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Ohio State University Extension


Modifying a Recipe to Be Healthier

Family and Consumer Sciences
Revised by Pat Brinkman, Extension Educator, Ohio State University Extension

The USDA's Dietary Guidelines for Americans emphasizes the need for Americans to reduce the amount of fat, sodium (salt) and added sugar consumed, while increasing the consumption of fiber. When buying food, we can check the label, but when using a recipe, we might need to make some changes by substituting ingredients or changing the cooking technique. Just like we substitute when we're out of a certain ingredient, we can make changes in a recipe to make it healthier.

This fact sheet provides ideas to decrease the amount of fat, calories, salt (sodium) and sugar in recipes. Ways to increase fiber in recipes are also provided to help you make more nutritious food. Remember, you can experiment with recipes and change ingredients. You might also be able to find recipes that, although similar to yours, actually have less fat, sugar and salt. They might even have more additions of nutritious ingredients. Have fun when cooking: Experiment!

Tips to Decrease Total Fat and Lower Calories
Instead of this: Try this:
Shortening, butter, margarine or solid fat Use ¼ less liquid oil or solid fat called for in the recipe. If recipe calls for 1 cup, use ¾ cup. If recipe uses ¼ cup shortening, use 3 tablespoons oil. Use equal amounts of oil for melted shortening, margarine or butter.
Shortening, butter or oil in baking Use applesauce or prune purée for half of the butter, shortening or oil. Might need to reduce baking time by 25 percent.
Butter, shortening, margarine or oil to prevent sticking When frying foods, use cooking spray, water, broth or a nonstick pan.
Frying in fat Use cooking methods such as bake, boil, broil, grill, poach, roast, stir-fry or microwave.
Fat to sauté or stir-fry When frying foods, use cooking spray, water, broth or nonstick pans.
Whole milk, half-and-half or evaporated milk Use skim milk, *Skim Plus, 1% milk, evaporated skim milk, fat-free half-and-half or plain soy milk with calcium. (*Use of brand name does not indicate an endorsement of the product.)
Full-fat cream cheese Use low-fat or nonfat cream cheese, Neufchâtel, or low-fat cottage cheese puréed until smooth.
Full-fat sour cream, full-fat cottage cheese or full-fat ricotta cheese Use nonfat or reduced-fat sour cream, fat-free plain yogurt, or Greek yogurt. (Yogurt is not heat stable.) Use 2% or fat-free cottage cheese. Use part-skim ricotta.
Whole-fat cheese Use reduced-fat cheese, but add it at the end of the baking time or use part-skim mozzarella.
Whipping cream
Use evaporated skim milk.
Use nonfat whipped topping or cream. (This is only nonfat if one serving size is used.)
Eggs Use egg whites (usually 2 egg whites for every egg) or ¼ cup egg substitute.
Regular mayonnaise or salad dressing Use low-fat, reduced- or nonfat mayonnaise or salad dressing. Try flavored vinegars.
Canned fish Use water-packed canned products or vacuum-sealed pouches.
Fatter cuts of meat (skin on) Use leaner cuts of meat or ground meat, with the skin removed before cooking.
Ground beef Use extra-lean ground beef, ground turkey breast or ground chicken breast, without the skin.
Bacon, lunch meats or sausage Use Canadian bacon or lean ham, low-fat lunch meats or turkey sausage. 
Croissants, brioches, etc.

Use whole-wheat French rolls or whole-wheat brown-and-serve rolls.

Donuts, pastries Use whole-wheat or whole-grain English muffins, bagels and/or other reduced-fat varieties.

Cookies, crackers

Use reduced-fat, low-sodium varieties.
Tips to Reduce Sodium
Instead of this: Try this:
Salt Omit salt or reduce salt by half in most recipes, except in products with yeast. Cook foods without adding salt. Don't put the salt shaker on the table.
Frozen or canned vegetables Choose frozen vegetables without sauces, or use no-salt-added canned goods. Rinsing canned vegetables will help reduce sodium.
Seasoning salt or spice mixes with salt

Use salt-free seasonings and spice mixes. Use herbs, spices, lemon juice or vinegar to flavor food instead of salt. Seasonings high in sodium include catsup, chili sauce, chili powder, bouillon cubes, barbecue sauce, soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce and meat tenderizers. Choose low-sodium versions.

Tips to Reduce Sugar
Instead of this: Try this:
Sugar Reduce sugar by one-quarter to one-half in baked goods and desserts. If a recipe calls for 1 cup, use ⅔ cup or less. Add cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla or almond extract to give impression of sweetness. (Do not remove all sugar in yeast breads, as sugar provides food for the yeast.)
Sugar For most baked products, replace sugar with equal amounts of sucralose (*Splenda). Add ½ teaspoon baking soda in addition to each cup of sucralose used. Baking time is usually shorter, and product will have a smaller yield. Try using aspartame (*NutraSweet), saccharin or acesulfame potassium in other products that are not baked. The sweet taste will vary with product combination or amounts of each sweetener used. Check packages of Stevia for substitution, as it can vary. Generally, 1 cup of sugar is equal to 24 packets of Stevia. (*Use of brand name does not indicate an endorsement of the product.)
Fruit-flavored yogurt Use plain yogurt with fresh fruit slices, or use light versions of yogurt.
Syrup Use puréed fruit such as no-sugar-added applesauce, or use sugar-free syrup.
Sugar in canned or frozen fruits Decrease or eliminate sugar when canning or freezing fruits, or buy unsweetened frozen fruit or fruit canned in its own juices, water or light syrup.
Tips to Increase Fiber
Instead of this: Try this:
White rice or enriched grains Use whole-grain rice, brown rice, wild rice, whole cornmeal (not degermed), whole barley, bulgur, kasha, quinoa or whole-wheat couscous.
All-purpose flour Substitute whole-wheat flour for up to half of the all-purpose flour. For example, if a recipe calls for 2 cups all-purpose flour, try 1 cup all-purpose flour and 1 cup minus 1 tablespoon whole-wheat flour. Use "white whole-wheat flour" or "whole-wheat pastry flour" for total amount of all-purpose flour.
Pastas, crackers, cookies or cereals Use whole-grain or whole-wheat pastas, crackers, cookies and cereals. Buy reduced-fat versions.
White bread Use 100 percent whole-wheat bread and 100 percent whole-grain bread.
Iceberg lettuce Use romaine lettuce, endive and other leafy lettuces, or use baby spinach.
Peeled fruits and vegetables Add extra fruits and vegetables such as adding carrots to spaghetti sauce and leaving apple peels in apple crisp, zucchini bread, etc. Add extra fruits and vegetables to recipes, and include the peel when appropriate.
Meat Use more dried beans and peas. Add legumes and lentils to many different dishes. Try adding lentils to spaghetti sauce.


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "Five Ways to Make Recipes Healthier." In Lifestyle Coach Facilitation Guide: Post-Core, Food Preparation and Recipe Modification. (2014). Accessed at

Mayo Clinic. "Nutrition and Healthy Eating." (2021). Accessed at

The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. "Heart Healthy Diet: Low Fat, Low Cholesterol, Low Sodium Diet." (2012). Accessed at

U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. "Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010." (2010). Accessed at

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. "Low-Calorie, Lower Fat Alternative Foods." (2014). Accessed at

U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health. "Simple, Heart-Smart Substitutions." (2014). Accessed at

Originally posted Feb 25, 2015.