Maybe you’re aiming to eat less dairy or include more protein in your diet. Perhaps you’re looking for a gluten-free option on pizza night. Whatever your goals, there are many clever ingredient swaps that can help you eat a healthier, more diverse diet that’s still full of the things you most enjoy.
Unless you have a food sensitivity or allergy, there’s usually no need to remove certain ingredients from your diet altogether. And you don’t need to eliminate gluten or dairy to enjoy gluten- or dairy-free alternatives. You might find that making one or two of these swaps is simply an effective way to include more variety in your meals, or to cook for family and friends with certain food restrictions.
Plus, knowing what ingredients make good replacements can increase the odds you’ll use what you have in your kitchen, which can help you reduce food waste and avoid unnecessary grocery-store trips — all while enjoying nutritious, flavorful meals.
Substitute for: Cheese, eggs, butter
This trendy fruit is more than just a toast topping. Substitute sliced avocado for cheese to create a dairy-free sandwich with a dose of healthy fats. To make plant-based baked goods, use 2 to 4 tablespoons of mashed avocado in place of each egg, or trade an equal amount of butter for mashed avocado, but be prepared for a slightly softer texture. Try the recipe for our Avocado Chocolate Mousse With Cacao Nibs below.
2. Almond Flour
Substitute for: All-purpose flour
A great ingredient for gluten-free baking, almond flour has a higher fat content than all-purpose flour (which is usually highly processed), so baked goods are often more tender. This makes almond flour an ideal substitute in most quick-bread recipes, like pancakes and muffins, but less optimal for chewier yeasted breads. Try our Almond-Flour Pizza (see below), and for two almond-flour cookie recipes, go to “Healthy Swaps for Joyful Holiday Baking”.
3. Cacao Nibs
Substitute for: Chocolate chips
These crushed raw cacao beans are like minimally processed chocolate chips, which often contain added sugar and other additives. Nibs are crunchier and less sweet, and they deliver fiber and antioxidants. Sprinkle cacao nibs on your oatmeal, or try our “Chocolate–Banana Energy Bars”.
4. Coconut Milk
Substitute for: Heavy cream, milk, half-and-half
If you’re trying to limit dairy, coconut milk is a tasty plant-based alternative you can use in most recipes that call for whole milk or cream (though it will add a slight coconut flavor). Add a splash of canned coconut milk to your morning coffee, or use it to lend a creamy texture to your favorite soup. This “Creamy Vegetable Soup” is a great place to start
5. Greek Yogurt
Substitute for: Sour cream, mayonnaise, eggs
Offering more protein than sour cream and mayonnaise, plain full-fat Greek yogurt is a fine substitute for either in myriad recipes, including dishes like tuna salad and pasta salad. You can also try using ¼ cup Greek yogurt in place of an egg in quick breads, or whip up a protein-packed veggie dip like our “Spinach Yogurt Dip”.
Substitute for: Iceberg, romaine
If you make most of your salads with iceberg lettuce, consider reaching for kale instead. This dark leafy green is more flavorful and delivers considerably more nutrients, including a dose of fiber, health-boosting phytochemicals, minerals like calcium and manganese, and vitamins A, C, and K. Try our Kale Caesar With Parmesan Crisps (see below) or find some other ways to use kale at “How to Cook Kale”.
7. Real Maple Syrup
Substitute for: Sugar, pancake syrup
Pancake syrups are often made with high-fructose corn syrup, additives, and preservatives. Pure maple syrup, produced from maple-tree sap, delivers more minerals and antioxidants. Though it chiefly consists of sucrose, its glycemic load is lower than table sugar’s and may cause less of a blood-sugar spike. Try using a small amount to sweeten our “Easy Party Mix”.
8. Nutritional Yeast
Substitute for: Parmesan cheese
A deactivated yeast containing protein and B vitamins, nutritional yeast tastes like cheese but is a dairy-free alternative to Parmesan. Though it doesn’t impart the same melty texture, it can be a good option when you just want the cheesy flavor, like in our pesto (see below). You can also try sprinkling a bit on homemade popcorn or kale chips for a savory boost.
