4 Healthy Ingredient Swaps to Make the Best Darn Chili

By Christine Byrne |

Transform this comfort food into a nutritional powerhouse.

best chili for older adults

No matter how cold it is where you are, it’s always a good day for chili. There’s just something about diving a spoon into a bowl of this hearty stew that says, “Ah, everything’s good today.”

But most chili recipes aren’t exactly nutritious. Each bowl is typically loaded with tons of saturated fat from ground beef, pork, bacon, or all of the above.

Plus, the sodium in traditional chili recipes can be off the charts, thanks to salty canned beans and broth. And typical garnishes like sour cream, cheese, and fried tortilla chips or chunks of crusty sourdough bread do nothing to improve your heart health.

But you can absolutely make a satisfying, comforting chili that’s packed with good-for-you ingredients. Case in point: our very own “Best Darn Chili for Older Adults” recipe. It’s the kind of thing that’s so good you’ll want to eat it every week of the winter—and your body will thank you for it.

Before we get to the recipe, here’s how we tweaked the traditional version. You can also use these strategies to make over your favorite soups and stews.

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The Foundations of the Perfect Chili

You can spy a good candidate for a recipe makeover by looking at the flavors that define it. If the essential flavor profile is made of up of health-boosting foods, it’s easy to upgrade the other ingredients with better choices.

Here’s what makes chili a winner.

Canned Tomatoes and Tomato Paste

You can’t make chili without a can or two of tomatoes. Luckily, they also have serious health benefits.

Lycopene, an antioxidant found in tomatoes that give them their red color, is associated with a reduced risk of high blood pressure, stroke, and heart disease, according to a 2018 review of studies. With our chili recipe, you get a one-two punch from no-salt-added canned tomatoes and concentrated tomato paste.

Chili Powder and Cumin

Spices like chili powder and cumin can dramatically increase flavor in a food—without the addition of salt.

With age, your sense of smell and taste may decrease, which can make foods taste blander than you remember. Instead of pouring on the salt, the American Heart Association recommends using herbs and spices for flavor.

Onions and Garlic

Sautéed onions and garlic make most dishes taste better, but did you know that doing so also makes them healthier? Garlic has active compounds that can help lower blood pressure.

Onions are rich in vitamin B6 and folate, which help manage levels of an amino acid associated with inflammation. Plus, low levels of folate in postmenopausal women are linked to a higher risk of cognitive impairment, according to a Harvard School of Public Health study.

4 Ingredients for a Healthier Bowl

Older adults have specific nutritional needs. This chili recipe can help you meet them.

You Need: More Protein, Less Saturated Fat

Our Ingredient Solution: Swap Ground Turkey for Ground Beef

It’s vital for older adults to get enough protein. For folks older than 50, the National Academy of Medicine recommends 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of bodyweight. That’s about 54 grams of protein per day for someone who weighs 150 pounds.

That said, many experts believe older adults actually need twice that amount of protein per day in order to maintain lean body mass and proper bodily function.

Lean ground turkey delivers 21 grams of protein in 4 ounces with much less fat than beef. Turkey comes in at 2.5 grams of saturated fat, while beef clocks in at 8.6 grams.

You Need: More Fiber

Our Ingredient Solution: Add Beans

Yes, fiber is important at every age. But for older adults, it can be even more beneficial. The digestive system can slow with age, and fiber is a great fix. It can also help reduce cholesterol, regulate blood sugar, and promote a healthy weight.

Beans are one of the richest sources of fiber out there, and they’re full of plant-based protein. It’s no wonder that legumes like beans are central to the diets of the world’s healthiest populations, known as the Blue Zones, says Julieanna Hever, R.D., coauthor of The Healthspan Solution.

For this recipe, we chose to add kidney beans and white beans for their flavor and texture. But if you prefer to use another type of bean, you can simply substitute it in equal amounts. Just be sure to choose a low-sodium variety, and rinse and drain the beans to remove even more salt.

You Need: Potassium

Our Ingredient Solution: Add Potatoes

Potatoes aren’t the most traditional of chili ingredients, but hear us out. They taste great, and their starch helps thicken the chili. Unlike refined carbs like white flour or sugar, spuds are rich in complex carbohydrates that are essential for sustained energy.

Best of all, they’re a great source of potassium. The mineral can counteract the effects of sodium in the body and help keep blood pressure at healthy levels, says Amy Gorin, R.D.N., owner of Amy Gorin Nutrition in the New York City area.

You Need: Calcium

Our Ingredient Solution: Swap Greek Yogurt for Sour Cream

Men between 51 and 70 years need 1,000 milligrams of calcium per day, according to the National Institutes of Health. But women 51 years and older, along with men 71 years and older, need 1,200 milligrams per day.

A few dollops of nonfat Greek yogurt can help you sneak in more calcium. Unlike sour cream that’s traditionally used as a chili topping, Greek yogurt is low in saturated fat and high in protein.

The Best Darn Chili for Older Adults

Serves: 6 to 8
Active time: 15 minutes
Total time: 1 hour 30 minutes

You’ll need:

  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 medium yellow onions, chopped
  • 5 cloves garlic, chopped
  • ¼ cup tomato paste
  • 1 pound lean ground turkey
  • 1 tablespoon chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 3 medium russet potatoes, skin on and cut into ½-inch cubes
  • 1 can (28 ounces) no-salt-added diced tomatoes
  • 1 can (15 ounces) low-sodium kidney beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 can (15 ounces) low-sodium white beans, rinsed and drained
  • 4 cups low-sodium chicken stock
  • Toppings: Chopped fresh parsley and plain nonfat Greek yogurt

What to do: Add olive oil to a large Dutch oven set over medium-high heat. Add onion and cook, stirring, until slightly soft, 5 minutes. Add garlic and cook, stirring, 1 minute more. Add tomato paste, turkey, chili powder, and cumin. Season with salt and pepper.

Cook, stirring occasionally, until turkey is cooked through, about 5 minutes. Add potatoes, tomatoes, kidney beans, white beans, and stock. Season with salt and pepper, and stir.

Bring to a boil, and reduce to a simmer. Cook, uncovered, for 1 hour and 15 minutes, until the chili is thick. Serve chili topped with parsley and a dollop of Greek yogurt.

Leftovers will keep in an airtight container for up to 4 days in the fridge, and up to 3 months in the freezer.

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