You might have already noticed that the Core Meals are designed to rely on fresh vegetables and unprocessed poultry and fish as the centerpiece of your eating plan. Even though a good variety of dishes can be created using that limited range of foods, you will soon want to expand your  range of options. The use of substitutions, allowances and makeovers of favorite recipes will allow you to do that without veering outside your doctor’s recommendations!

Allowances, Recipe Makeovers and Substitutions

The following chart suggests a number of ways you can adjust your cooking habits to remove (or at least greatly reduce) the sodium, sugar, saturated fats, and starchy carbs from your daily routine.

White Rice

Replace with: Cauliflower

Fresh cauliflower run through a food processor and lightly sautéed bears a remarkable resemblance to rice! If fried rice was one of your favorite things, or you just need a “white” food on your plate that’s not starchy, this is a must-try.

Butter (for sautéing, or bacon grease, or other saturated fats)

Replace with: Olive oil

If you cooked with butter, bacon grease, or other saturated fats a lot, you’ll want to swap it out for olive oil, or another healthy fat at least some of the time.

Butter (as a seasoning for cooked vegetables)

Replace with: All-purpose seasoning sauce

It will be essential to your cooking success to have some go-to sauces and seasonings for your steamed or sautéed vegetables and meats. With some advance prep, this sauce can be at your fingertips. You might like adding some trans-fat free tub margarine to it if you are missing the flavor of butter.

Butter (as a spread)

Replace with: Trans-fat free tub margarine

Tub and liquid margarines that are free of trans fats can be an improvement over butter as a spread, and sometimes in seasoning. They do not melt to the same consistency as butter, but as part of a seasoning combination for vegetables or meats they can be a good substitute. See healthy fats for more on this.


Replace with: No-salt seasonings

There is a great range of flavors that can be substituted for salt, including some seasonings that even have a salty flavor without sodium. In addition to dry seasonings, and depending on the dish, these could include lemon juice, hot sauce, balsamic vinegar, and other related seasonings. You’ll also want to try just dropping the salt sometimes; it’s a great way to see what the actual flavor of your foods is.


Replace with: Ground turkey or chicken

Removing hamburger from your daily routine is another way to reduce saturated fat intake, and it is easy to do with ground turkey. The important thing to remember is that ground turkey has very little fat, so to get the flavor and juiciness you would be missing, you might want to add olive oil (or another healthy fat) to it. Juiciness can also be created with the use of finely minced veggies; see turkey burgers for more information.


Replace with: Milk

We realize that milk will not offer the consistency and mouth feel in your coffee or your recipes that you got from cream, such as in cream based soups and chowders. You might end up deciding that a small amount of cream uses up part of your saturated fat allowance sometimes, but if you use milk and include other ingredients and flavors, you may be able to overcome the sacrifice of not using cream, with its high saturated fat content.

Canned soup

Replace with: Homemade soups and sauces

There is no competition between canned soups and your own fresh homemade soups. You can make sure yours are free of vastly excessive amounts of sodium, as well as sugars, preservatives and fillers. Make big batches and freeze them for busy nights.

You will find that some substitutions are not simply one thing for another. Some dishes will get a makeover by including new ingredients with flavors that offset the lack of salt or fat, or some will get an entirely new flavor profile, such as with the influence of Cajun, Caribbean, Asian or Mexican flavors and seasonings.

The following substitutions are suggested by the Cleveland Clinic, for reducing saturated fat:

To cut the saturated fat in your diet, make the following substitutions:


Instead of Regular cheese
Choose Low-fat or non-fat cheese


Instead of Creamer or half and half
Choose Non-fat creamer or non-fat half and half



Instead of Whole or 2% milk
Choose 1% or non-fat (skim) milk

Cream Cheese

Instead of Regular cream cheese
Choose Reduced fat or non-fat cream cheese

Ice Cream

Instead of Regular ice cream
Choose Non-fat or low-fat frozen yogurt or sorbet


Cottage Cheese

Instead of 2-4% milk fat cottage cheese
Choose 1% or non-fat cottage cheese



Instead of Alfredo, cream sauces
Choose Marinara, primavera or light olive-oil based sauces


Instead of Regular mayonnaise
Choose Light or non-fat mayonnaise



Instead of Prime grades of beef
Choose Choice or Select grades of beef


Instead of Spareribs
Choose Tenderloin


Instead of Chicken with skin on
Choose Chicken without skin



Instead of Whole egg
Choose Egg whites or egg substitutes

We highly recommend that you look at our Resources and Products pages for more information on great seasoning substitutions, and ideas for creating new versions of your favorite dishes. We think you’ll find lots of ways to meet your lifestyle needs while still enjoying your daily meals.


