Ten Simple Ways To Make Your Southern Food Favorites Healthy

by Taylor Brooks

What would the South be without its traditional dishes? Typically, full of warmth and comfort, for those who are trying to make healthier eating choices the Southern favorites seem to be out of the question. But, with a few changes, you can make Southern food healthy. And we know healthy means different things to different people. But whether you’re trying to cut sugar, salt, carbs or fat, there are easy ways to enjoy your southern favorites.

Collard greens with smoked turkey


Two ways to lower sodium in collards

Collard greens should be a staple in everyone’s diet, not just those down south. With Vitamin A, Vitamin K, and Folate, collards are full of nutrition. On a Southerner’s plate, the dish is typically flavored with ham or bacon, however, if you’re looking for a vegetarian or reduced-sodium option, try flavoring with minimal salt, sauteed onions and white or apple cider vinegar.

If you still want to add a meaty accent to your greens, flavor them with smoked turkey instead. Tastes great but less sodium and fat than pork.

Fry your chicken… in the oven? 

If there is one smell no one can resist, it’s fried chicken. But, with irresistible smells, comes a resistible nutrition label. Typically high in sodium, fat, and carbs, try exchanging your normal fried chicken recipe for oven-baked. You will notice the lack of grease on the final product, which leaves you feeling perfectly satisfied, unlike normal fried chicken which prepares you for a post-meal nap. Choosing oven-fried instead of deep-fried, is a small change that goes a long way, but why stop there?

When preparing your oven-fried chicken, more options include removing the skin, using a low-fat cooking spray and experimenting with low-carb coatings like almond or coconut flour.  With a few simple changes, you and your calorie counting app will thank me (a lot).

shrimp
Shrimp and grits

Healthy shrimp and grits two ways

What isn’t comforting about a warm bowl of shrimp and grits (other than the calorie, fat and sodium content traditionally found in the dish)? Give your normal shrimp and grits a makeover by taking the focus of the dish away from the grits and put it onto the shrimp. By allowing the shrimp to be complemented by the grits, it won’t feel like you are sacrificing the flavor but gaining an appreciation for the new ones.

Shrimp and grits are typically prepared with large amounts of whole milk, butter and cheese. Grits rely on the addition of dairy for creaminess, but for a lighter version, omit the milk or heavy cream and choose butter or cheese, but not both. When preparing the shrimp, instead of using butter and chicken broth, try seasoning with salt, pepper, cayenne, and garlic, and, when removed from heat, toss in lemon juice. We know our healthier version can’t compare to the real deal, but you can look at is as a whole new dish, with a lot fewer calories, fat and sodium.

Another interesting option is to use cauliflower in place of the grits. Simply break down the cauliflower using a cheese grater or food processor. Saute in your favorite organic oil, then use an immersion blender to get the creamy texture of grits we know and love. Flavor as usual and toss in your shrimp. Easy peasy.

hush puppy
Oven-baked hush puppies

Hush puppies taste just as good baked

When you go out to eat at a southern restaurant, it’s typical to be greeted with a basket of hush puppies. Greasy, sweet and salty, before you know it, your stomach is full and you haven’t even ordered dinner yet. Recreate your favorite hush puppies at home, with a little less guilt, by baking in mini muffin pans instead of frying. Still preparing the hush puppies with the traditional ingredients, this one simple change will cut out a lot of those unwanted calories and fat from frying.

biscuit
Southern biscuits made with yogurt

Put your biscuits on a diet

Like hush puppies, biscuits are a common greeting at restaurants down south.  It’s easy to turn a blind eye to the (lack of) nutritional value in food when a beautiful basket of biscuits is set down in front of you. Luckily, when baking at home you’re able to add, subtract and replace ingredients in your biscuits, and create a version that will make your stomach and diet happy.

Try substituting yogurt for butter in your recipe to instantly reduce the calorie count and amount of fat in your recipe. Lose the sugar or use an all natural substitute suitable for baking, and consider decreasing the carb count by using almond flour. Biscuits like these, with real and simple ingredients, can be a part of your everyday breakfast routine, and you will learn to appreciate the real ingredients.

bbq
BBQ

Three ways to cut the calories in BBQ

When I hear the words pulled pork, BBQ sauce is the first flavor that comes to mind. But when it comes to being mindful about the nutritional value of our foods, it’s clear that BBQ sauce can be a problem, particularly pre-bottled BBQ sauces. They taste and smell good, but have you checked out the amount of sugar and salt in some of these sauces?! Those high levels in BBQ sauce, generally make this dish a no-no for health conscious eaters.

Fortunately, there are ways around that. First, try preparing your pulled pork without sauce. Use a variety of seasonings instead,  like garlic powder or freshly sauteed and smashed garlic, smoked paprika, black pepper and chopped up fresh tomatoes. Or experiment with broths and wine.

If you’re a low-carber or eat Keto or Paleo, find a BBQ sauce that fits your diet. The worse parts about some bottled BBQ sauces are the unnatural ingredients and additives and added sugar (often in the form of brown sugar, molasses, etc.), but you can get around that by making your own sauce with healthy ingredients and sugar substitutes like Swerve and Stevia.

Another option is to use vinegar-based BBQ sauces which are great for people allergic to tomatoes and are generally lighter in texture and calories.

Whether your goal is to eat cleaner, lose weight, or just try something new, it doesn’t mean you have to leave behind the foods that remind you of home. Traditional Southern food is a cuisine you can get creative with, without straying too far off from the original dish you had in mind. And, who knows, you might even find yourself preferring the new and improved version of your favorites.