The Ultimate Guide To Food Substitutes

by Michael Brown on June 23, 2019


Proper nutrition and healthy eating are the top ways to keep your mind and body happy.

You need to take care of your body to perform at your highest possible level, and that starts with giving your body the right kind of food.

Fitness means nothing if you aren’t eating well to back it up

So, need a little help avoiding “unhealthy” ingredients?

You’ve come to the right place.

Looking For Ways To Make Your Meals Healthier?

healthy meal

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Swapping out ingredients for healthier substitutes is a great way to start.

There’s even an app (for iOS) that can help you out: SubUllator.

If you’re out of or avoiding a specific ingredient, the app will list out suitable replacements in metric, imperial, and U.S. Cup measurements. You can also set it for gluten-free, low-fat, dairy-free, low-sugar, and vegan.

The app is particularly good for when you don’t have an ingredient a recipe asks for or when you need alternatives for a food allergy, but for everyday healthy food option swaps check out the list below.

21 Foods You Can Swap Out For Their Healthier Alternatives


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Mixing up your ingredients for a healthier diet can turn into an adventure with your own food creativity too.

Try new foods and flavors – you’ll probably find something you’ll fall in love with.

You might end up tweaking your favorite recipes to the exact point you’re looking for with food substitutes – and your body will thank you too.


Swap Sugar For Stevia

Stevia isn’t another artificial sweetener – it’s a natural sweetener 200 to 300 times sweeter than regular sugar and is nearly calorie-free.

It comes from a plant and you can use it to sweeten anything you’d typically put everyday granulated sugar in. Just be wary of the amount you use, since it’s way sweeter than sugar.

You can get stevia in liquid or powder form.

Other ingredients work great as sugar substitutes too: unsweetened applesauce, vanilla extract, cinnamon, and nutmeg will give your food a punch of sweet without the added sugar.


Try Whole-Wheat Or Coconut Flour Instead Of Regular Flour

Whole-wheat flour is a healthier option than your typical flour because it has more fiber and has gone through less processing, Gluten-free flour options let everyone enjoy your baked goods regardless of gluten intolerance.

One gluten-free option is coconut flour, which is made from dried and finely ground coconut meat, has fewer carbs than other nut flours, 11 times the fiber of wheat flours, and more protein.

Watch out when using gluten-free flour though, as you won’t get the same kind of stickiness (it comes from gluten) to bind your baked goods together – you’ll need to add xanthan gum.


Don’t Open Those Potato Chips And Go Pop Some Popcorn

Dodge the greasy and super-salty potato chips and go for natural popcorn without pre-seasonings for an option lower in fat with a touch of fiber.

Plus, when you start with a basic air-popped popcorn base, you can have some fun with your spice cabinet and add your own flavor to movie night. Try cinnamon, chili powder, or parmesan.


Ditch The Croutons And Sprinkle On Pistachios Or Almonds Instead

Need to add a little extra crunch to your salad? Forget the croutons – they don’t add any nutritional value to your meal.

Instead, try adding something that’ll taste great, satisfy your crunchy texture itch, and check off boxes on your daily nutritional to-do list at the same time. Pistachios, almonds, pecans, and walnuts are all great examples of extra-healthy alternatives.

Nuts are also great for yogurt. Add nuts instead of granola – it’s packed with excess sugar (you could always make your own granola, though).


Instead Of Breadcrumbs Try Chia Seeds Or Flaxseeds

Need a crust for your meatloaf?

Leave the breadcrumbs at the bottom of the bag and grab some chia seeds, flaxseeds, or oats instead.

It’s an easy way to add bonus nutrition to your meals where you previously had none. Chia seeds contain omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants, fiber, vitamins, and a little protein, and flaxseeds have similar nutritional benefits.


Swap Chocolate Chips For Cocoa Nibs

Sure, cocoa nib cookies doesn’t quite roll off the tongue the same way as chocolate chip, but they sure are healthier.

For the deep and irresistible flavor of chocolate in its purest form, reach for the cocoa nibs instead of the processed, sugary chocolate chips. You can toss them in to any of your favorite baked goods in place of chocolate chips or you can just snack on them right out of the bag.

Cocoa nibs are full of antioxidants, fiber, iron, and magnesium.

Speaking of chocolate, opt for dark chocolate over milk chocolate. Compared to milk chocolate, dark chocolate has more flavanols, a healthy, plant-based nutrient that helps to lower blood sugar and decrease body fat. Just remember, even with dark chocolate, eat everything in moderation.


