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Substitute Ingredients – Are Yours Good for You?

There are loads of resources that cover how to switch out one ingredient for another. Most don’t talk about what that does to the nutrition profile. That’s where I come in.

baking from scratch
my homemade muffins

Updated 10/2020

In between grocery runs recently, I made cranberry muffins by using tomato juice (ketchup and water, really) in place of the eggs and milk. They were weirdly delicious, moist, and not tomato-y at all.

You know how nearly everyone is wondering about foods that support our health right now? This ingredient swap made some darn tasty muffins, but did little to nothing in terms of nutrition.

It got me thinking.

There are loads of resources that talk about the performance of ingredients when you need to make a swap. There aren’t too many that talk about what that does to the nutrition profile.

Let’s discuss.

Food groups are organized by the main nutrients they provide. This is an oversimplification, but that’s really the beauty of the MyPlate visual. It organizes complex nutrition/food science into practical application and helps us create meals that provide the nutrition we need.

If we swap out milk and eggs,  for example, which together provide nutrients including protein, calcium, potassium, selenium, zinc, choline, vitamin A, B12, D, and E, these and other important nutrients are gone from that dish.

baking ingredients and substiutions
Image by Moira Nazzari from Pixabay

The ketchup and water used in my muffins added…water. Plus a tiny bit of Vitamin A and C as well as some lycopene in the 1.5 tablespoons of ketchup needed for the recipe.

Don’t panic. We all need recipe substitutions, especially right now.  The solution is to know your food groups and when you take a food out from one food group, simply remember to eat something from that food group at some point in your day. For me, I had a homemade cheesy carnitas and bean casserole for lunch, so even before dinner I had caught up a bunch with this nice mix of food groups because pork, beans, and cheese have many of the same nutrients that those milk and eggs would have added as well as others. Boom.

It’s easier than you think to eat well and deliciously. You deserve to take that moment to plan out your total day. This has the added bonus of helping you manage your food budget and the groceries you have on hand.

Here are some other weird points to consider, especially in this current situation we find ourselves in:

Do you have to cook frozen veggies before you eat them? Yes.

Can you eat store bought canned goods straight out of the can? Mostly yes.

Do frozen, canned, and dried forms provide nutrition? Yes. Sometimes you get a little more sodium and/or added sugar in these varieties. Look for “no salt added” versions, drain and rinse canned veggies, and pair them with other fresh foods to balance out the meal.

Take note of fiber, too. If you aren’t getting enough of it, serve something else with fiber during the day. There are two types of fiber the sticky kind (soluble) and the roughage kind (insoluble). Eating a variety of foods that contain fiber (fruits, veggies, grains – read labels and wash/keep the skins on your produce) will help you get both of them. PS. Popcorn is a whole grain and has fiber. There are many ways to get what we need.

Remember, you can call the manufacturer or visit their website for specific product questions.

Variety is the spice of life. Foods have wonderful properties that make them perform well in recipes. Don’t forget the hidden part – the nutrients.

Next time you see me, ask me about the apple pie with no apples…

By Kim Kirchherr

I am a dietitian working in food and fiber (agriculture) through retail, addressing opportunities to make things better for people and planet.