9 Healthy Food Swaps

You don’t need to transform your whole diet to eat healthier. These small shifts can make your meals more nutritious — and more satisfying.

Variety of healthy food substitutes

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.

1. Avocado

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”.

6. Kale

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. 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”.


Avocado Chocolate Mousse With Cacao Nibs

Avocado Chocolate Mousse

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.

is a Minneapolis-based recipe developer and cookbook author.

Photography by: Andrea D’Agosto; Prop Styling: Alicia Buszczak; Food Stylist: Paul Jackman

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