If You’re Going Green, Make Sure It’s Dark Green

Set aside the iceberg lettuce and switch up your salad with some of the dark leafy greens (spinach, arugula, kale, red leaf) – they’re more nutritious than the predominantly water-filled light greens.

Iceberg lettuce is 96% water – there’s not much to it. Spinach, on the other hand, has oodles of nutrients: vitamin K, vitamin A, calcium, and iron.

If you’re not ready to let go of your old friend the iceberg, romaine lettuce is quite similar but packs more of a nutritious punch.


Instead Of Spaghetti, Go For Spaghetti Squash

Unlike the sea cucumber, spaghetti squash is an adequate substitute for its typical food counterpart. Spaghetti squash even looks like spaghetti pasta – crack it open and scrape to find tangles perfectly suitable to wrap around your fork.

The healthy part? There are way fewer carbs in spaghetti squash than spaghetti.


Need To Cut Down On The Salt?

Say hello to the rest of your spice cabinet.

You can make your food taste just as great or even better by subbing in other herbs, spices, or salt-free seasonings for salt. Try citrus (lemon, lime, orange) juices, rice vinegar, or garlic powder.


Applesauce Is More Useful than You Think

You can swap sugar with unsweetened applesauce at a 1 to 1 ratio when baking cakes, brownies, cookies, and more (although you might have to adjust the measurements of other liquids in your recipe).

In addition to sugar, applesauce also works as a substitute for shortening.


Increase The Hummus Among Us (And Hold The Mayo)

Hummus is a great swap for more unhealthy dips and spreads.

You can use hummus instead of ketchup for burgers and mayonnaise for sandwiches.

Other replacements for mayo?

Try smashed avocado, Greek yogurt (with or without a little lemon and lime), or mustard.

You can also swap olive oil and vinegar for ranch dressing, plain Greek yogurt for sour cream, and nutritional yeast for parmesan cheese.

Also try going for unprocessed almond butter rather than processed peanut butter.


Swap Flour Tortillas For Lettuce Leaves

Yes, you’ll have to be gentle with your delicate tacos, but lettuce wraps are light and healthy.

You could also go with corn tortillas over flour tortillas for your gluten-free friends.

Another interesting sandwich swap? Grilled portobello mushroom caps for hamburger buns. You’ll get fiber, minerals, antioxidants, and a cool-looking burger.


Don’t Knock The Vegetable Party Tray

Skip the chips and slice up some veggies.

Sure, it’ll take a little more effort to prep bite-sized vegetable bits instead of popping open a chip bag, but your body will thank you for the sliced cucumbers and baby carrots you’ll subsequently smother in (hopefully healthy) dip.


Swap White Rice For Quinoa

Quinoa will give you more fiber, protein, iron, zinc, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, fewer calories, and fewer carbs than white rice.

Other white rice alternatives include brown rice and cauliflower.


Don’t Leave The Yolks Out – Eat The Whole Egg

Eating the whole egg versus just the egg whites is actually healthier because of the extra protein, vitamins, mineral, carotenoids, and healthy fats from the whole egg. The eggs whites alone are just mainly protein.

Also go for pasture-raised eggs instead of conventional eggs. They have more omega-3s and beta-carotene (a pigment with antioxidant properties that protects you from free radicals).


Not Bananas In Ice Cream, But Banana Ice Cream

Yes, really. Mash and blend some bananas into a creamy consistency, freeze ‘em, and you’ve got a treat.

You can add peanut butter, cinnamon, sea salt – really, anything you’d like. Easy peasy.


You Say Potato, I Say…

If you want to go healthier or if you just need a change, try a turnip mash or cauliflower mash instead of mashed potatoes.

You can also cook up some sweet potato fries instead of traditional potato fries.


Swap Cheese For Extra Veggies

If you want to trade cheese in your dishes for something healthier, try adding extra vegetables.

Fixing up an omelet, sandwich, or casserole? Throw in some spinach, tomatoes, onions, and whatever else you like.

Just can’t give up the cheese? Opt for goat cheese or feta over low-fat cheeses – low-fat cheeses are less filling and might not leave you satisfied, while goat cheese and feta have conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), a type of fat that reduces heart disease, cancer risk, and may help burn fat.


Butter, Vegetable Oil, Lard, And More To Substitute For Shortening

Shortening is a flavorless, semisolid fat used in cooking and baking. The goal in finding substitutes for vegetable shortening in recipes is to use an ingredient with little to no trans fats – that’s what makes shortening unhealthy in the first place. Trans fats are linked to numerous health conditions like high cholesterol and heart disease, so it’s generally a good idea to avoid them whenever you can in your diet.

