Simple Substitutions

I was talking to a friend today about Weight Watchers and health in general, and I got the idea for this blog post.  Years ago, my dear friend Wanda let me borrow her American Heart Association Diet/Recipe book and one of their recommendations was to simply make small changes.  e.g. cut about 20% of your calories.  Over time, those simple reductions would help lose weight without any noticeable deprivations.

I admit, I sort of scoffed.  I wasn’t patient enough for those little changes.  Geez.  I want to lose weight NOW!  Of course I went on some crazy fad diet, lost 40 pounds quickly, but ultimately fell off the wagon and gained the weight back.

Although I’ve been doing Weight Watchers for over a year now, that little idea of small substitutions has stuck with me.  In the beginning, I didn’t need to “give up” too many things because I had the points for the normal foods.  But now I’m dropping slowly downward, and I need all the help I can get to stay in my range.  (I lost another point today!  Gulp!!  I mean, Yay!)

Substitutions to the rescue!  But first a few caveats.  READ YOUR LABELS.  “Fat-free” is not necessarily better than the full-fat versions.  Watch for fillers, especially corn syrup.  That’s one reason I’ve stuck with my regular half and half instead of fat-free.  I don’t want corn syrup in my coffee, thank you very much!

Also, watch your chemicals, especially sugar substitutes.  If I’m going to have alcohol in my food, I want it to be of the wine or beer variety, not sugar alcohols.  I’ve cut out almost all sweeteners other than the half Splenda/sugar mix, and I’m trying to get off it too.  I just hate to use the points for real honey — but it’s so much better for me.

Here are a few substitutions that I make every single day.

  • 93% or 95% lean ground beef instead of ground chuck.
  • I really love 99% ground turkey – and even the monsters will eat it in Sloppy Joes, etc. after we got over the weird “white” color.  However, it’s typically pretty expense here.  I occasionally make a really yummy turkey & feta burger.
  • I almost always have a whole egg each day, but to bulk out my meal and increase protein, I use 2-3 egg whites too for very little point impact.
  • nonfat Greek (Fage) yogurt is probably my #1 staple.  (For instance, I sent home Thanksgiving leftovers with people in Fage containers.)  I eat it every single day for breakfast.  I also use it as a sour cream replacement.  2 T for basically free.  It also makes a great dip for veggies with some dried herbs like thyme or dill, celery salt or Bay seasoning, etc.  Or even yogurt + salsa.
  • Unsweetened almond milk in place of skim milk.  Half the points, and I love the taste.  However, it doesn’t officially count as a WW dairy (I do usually count it, though).  Plus it’s expensive!  So it’s a treat, but I really do like it.
  • Instead of tortilla chips or even baked Scoops, I take corn tortillas, lightly brush with olive oil (getting in those healthy oils!), season, and then bake until crispy.  They taste like corn to me, unlike those fake baked Scoops.
  • Instead of flour tortillas, I do either:  flat outs or corn tortillas.  Huge difference in points.  I’ve tried whole wheat tortillas but they just don’t taste right to me.  I’d rather have corn.  Someday, I’m going to try making my own.
  • I’ve always eaten wheat bread.  I do eat Nature’s Own light wheat bread for sandwiches (so I get 2 pieces for the same point value!) – but I also like the double fiber kind.  I’ve tried various sandwich rounds, etc. but in the end, I came back to Nature’s Own.  I just like their ingredients and taste the best.
  • Pita breads make GREAT personal pizzas!  I use whole wheat, top with turkey pepperoni and mozzarella, or…
  • Laughing Cow cheese wedges.  They’re a highly processed food, which I’m not real thrilled about, but sometimes I really crave that rich “cream cheese” taste.  I’ve tried several flavors but always come back to the simple Light Swiss.
  • Babybel cheeses.  Perfect snack size, great with clementines or an apple for a snack.  They pack in 5 grams of protein but don’t count as a whole dairy.  (You need 1 1/2 oz cheese to count as a dairy serving.)
  • I have raw, fresh veggies or fruit at every meal.  Even if I’m out of lettuce, I slice up a cucumber, tomato, or pepper.  The monsters will eat quite a bit of these, although we’re still working on peppers especially.
  • Natural peanut butter instead of regular.  Half the points, and I feel good about limiting the salt and sugar.  Even Middle takes it for lunch everyday – she actually prefers natural pb now instead of Jif.
  • When you’ve spent years blindly cutting fats – even healthy ones – out of your diet, real cheese seems like an indulgence.  I admit, I looooove a good sharp cheddar.  Such a delicious treat!  However, I keep the reduced fat Mexican shredded cheeses on hand and can’t really taste a difference compared to the other shredded cheeses.  (P.S. you know cheese you shred yourself tastes way better right?  It’s not coated in cellulose – wood! – to prevent clumping!)  With three monsters, the full-time Evil Day Job, etc. sometimes I need the convenience of bagged cheese.

