Cheese is one of the most popular foods in the United States. It tops burgers, adds creaminess to salads, and lends a salty tang that’s hard not to love.
Unfortunately for cheese lovers everywhere, cheese is high in saturated fat. This kind of fat is found mostly in meat and dairy products and some oils (like palm oil and coconut oil). The problem with saturated fat is that it may raise LDL cholesterol levels in your blood, which may increase your risk of heart disease.
For this reason, the American Heart Association recommends getting no more than 5 to 6 percent of your daily calories from saturated fat. In a 2,000-calorie diet, that equates to about 13 grams of saturated fat. For comparison, one slice of sharp cheddar cheese provides 4 grams of saturated fat.
Instead, the AHA recommends swapping out some of that high-fat cheese for sources of unsaturated fat—the healthy fat that may improve cholesterol and lower the risk of heart disease. These creamy, flavorful healthy fats are great way to top your salads, sandwiches, pastas, wraps, and soups—instead of reaching for the bag of mozzarella shreds.
1. Lemony, garlicky tahini sauce.
Tahini is a paste made from sesame seeds, and it offers omega-3s, protein, and calcium. (Learn more health benefits of tahini here.) One way to use this buttery ingredient is in tahini sauce, which is a creamy, garlicky, lemony sauce that is common on falafel wraps and shawarma platters. Find out how to make a simple tahini sauce here.
Tahini sauce makes an excellent swap for cheese thanks to its creamy, drippy consistency and its tangy flavor (thanks to the lemon juice). Drizzle tahini sauce on a quinoa bowl or over a veggie burger.
2. Basil-licious pesto.
Pesto is one of the most flavorful foods on the planet. The combination of peppery basil, bright lemon juice, and pungent garlic means there’s no shortage of flavor in this bright green sauce. Pesto is made with extra virgin olive oil, a source of polyunsaturated fats.
Fair warning: Most pesto contains some parmesan cheese, so if you eat a dairy-free or vegan diet, make it at home or read ingredients carefully in the store to find a non-dairy version. (Here are more surprising foods that aren’t vegan.)
Pesto is often associated with pasta, but you can use pesto as a spread on sandwiches, too. You can also add a dollop of it to the top of soup, instead of sprinkling on shredded cheese.
3. Protein-packed hummus.
If you’re a sucker for having a thick slice of cheese on your daily sandwich for lunch, hummus might be a good option to try. Not only does it have more flavor than some types of cheese, but it also has a ton of health perks. It’s naturally low in fat, and the fat that’s there is unsaturated (thanks to the addition of EVOO). And thanks to the chickpeas, it’s a good source of fiber and protein.
Hummus is versatile and can do more than dress your carrot sticks. Spread it on a sandwich, add a scoop of it to a salad or grain bowl, add hummus to your avocado toast, mix it into your mashed potatoes (what?!), or even use it as the base of a pizza instead of tomato sauce (what what what?!).
4. Taco-ready guacamole.
It contains everyone’s favorite healthy fat (avocado) and is livened up with lime, red onion, and cilantro. What else really needs to be said about guacamole?
Instead of topping your taco salad or burrito bowl with shredded cheese, stick to guacamole. Guacamole is also great atop burgers, baked potatoes, veggie fritters, or black bean soup. Find out how to make homemade guacamole here.
5. Bold-flavored muhammara.
Muha-what? Repeat after us: moo-ha-mahr-uh. That’s the Arabic word for “reddened,” and it’s a Middle Eastern dip made from roasted red peppers and walnuts. In addition to being a gorgeous red hue, it may be one of the most bold and flavorful dips you’ve ever tasted (sorry, hummus).
Muhammara dip isn’t just for scooping with pita bread. Spread it on anything: burgers, sandwiches, wraps, crackers, and toast.
Cheese isn’t the only way to add flavor to foods. Besides swapping in a beloved creamy element, here are more tricks to enhance flavor in foods.
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