How registered dietitians sneak in more vegetables, satisfy sweet cravings, lighten up happy hour drinks, and even DIY their takeout.
In an airport food court recently, a traveler spotted me topping my salad with hummus instead of dressing and said, “I never would have thought of that!” When I told her I was a nutritionist, she said she wanted to follow me around to learn my secrets. My nutritionist friends all have their own go-to strategies for eating clean. That’s why I polled a bunch for their never-would’ve-thought-of that tricks of the trade—plus, a few of my own.
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1. Make eggplant 'bacon'
"I love transforming eggplant into 'bacon.' Just slice eggplant extra thin, brush the slices with olive oil, sprinkle them with coconut sugar, smoked paprika, chili powder, garlic powder, and sea salt, then bake at 275°F until crisp and browned (about an hour and 45 minutes)."
—Jackie Newgent, RDN, author of The All-Natural Diabetes Cookbook
2. Master creamy tomato sauce—without cream
"I like to add hummus to tomato sauce to create a creamy texture, like a penne alla vodka. Trust me—it’s just as delicious; but without the cream and vodka, it has fewer calories and is lower in saturated fat."
—Keri Gans, RDN, author of The Small Change Diet
3. Bake better-for-you muffins
"I blend pureed banana and either spinach or beets into oatmeal-chocolate chip breakfast muffins. The banana makes them moist, and the muffins come out green or red, a nice reminder that I’m also starting off my day with a decent portion of vegetables."
—Erin Morse, RDN, a dietitian in Los Angeles
4. Make salsa more satisfying
"Instead of snacking on tortilla chips with just plain salsa, I mix in cottage cheese. It’s quick and delicious, and the protein helps me feel more satisfied."
—Mitzi Dulan, RD, author of The Pinterest Diet
5. Give baked goods a boost
"I replace the margarine or oil in denser baked goods with nut or seed butter. The swap boosts healthy fats, fiber, protein, and antioxidants (for about the same number of calories) and creates a treat you can feel better about indulging in. You may need to add a little water for moisture in some recipes, but it works well for goodies like banana bread and cookie bars."
—Sharon Palmer, RDN, author of Plant-Powered for Life
6. Just add vinegar
"I drizzle fruit with a little balsamic vinegar. It’s a fab combo of sweet and pungent, and it provides a mouthful of intense flavors—especially when the fruit is ripe. It also looks pretty on your plate, which can help with satiety. I love it on strawberries, watermelon, and cantaloupe."
—Bonnie Taub-Dix, RDN, author of Read It Before You Eat It
7. Healthier whipped cream
"I make whipped cream out of coconut cream for a dairy-free topping. Using a whisk or electric mixer, simply whip well-chilled coconut cream in a bowl until it’s fluffy. You can add cocoa powder or vanilla extract for more flavor. Try it over fresh fruit."
—Marisa Moore, RDN, a nutritionist in Atlanta
8. Protein-packed pesto
"When I make pesto, I use pistachios instead of pine nuts. They pack more protein and fiber, and their hue gives the pesto a more vibrant color."
—Patricia Bannan, RDN, author of Eat Right When Time Is Tight
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9. Indulge in watermelon seeds
"I am newly obsessed with raw, sprouted watermelon seeds! Many people don’t know they’re edible, but they are. They’re mild in flavor, so they go with almost anything. I like them sprinkled on kale salads and avocado toast for extra crunch. They have about 10 grams of protein per ounce."
—Rachel Meltzer Warren, RDN, author of The Smart Girl’s Guide to Going Vegetarian
10. Sip on a guilt-free margarita
"I skip the sugary margarita mixer and combine tequila with chilled, brewed green tea, juice from half a freshly squeezed lime, and juice from a few wedges of a freshly squeezed tangerine, plus fresh herbs, like sliced ginger and basil leaves. It’s refreshing, flavorful, and just sweet enough—no agave needed."
—Cynthia Sass, MPH, RD, author of Slim Down Now
11. Make over Chinese takeout
"If I’m really in the mood for Chinese takeout, I order steamed vegetables and shrimp. After it arrives, I drizzle both with my own homemade sauce, a combination of brown rice vinegar, sesame oil, fresh orange juice, freshly grated ginger, minced garlic, and crushed red pepper. It takes just a few minutes, is super flavorful, and allows me to nix the sugar-and-sodium-laden restaurant sauce."
12. Add beans to your smoothies
"I add nutrients (fiber, plant protein, vitamins, antioxidants) to fruit smoothies by blending in white beans. Believe me: You won’t even know they’re there. Plus, they add a thickness and creaminess that ups the satisfaction and keeps you fuller longer."
This article originally appeared on Health.com.