6 Ways to Make Your Chili Healthier

Who doesn’t love a bowl of chili?

You may have been making chili for years, but there's always a little room to perfect your recipe. The classic dish, typically made with ground meat, tomatoes, kidney beans, and seasonings such as garlic, onions, and cumin, is the perfect cold-weather meal. Chili can be made in advance and in large quantities using your stove or trusty Instant Pot. And there are seemingly endless variations to choose from, depending on your palate and dietary requirements.

More benefits? The game-day classic tends to be heartier than most soups, freezes well, and is one of the easiest, most adaptable dishes you can whip up. Don't like ground beef and tomatoes? Use ground chicken, chicken stock, and white beans to make a flavorful helping of white chili instead. Worried that the kale you bought last week is slowly withering away in your refrigerator? Toss it in your next pot of chili so you can use it before it's too late.

Is Chili Healthy?

While chili is relatively healthy—it's packed with protein, fiber (thanks, beans!), and iron—remember not to get too carried away with high-fat toppings like sour cream and cheddar cheese. And in the chili itself, there are easy tweaks to make it even more nutritious and beneficial. We talked to sisters Tammy Lakatos Shames, RD, CDN, CFT, and Lyssie Lakatos, RD, CDN, CFT—aka The Nutrition Twins—for advice on how to make your favorite chili recipe a bit healthier without sacrificing flavor or quality.

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"Beef Up" the Beans

When in doubt, add more beans to your chili. In addition to making the meal larger and more satiating, these hearty morsels pack quite the nutritious punch. "When you increase the number of beans you use, you'll either use less meat, or your chili will be stretched further," the twins note. "The beans will also bump up the fiber, magnesium, and folic acid, and they may help to increase the body's good (HDL) cholesterol, reduce blood pressure, and fight inflammation."

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Pump Up the Fiber and Nutrients With Pumpkin

Why not toss some pumpkin in your next pot of chili? The popular gourd will give your chili that perfect fall spin and make it healthier. "Pumpkin is rich in fiber, vitamin E, potassium, beta carotene, and lutein, which help protect the body from developing chronic ailments like heart disease, cancer, macular degeneration, and other age-related vision loss," the twins explain. While pumpkin will add a "very subtle" flavor to your chili, it makes the savory dish much creamier than usual. "Just be sure to use canned 100% pumpkin purée instead of pumpkin pie mix, which is sweetened," Lyssie and Tammy advise.

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Spice It Up

"One of the best ways to enhance flavor and boost antioxidants at the same time is by adding spices," the sisters say. "Experiment with various flavors ranging from bold to sweet, including cumin, turmeric, chili powder, cayenne pepper, red pepper, cinnamon, and allspice. All spices fight against inflammation, and each spice has different benefits. Research even shows that cinnamon may help to regulate blood sugar, while cumin helps to fight bacteria and parasites."

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Squeeze in Some Lime

Yes, the bright green citrus fruits make a great chili addition. "Lime adds a tangy punch and a lot of flavor, and it's packed with antioxidants that mop up damaging free radicals, protecting the body from chronic diseases like cancer, heart disease, and diabetes," the twins explain. "Lime is a rich source of limonoids that help to lower cholesterol and seem to protect against several cancers."

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Go Wild With Vegetables

Sure, the stars of chili tend to be beans and whatever ground meat you prefer, but let vegetables steal the spotlight if you want your next bowl of chili to be more nutritious. "By adding extra veggies you'll increase nutrients, fiber, and satisfaction," the twins say. "Bell peppers, zucchini, yellow squash, crushed tomatoes, onions, and carrots are all great choices."

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Upgrade Your Toppings

Yes, sour cream may be a popular chili topping, but there are plenty of other healthier toppings to choose from. "Swap out sour cream and replace it with creamy avocado," the twins suggest. "Avocado is packed with more than 20 vitamins and minerals, and its good-for-you fat acts as a nutrient booster and helps to enhance the absorption of fat soluble vitamins like beta carotene. Beta carotene is typically found in the tomatoes or tomato sauces present in many chili recipes, and is especially helpful for the eyes and skin."

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