People are always asking how to maintain a healthy lifestyle and figure year-round, yet complain about how “hard” it is to completely cut out certain foods or make simple changes. You should never have to sacrifice favorite foods, dishes, and flavors just to live a healthier lifestyle.
Once you’re mentally committed to living better, it can be difficult to find new ways to alter recipes to suit your needs. For me, the first year was full of kitchen rage trying to create health meals with little/no cooking experience. After trying thousands of different recipes from a variety of cookbooks, sites, and of course Pinterest, I’ve made my own list of food swaps that you won’t even be able to tell the difference with.
Healthy Food Swaps:
How to Swap Traditional Ingredients:
Unless you’ve experienced using some of these healthier alternatives, it can be intimidating using something different from what you’re used to. It used to just be habit to grab butter or olive oil for cooking, where now the only thing I use is coconut oil. For the most part, these swaps are good for 1:1 ratios.
- GF flour for regular flour- This has to be one of the easiest swaps to better your digestive system and prevent inflammation. In the US, I use Bob’s Red Mill GF all-purpose flour, but there are tons of recipes online using very few ingredients and can be easily altered for higher nutritional quality. Homemade GF recipes easily compare to traditional recipes (although I find them much better!). Don’t be put off by the store-bought, packaged GF products. These are a terrible representation of what a GF lifestyle is like.
- Tapioca for corn starch- While both are relatively high in starch content, it’s much better to use tapioca or potato starch for corn starch, which is most likely genetically modified and has a higher GI content.
- Coconut oil for other oils- Coconut oil is not has numerous nutritional benefits (it’s high in saturated fat, good for skin, digestion, antibacterial, etc.), it’s one of few oils that doesn’t break down or become carcinogenic when heated. Always opt for coconut oil over any other cooking oil.
- Butter substitutes- While organic grass-fed butter or ghee are great alternatives to conventional butter or margarine; there are many healthy options for those looking to avoid dairy altogether. Coconut oil, applesauce, mashed banana, and even avocado can be used in place of butter depending on your recipe.
- Non-dairy options for milk/cream- Sugar/chemical-laden and processed dairy milk, cream, sweetened condensed milk, etc. are common ingredients in many everyday recipes and deserts when not used on their own. They can easily be replaced by nut, rice, or coconut milk depending on your dish (coconut milk is a great cream alternative and makes delicious ice-cream and fudge without the strong coconut flavor).
- Natural sweeteners for sugar or artificial sweeteners– Unlike processed and refined sugars, syrups, and artificial sweeteners, natural sugar from fruit such as dates, bananas, coconut, honey, etc. all have a lower GI and don’t cause the same insulin spike as processed sugar. Natural sugar (especially with the fiber) is metabolized a lot differently to processed sugar so you feel full quicker, whereas processed sugar is broken down rapidly to be used right away or stored as fat (which is what happens most of the time as people today consume far more sugar than we used to).
- Soy sauce substitutes– If Asian meals are a part of your everyday life like they are mine, don’t worry, there are many substitutes for everyone’s beloved soy sauce. Bragg’s all-purpose seasoning, coconut aminos, and GF tamari are great substitutes (if anything, they taste much better). Regular soy sauce contains wheat (gluten), preservatives, and soy, which is a known endocrine disruptor (this applies to non-fermented soy). Use these substitutes as a 1:1 ratio.
- Cacao over coco- Anytime you’re using a recipe that calls for coco/cocoa, always use raw cacao or at least a mixture of the two. Cacao powder is chocolate in its most pure form, meaning it contains tons of vitamins & minerals, it’s one of the highest antioxidant rich foods, and has countless health benefits. Unlike cocoa, cacao is completely unprocessed with no added sugar. This also means it can be slightly bitter, which is why I suggest using slightly less in recipes than you normally would (I usually use ½ the amount of cacao than what a recipe calls for and test it from there).
- Non-dairy or organic yogurt- Conventional yogurts often contain harmful artificial colors, flavors, and sweeteners, such as aspartame, one of the most dangerous and addicting additives. Yogurt can have many health benefits, such as probiotics, healthy fats, and protein (usually higher in Greek-style yogurts). Goat’s milk and lactose-free yogurts tend to be easier for most people to digest since goat’s milk is contains far less casein and is more similar to human’s milk compared to cows. However, even organic and non-dairy yogurts can be high in sugar and additives. Usually the plain yogurts have the least ingredients, just be sure to read the label and be cautious of anything that looks unnatural.
- Organic/humane animal products & eggs- Always try and opt for organic meats, poultry, and eggs. This is to ensure they have not been pumped with antibiotics, fed an unnatural, GMO grain-based diet, and haven’t been mistreated. Organic meats have been found to have far more health benefits due to the natural diet of the animals. They’re higher in vitamins and minerals and even taste much better than processed meat.
- Opt for fermented soy- Apart from being one of the most common genetically modified crops, soy has been found to be a known endocrine/hormone disruptor and has been a growing issue with the amounts of soybean oil, milk, and protein found in everyday products. While soy isn’t one of the best options, fermented soy such as tempeh is a great source of protein that’s easy on the digestive system.
- Chia & flax as thickeners- While eggs are an excellent source of clean protein and vitamin D, some people don’t respond well to them, or you can get sick of using them in most meals (desserts, baked goods, patties and meals, etc.). Chia and flax seeds can both be used as thickeners; chia seeds typically for sauces, jams and puddings, and flax seeds ground with water to set and create a flax egg (1 tbsp flax to 2.5-3 tbsp water).