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7 Calorie-Saving Cooking Swaps to Try Tonight

Good news for home cooks: You can cut calories while retaining big flavor in the foods you love.

Updated on November 3, 2023

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Who doesn't love an indulgent, luscious meal after a long, hard day? And the occasional splurge fits in with most any eating plan. But if you've run out of creative ways to make your favorite foods feel decadant without calorie overload, look no further. It is possible to lighten up comfort foods that are ordinarily high in fat, carbs, and sugar with some simple substitutions.

Upgrade your ingredient lists with nutrient-rich black beans, butternut squash, and more. These substitutions slash calories and give your meal a boost of necessary nutrients.

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Black Beans in Place of Flour

Black beans contain about half the calories of an equivalent quantity of flour—a difference of 228 calories per cup. But this swap offers more than a calorie reduction. Flour is loaded with carbohydrates and boasts a glycemic load of 66. (A food’s glycemic load determines how much it will affect your blood sugar. A higher glycemic load can cause a spike in blood sugar.)

Black beans, with a glycemic load of only 14, cause less of a spike. Black beans also contain more fiber than flour. Ready to give this swap a try? Replace one cup of flour with cooked, rinsed, and pureed black beans in your favorite brownie recipe.

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Avocado in Place of Butter

Butter is delicious, but it’s high in cholesterol and saturated fat and lacks nearly all other nutrients. Swap butter for mashed avocado. One fifth of an avocado, the recommended serving size, contains less than six grams of fat. That’s half the fat of one tablespoon of butter. Spread some avocado on toast or replace equal parts butter with avocado in your favorite baked good.

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Rolled Oats in Place of Breadcrumbs

Breadcrumbs add great crunch and flavor to meals, but are high in carbs and sodium. Plain breadcrumbs contain 790 milligrams of sodium per cup—that’s more than 30 percent of the daily recommended value. What if you use seasoned breadcrumbs? Your sodium count can rise to 2,110 milligrams per cup.

Rolled oats contain only five milligrams of sodium per cup and add extra fiber. Just pulse rolled oats in a food processor and use them in recipes that call for breadcrumbs.

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Greek Yogurt in Place of Mayonnaise

Mayonnaise-based salads, like tuna and chicken salad, can be loaded with calories. One serving of mayonnaise—approximately two tablespoons—contains 195 calories, 22 grams of fat, and 195 milligrams of sodium. An equivalent amount of plain Greek yogurt weighs in at just 1 gram of fat and 13 milligrams of sodium. Swap equal parts mayo for Greek yogurt and enjoy the creamy flavor without the uneccessary calories, fat, and sodium.

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Pumpkin in Place of Oil

Pumpkin is a classic fall flavor, but its benefits can be reaped all year long. Pumpkin puree can be used as a substitute for butter and oil in many baked goods. A one-cup serving of pumpkin contains about 85 calories—about 20 times less than the equivalent amount of butter (1,630 calories) or oil (1,880 calories). What's more, neither butter nor oil contain the amounts of good-for-your-gut fiber, vitamins A and K, or iron that pumpkin does.

Lighten up your breads, muffins, and cakes by swapping equal parts oil for pumpkin or three quarters of a cup oil for a cup of pumpkin puree.

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Butternut Squash in Place of Cheese

Macaroni and cheese is a classic comfort food, but it's high in fat and calories. In fact, one cup of shredded cheddar cheese contains 455 calories, 37 grams of fat, and 700 milligrams of sodium. Save those extra calories, fat, and sodium by replacing cheddar cheese with butternut squash. Butternut squash contains 80 calories, 0 grams of fat, and 8 milligrams of sodium per cup and boasts vision- and immune-boosting vitamin A.

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Applesauce in Place of Oil

Incorporate unsweetened applesauce into your favorite baked treat to eliminate fat and calories. The swap is simple: Replace oil with an equivalent amount of applesauce. (If your recipe doesn't come out as moist as you like, consider keeping half the oil and swapping out the other half of it for applesauce.)

One cup of unsweetened applesauce contains about 100 calories, 0 grams of fat, and immune-bolstering vitamin C (about 86 percent of the daily recommended value). The same cup of oil contains about 1,900 calories, 220 grams of fat, and almost no nutrients.

Slideshow sources open slideshow sources

Hanan A. Hussien. (2016). Using Vegetable Puree as a Fat Substitute in Cakes. International Journal of Nutrition and Food Sciences, 5(4), 284-292.
Bob's Red Mill. Oil Substitutes in Baking. June 7, 2018.

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