If you’ve been diagnosed with both diabetes and heart disease, you probably already know that sodiumsugarsaturated fat and starchy carbs, are four key things that you will need to limit. Controlling any one of these represents a lifestyle change, but all four?! We’re here to tell you that it doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy eating! It just means that you will want to choose carefully and use your “allowances” wisely, just as you would with a well-planned family budget.

When using your allowances, don’t squander them all through exceptions and forgetting to read labels. Budget them very deliberately for the things that will make a difference for you. Maybe you’ll decide that it is worth it to “spend” some sodium or saturated fat on a little Swiss cheese in your omelette, or some butter on your potato. As with exceptions, the question will be “Is it worth it”  to use an exception for a particular food? You can decide when it’s worth using up an allowance, but know that you might need to adjust something else to meet your goals.

Here are some suggestion for using your allowances wisely:

Sodium: sodium in canned soups, canned vegetables, frozen meals and prepared sauces is not going to enrich your life. Make your vegetables fresh (or at least buy the no-salt variety) and save the salt you are allowed for things that really need a bit of salt. For us, those are eggs, potatoes (within the limited use of starches) and the occasional popcorn. For everything else, use fresh, unprocessed ingredients and allow your taste buds to get used to the “real” taste of foods without salt.

Sugar: if you’ve been diabetic for awhile, maybe you’ve already adjusted to not eating deserts, no sugary cereals, no junky sweet snacks, and no sugar-sweetened drinks. If not, now is definitely the time to change, because uncontrolled blood sugar is a risk factor for heart disease. If you’re here because you have both, it is time to find new ways to satisfy your sweet tooth. This might be a transition process, using a combination of artificial sweeteners and things like sweet fruits that have fiber (like apples), which will slow down the absorption of the sugar. You’ll want to save your actual sugar allowances for (a) foods that contain some sugar that you cannot avoid (like ketchup), and (b) treats that are truly worth it.

Saturated fat: with all the healthy fats that are available, limiting saturated fat doesn’t have to be hard, at least not when you cook at home. The biggest challenges might be keeping breakfast meats, hamburger and fatty beef out of your life, particularly if you eat out. Almost any dish made with hamburger can be duplicated with ground turkey, eliminating much of the saturated fat content. Turkey burgers can be made delicious and juicy with a little extra care. When eating out, look for lean meats, particularly fish and poultry. If you must order steak, look for the leanest cuts, like filet mignon, and ask for it to be cooked without added salt. If your morning is not complete without a breakfast meat, experiment with “bacon” or sausage made of turkey or chicken, and limit quantities.

Starchy carbs: some meals, no matter how varied and delicious, still might not seem complete without some form of potato. Save whatever starchy carb you are permitted for these moments, and make it yourself with whole unprocessed ingredients and healthy fats. If you must have a potato, use your own ingredients and bypass the high sodium and fat content of prepared potato products. Breads and pastas also fall into the starchy carb category. If you can enjoy whole grain breads and pastas, those will at least avoid some of the effects of highly refined carbs. If not, consider avoiding foods altogether that are built on bread and pasta ingredients, except when you have no choice but to make an exception.

Recipe Makeovers

Nearly everyone has favorite recipes, either those they’ve prepared themselves or those others prepare for them. For all those old recipes, like greens seasoned with bacon grease, macaroni and cheese, scalloped potatoes, or Mom’s apple pie, you have four choices:

  1. Don’t ever eat it again,
  2. Eat it about once or twice a year and treat it as a splurge,
  3. Eat it rarely, limit it to small amounts, and call it an exception;
  4. Eat it often, but swap the unhealthier ingredients for healthier ones (i.e., do a makeover).

We like the fourth option the most, because it lets us use our imaginations and expand our options without losing control of our goals.

Here are makeovers of a few of our favorite dishes:

Leave a Comment