These substitutions don’t really have a “point” impact, but they do have a health impact and they’re important to me.

  • I substitute dried beans for canned beans as often as possible.  I’m cutting the sodium – which can definitely impact my weight results – and avoiding any can chemicals that might leak into the food.
  • I don’t use canola oil or margarine.  EVER.  (I do keep it for That Man because that’s what he prefers.)  Everything I’ve read about it makes me question its real health benefits, especially when it’s cooked at high temperatures.  I use olive oil (only at medium heat), real butter, or coconut oil.  I do consider coconut oil to count toward my healthy oils – but WW doesn’t.  Yes, it’s high in saturated fat, but it’s a good, natural fat, it tastes great, and it’s not processed.
  • I cook often in my iron skilllets, even though that means I sometimes have to use more oil compared to a non-stick skillet.
  • If I’m going to indulge in white bread, I’ll make my own.  The problem is not eating the whole loaf in one setting.
  • I make my own broth whenever possible.  I keep chicken and turkey broth in the freezer.  I do NOT strain off the chicken fat – it’s a fairly healthy fat and real bone broth is loaded with nutrients.  I’ve made beef broth (from the prime rib bones at Christmas) and I definitely strained off the fat from it.  It was a huge thick 1/4″ layer on top, at least.

Substitutions that do NOT work for me.

  • fat-free half and half as I said above
  • fat-free dressings (ditto).  I make my own dressing every day with olive or sesame oil plus vinegar, honey, etc.
  • Egg Beaters.  I don’t like the artifical colors and fake taste.  I’ll “waste” my own eggs to get egg whites.
  • fat-free cream cheese.  Why bother?  I get the same taste and texture with Laughing Cow.
  • fat-free cheese in general.  Ick.  They taste horrible and don’t melt.  I’ll splurge on the real thing as long as I can.

Are there any healthy substitutions that you recommend?  I’d love to hear it!

11 thoughts on “Simple Substitutions

  1. A substitute that use for healthy eating is smashed up avocado instead of mayo on my sandwich. It has better quality fat than the mayo does and also humus works well too. I agree with you on fat free cheese or even many of the fat free products, there is no taste or quality to it, so why bother eating it.

      • Avocado is wonderful, but they’re hard to get just right, ripe-wise. They’re really only perfectly good for a few days. Too soon, and they don’t have that creamy goodness. Too late, and they’re just a smooshy hot mess.

        But oh… when they’re just right….

  2. I love hummus! I’ve always wanted to make my own, but I can’t find tahini anywhere here but at a “specialty” foods store, and it’s sooooo expensive. *sigh* I can buy it cheaper on-line, but then shipping/handling puts it right back up there.

  3. I agree with you on the Babybel cheeses! They’re a perfect work snack! And fake cheese needs to stay far away from me. I do not like it.

    I’ve found that popcorn (cooked ourselves, on the stove) is something I will happily eat in place of potato chips.

    Good luck on not eating the entire loaf of fresh bread before it’s done cooling. I have that problem, too.

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