The problem with substituting shortening for similar ingredients is that it’ll make the outcome of your baked goods taste differently, so some shortening substitutes are better than others depending on what it is you’re making.

The most common substitute is butter or margarine. Butter is usually used as an alternate when shortening just isn’t available, but it’s also a healthier option. Yes, butter is filled with saturated fats, but the trans fats in shortening are even worse for your body.

If you’re feeling particularly health-conscious about using butter you can snag the low-fat tub but be aware that it won’t melt as easily and may not melt as easily.

Make sure that the flavor of your butter (or margarine) blends well with your baking recipe so your pastries don’t come out tasting funky.

butter oil

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Need a replacement for that can of Crisco you use to deep-fry your tater tots? Then the substitute for shortening you want is vegetable oil. Because it’s a liquid, it doesn’t pose the kind of health risk fatty solids like shortenings do to your arteries.

Vegetable oil won’t work that well as an alternative for sweet baked goods – you’ll want to use one of the other options for baking.

Olive oil is considered the best general cooking replacement for shortening, and peanut oil is ideal for deep-frying.

Lard, surprisingly, is also a healthier alternative to shortening. Hydrogenated vegetable shortenings are considered worse because of the trans fats. Lard, in the same way as butter, isn’t necessarily healthy with all of its saturated fats, but it’s healthier than shortening.

Lard is made from pig fat, and it does have a taste – just be aware of the flavor when considering lard for your recipes.

The most creative substitutes for shortening are definitely the various fruit purées. Unsweetened applesauce is the most popular alternative – best for use in any sweet baked goods. It’ll add sweetness and density to your recipes.

After applesauce, prune purée is one of the top recommendations – it works best in dark baked goods like brownies. Avocado purée is another popular option for chocolate and dark baked goods. The consistencies of butter and avocado purée are similar at room temperature and they’re both fats, so the swap works out. Following that same idea, mashed bananas can also replace shortening in baking.


Swapping Meats

Trying to eat healthy but can’t give up meat? No problem, you don’t need to cut it out altogether if you practice moderation and make healthy choices.

Try going for white meats instead of dark or red meats.

Skinless, white meat poultry is lower in fat and higher in protein and iron than dark meat poultry.

Ground turkey is a great alternative for ground beef if you want to cut down on saturated fats. If the turkey is a little too dry for your tastes, add some chicken stock.

If you can find it, try bison instead of beef – it’s higher in B vitamins and lower in fat.

Everybody loves bacon, but if you shell out for prosciutto or pancetta instead you’ll be getting a higher-quality meat without sacrificing the savory deliciousness.

Trying to avoid meat as a main dinner ingredient altogether? Use three times as many vegetables instead in dishes like soup, casserole, and lasagna.


Several Solid Drink Exchanges

This probably won’t come as a surprise to you, but we should all be drinking more water.

Water affects our physical health way more than we think – staying hydrated helps with weight loss, exercise, happiness, productivity, getting rid of acne and toxins, headaches, joint pain, and more.

Water is always a great drink substitute, especially since we don’t drink enough of it. Water beats coffee, soda, and fruit juice.

Speaking of fruit juice, fruit-infused water or just the physical fruit is healthier than the sugar-packed grocery store juice cartons.

Coconut water is a better option than sports drinks – you’ll get all the electrolytes with way less sugar.

Try tea instead of coffee. If you need your coffee to function, go for an iced coffee instead of a super-sugary frozen Starbucks drink.

Consider almond milk as an alternative for regular milk.

For those among us over 21, try going for a Bloody Mary instead of a Mimosa to give you your morning buzz. Mimosas will have sugary juice while the tomato juice and other ingredients in a Bloody Mary will give you less sugar, more vitamins, and will usually come with a skewer of vegetables for bonus points.

Don’t forget to pick red wine over white wine for the antioxidants and heart health benefits.

Got Your Grocery List Ready?

people in the grocery

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Sounds like it’s time for you to go shopping.

Hopefully, running through this list has you excited to try some new healthy food substitutions in your diet. It’s like a personal problem-solving challenge to see how much you can improve what you decide to put into your body.

If you’re up for another challenge, making your own sauces and salad dressings will bypass commercial processing and give your food a more personalized touch, so why not try that out?

You can tweak your ingredients and make your sauces and dressings exactly how you like them. Not to mention, you’ll know exactly what you’re eating because you’re the one who made it.

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