9. Sweet Potatoes
Substitute for: White potatoes
Packed with antioxidants and vitamins A and C, sweet potatoes can be used in place of white potatoes in many recipes. They have a lower glycemic load than regular potatoes, and research suggests they may help reduce insulin resistance. Bake them whole, cube and roast them, or try them steamed and mashed for a naturally sweet side dish. Find a variety of sweet-potato recipes at “Earthy Goods: Sweet Potatoes”.
Almond-Flour Pizza With Pesto and Peppers
Makes four servings
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 30 minutes
- 2 cups almond flour
- 1/2 tsp. sea salt
- 2 eggs
- 2 tbs. coconut oil
- 1 clove garlic, peeled
- 1 cup fresh basil
- 1/4 cup walnuts
- 2 tbs. nutritional yeast
- 1/4 tsp. sea salt
- 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 5 oz. goat cheese, crumbled
- 1/2 cup jarred roasted red bell peppers, drained and chopped
- Fresh basil
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Cut two pieces of parchment paper at least 12 inches long.
- In a medium bowl or stand mixer, mix the flour, salt, eggs, and coconut oil until evenly combined. Shape the dough into a disk, then place it between the parchment sheets and roll it out with a rolling pin to make a crust about 1/4 inch thick. Transfer to a baking sheet and remove the top sheet of parchment.
- Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, until toasted and golden on top.
- While the crust bakes, make the pesto. In a food processor, place the garlic, basil, walnuts, nutritional yeast, and salt. Process until a paste is formed, scraping down the sides as needed. While the machine is running, slowly drizzle in the olive oil until the pesto is smooth.
- Spread the pesto over the baked crust and top with crumbled goat cheese and red-pepper pieces.
- Return to the oven for 10 minutes. When the pizza is heated through, remove it from the oven and top with fresh basil. Serve hot.
Kale Caesar With Parmesan Crisps
Makes four servings
Prep time: 20 minutes
Cook time: eight minutes
- 1 bunch curly or lacinato kale, stemmed, torn, and washed (about 5 packed cups)
- 1 tbs. freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 1 tsp. lemon zest
- 2 tsp. minced anchovy fillets
- 1 tbs. oil from anchovies or extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 tsp. Dijon mustard
- 1 clove garlic, pressed
- 3 tbs. plain, full-fat Greek yogurt
- 1/2 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
- 1/2 teaspoon cracked black pepper
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
- In a large bowl, combine the kale, lemon juice, and zest. Massage with your hands until the kale is softened and turns a darker shade of green. In a small bowl, whisk the anchovies, oil, mustard, garlic, and yogurt. Pour over the kale and toss to combine.
- On a parchment-lined sheet pan, place tablespoon-size portions of Parmesan, spreading slightly with the back of a spoon to make a flat round of each and leaving an inch between portions. Sprinkle each round with black pepper, then bake for five to eight minutes, watching closely, until melted and bubbling. Slide parchment paper and crisps off the pan and onto a rack to cool.
- Serve the salad topped with Parmesan crisps.
Avocado Chocolate Mousse With Cacao Nibs
Makes six servings
Prep time: 15 minutes, plus chilling time
- 4 large ripe avocados
- 1/4 cup cocoa powder
- 1 tbs. vanilla extract
- 1/4 tsp. salt
- 1/2 cup maple syrup
- 1/4 cup canned full-fat coconut milk
- 3 oz. dark chocolate, coarsely chopped
- 3 tbs. cacao nibs
- In a food processor, place the avocado flesh and purée until completely smooth, scraping down the sides as needed. Add the cocoa powder and process to mix. Add the vanilla, salt, maple syrup, and coconut milk and process again until combined.
- Bring a small saucepan of water to a gentle boil. Place the chocolate in a small bowl and set the bowl over the boiling water to use it as a double boiler to melt the chocolate. Stir occasionally until the chocolate is completely melted. Allow to cool to room temperature, then scrape the chocolate into the avocado mixture. Purée until combined. Transfer to an airtight container and cover with plastic or beeswax wrap, pressing it to cover the surface of the purée. Seal the container and chill until cold.
- Serve a heaping half cup topped with half a tablespoon of cacao nibs.
This originally appeared as “Smart Swaps” in the May 2020 print issue of Experience Life.