Super Stand-Ins: Healthy Alternatives to Your Favorite Foods

Super Stand-Ins: Healthy Alternatives to Your Favorite Foods

7 minute read

If you’re looking for a low-carb wheat substitute for keto or vegan versions of your comfort foods, then you’ll want to read this. Even if you’re not committed to a specific diet, it’s handy to know some creative alternatives to keep meals diverse and interesting.


Have you ever used baking soda because you’ve run out of baking powder? Not a pleasant outcome, was it? There are some ingredients that we can’t swap for another because basic chemistry tells us so, especially in the baking world. But when it comes to our everyday meals, there are a surprising number of food substitutions that do work, and some are even better than their original counterpart.


A quick one to start: 

Love thick, fluffy pancakes? Substitute milk for plain yogurt. Yogurt is rich in probiotics and lower in lactose, so it’s a great choice if you experience dairy-related digestive issues. (We’ve never tried this with fruit yogurt, but it makes sense that it would contribute well to blueberry pancakes!)

Good Reasons To Switch It Up

For many of us, what we eat is as reflective of our identity as the car we drive or the way we decorate our homes. Sometimes our diet is dictated by a health condition or religious rites. For others, it’s an environmental issue. Then, there are some who just prefer to eat as naturally as possible.


Sometimes it’s simply about convenience and what we have on hand. Other times, we intentionally swap one food for another for health or dietary requirements. Cooking has always been an art, and we’ve gotten even more creative as specific diets increase in popularity.


More people are looking for wheat substitutes for keto and healthier fats. Many vegans want to enjoy yummy, plant-based cheeses and creamy sauces. You may love meat but have to restrict it to once or twice a week, and therefore, want veggie burgers that taste like thick, juicy beef.


Whatever your dietary preference or restriction, there are loads of options. Some are well documented, others require experimentation. 


Covering some of our most basic and beloved foods, we share some creative and healthy alternatives to suit a range of food preferences and diets.  

Milk & Dairy Alternatives

Depending on what you’re whipping up, milk can be swapped out for yogurt, coconut milk, or almond milk, as some of the healthiest alternatives.


Yogurt is a great choice for non-vegans because of the high probiotic count, especially plain, organic versions.


Coconut milk is great for vegan, keto, and paleo diets. The coconut is one of nature’s #1 gifts to us. It’s naturally sweet so it’s also a good stand-in for sugar. It contains medium-chain triglycerides (MCT) and lauric acid––healthy fats that are linked to weight loss and cognitive performance. And it has anti-inflammatory properties that can help joint pain. An added bonus? Coconut farming has a relatively low impact on land and water consumption. Look for 100% coconut milk to avoid fillers, sweeteners, and preservatives. 


Almond milk has a delicious nutty flavor that most people love. It’s naturally rich in key vitamins and minerals, such as vitamin E, and unsweetened versions are low in sugar and calories. It doesn’t have the calcium that milk has, but many brands produce fortified versions. Doctors do not recommend almond milk as a suitable milk substitute for babies. 


(An environmental caution: Although it requires less land to produce than other milk alternatives, it needs a lot of water (1L of almond milk = >350 liters of water), so almond milk isn’t the most sustainable milk-alternative option).


Want to avoid commercial brands? Make your own almond milk. Check out this step-by-step video tutorial and recipe:


(If you want to know more about the environmental sustainability of plant-based milks, check out this excellent resource by edible Brooklyn).

What’s Better Than Butter?

Ghee is butter without the milk solids. You may know it as clarified butter, which is produced by melting regular butter (ideally from grass-fed cows) to remove the casein and whey proteins, indicated by milk fat sinking to the bottom and butter becoming clear, hence, clarified. When fats brown and become fragrant, you have ghee.


What makes ghee better than butter? It contains a higher concentration of fat than butter, and butyric acid and other short-chain saturated fats can help lower inflammation and improve gut health. Ghee is also rich in vitamin K2, which plays a role in blood clotting, calcium metabolism and heart health.

Have To Give Up The Grains?

For low-carb diets, cauliflower can function like rice with a bit of preparation and patience. Because our attraction to food has a lot to do with aesthetics, it helps that it looks like rice too. Cut a head of cauli into small pieces, wash, and dry thoroughly (this is the patience part). Use a food processor (a blender generally doesn’t work well) to ninja chop it into pieces small enough to resemble rice. It takes a fraction of the time to cook that rice does, and it works in stir frys, sushi, as a side, and more.


Pasta replacements for gluten-free diets are numerous. There is pasta made from red lentils, quinoa, rice, and other grains and legumes. For low-carb or keto diets, a vegetable and julienne peeler can help you achieve perfect “zoodles”, spaghetti noodles fashioned from zucchini. Broccoli stems, carrots, sweet potatoes, squash, and even beets are viable options. Put them all together for a rainbow carbonara. 


Bread crumbs are highly functional in the cooking world. We use them in meatloaf, burger patties, casserole toppings, thickening stews, stuffings, and more. Without the grain or gluten and for a serious boost in omegas, try ground flax seeds instead. They deliver a similar consistency, tend to digest more favourably, and are loaded with lignans, which may help protect against cancer.


As a salad topper, try chopped nuts instead of croutons.

Mayo Find Better Spreads

Love mayo but don’t love the unhealthy fat content? Mayonnaise has a variety of healthy alternatives (and Miracle Whip isn’t one of them), including olive oil, greek yogurt, avocado, and even hummus. Keep in mind that avocado oxidizes quickly so best to use it if you’re going to eat it right away. Greek yogurt has a similar tang to mayo, so it’s a good choice for tuna or egg salad. Hummus or avocado work well on burgers, sandwiches, and wraps.

Thirsty? Try This Most Satisfying Elixir...

Soda may not be the worst thing we can put into our bodies, but it’s close! If you love the crisp refreshment of sugary soda, consider our homemade ginger ale. Peel a thumb of fresh ginger root and smash it out with a stone mortar and pestle. Place in a glass. Add the juice of half a lemon and pour soda water over top. To sweeten it up, add a teaspoon of honey, or maple syrup for a vegan and low glycemic index sweetener.


Do you have any food subs you love and want to share? We’d love to hear! Leave us a comment or send us an email and we’ll feature it on our Facebook page.


Disclaimer: This article is not intended as health, nutrition, or dietary advice. When making changes to your diet, consult with a health expert to ensure you are supporting YOUR optimal health.


Colleen Thornton

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