many a menu, in pub chains and small restaurants alike. Unlike regular white potato, sweet potatoes may be one of nature's unsurpassed sources of beta-carotene. Several recent studies have shown the superior ability of sweet potatoes to raise our blood levels of vitamin A. They're also full of minerals, calcium and are a great source of B vitamins, crucial to your diet if you're eating less protein from animal-based sources.
Also, although they contain the same amount of carbs as their white cousins, they have more fibre and are slightly lower on the glycemic index than white potatoes. For this reason, blood glucose will rise a little more gradually with sweet potatoes than with white potatoes, so bear in mind portion control if you are diabetic.
Again, you can find them in all the major supermarkets, as well as the discount supermarkets. It's also really easy to make your own using mandolin or a potato chipper. If you like your chips really crispy, here's a tip for you: soak the raw potatoes in ice cold water for 1 hour. Doing this will draw the excess starch out, which will help them to crisp up. I also don't add any salt before I bake them either, as I find this can make them soggy.
So there you have it, proof that a few healthy ingredients substitutions can go a long way to making you look and feel healthier without spending a fortune on "diet foods". If you love seasoning as I do, you'll also find that you won't miss out on taste in any way because basic seasonings are not full of bad fat, sugar and salt. Check the salt content of pre-packed seasoning mixes or make your own. Seasoning has the power to turn an ordinary dish into a culinary mouth explosion - so go and experiment and enjoy!
If one of your goals in 2018 is to be healthier, this series is a great place to start. You can read the other blogs in the series here:
Simple Food Swaps That Will Help You Stay Healthy - #1 Breakfast
Simple Food Swaps That Will Help You Stay Healthy - #2 Lunch