31 Instant Swaps to Healthify Any Recipe

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31 instant swaps to healthify any recipe

Healthy Ingredient Substitutions for Any Recipe

Like you, I have some favorite family recipes that don’t exactly fit my definition of healthy food. Fortunately, there are some easy ingredient substitutions you can make to healthily any of your favorite recipes!


small sugar cube1. White sugar

Instead of the white refined stuff, reach for nature’s natural sweetness. Coconut sugar, mineral rich and low glycemic, is a cup-for-cup substitute perfect for baking, but it does taste a bit less sweet. Also, you can sub raw honey or 100% pure maple syrup according to this substitution guide.

2. Brown Sugar

Coconut sugar can be substituted cup for cup. It boasts a similar molasses flavor to brown sugar. Alternatively, substitute 100% pure maple syrup according to this substitution guide.

3. Agave nectar

That’s right, agave nectar is a highly processed sweetener that should be replaced with equal amounts of raw honey or 100% pure maple syrup.

Oils and fats

small cut butter4. Margarine and butter substitutes

Can’t believe it’s not butter? I can. And why would you want a substitute for butter, anyways, because it is a true superfood! If there is a dairy allergy, use coconut oil instead of butter.

5. Vegetable oils

Common vegetable oils are canola oil, safflower oil, soybean oil, grapeseed oil (yes!) and sunflower oil. These are all bad news due to their not heat-stable and inflammatory fatty acid profile. For baking, substitute melted ghee or coconut oil. For salad dressings, use high quality olive oil.

6. Shortening

Substitute an equal measurement of slightly chilled coconut oil. This uber-healthful, heat-stable fat beats the carcinogenic trans fat found in shortening any day!

From the pantry

7. Peanut butter

Peanuts contain naturally occurring fungal toxins and one of the most unhealthy fatty acid profiles of all nuts (even though, technically, it isn’t a nut). Instead, reach for raw almond butter.

8. Table salt

Perhaps the easiest swap of all: use himalayan salt or celtic sea salt in place of refined salt. The best part? It so good for you!

9. Seasoning salt

Most seasoning salts use refined salts and poor quality spices. Herbamare provides a unique and flavorful blend of high quality sea salt and gently dehydrated organic spices.

10. Jam

Most jams and jellies contain refined sugar… and lots of it. The pectin in jam can also be hard on sensitive tummies. I prefer using this fruit-sweetened apple butter instead of jam. It contains only organic apples!

31 instant swaps to healthify ANY recipe - great reference!11. Vinegar

When a recipe calls for white vinegar or any other type of vinegar, use raw apple cider vinegar.

12. Cocoa powder

Cacao powder is the raw, unprocessed twin of cocoa powder. It has significantly higher antioxidant and nutrient levels.

13. Canned broth or stock

While canned stock brings little more than scant flavor and perhaps a few undisclosed ingredients (MSG, anyone?) to your meals, homemade broth tastes better and packs a powerful punch of vitamins and minerals. Don’t be intimidated, it’s easy to make a simple broth in your crockpot.

14. Gelatin

Pass up those packets of gelatin for a healthier substitute – gelatin from grassfed cows.

15. Spices

Unfortunately, many conventional spices are irradiated. Since I believe irradiation changes the integrity and health properties of food, I only purchase organic spices, which cannot be irradiated.

16. White potatoes

Sweet potatoes pack more nutrients and don’t have the inflammatory properties of white potatoes. Cauliflower also makes an easy substitute. You can make cauliflower mashed potatoes or faux-tato salad.

17. Brown rice

Really? Brown rice is a no-no? Yep, it contains higher levels of nutrient-robbing phytic acid and the indigestible fiber (that’s not a good thing) than white rice. Instead, reach for organic white rice or, even better, quinoa. Here’s how to properly prepare it.

18. Salad dressing

Salad dressings usually contain canola oil, soybean oil, safflower oil, grapeseed oil and/or sunflower oil… ALL of these are really bad news because they have high levels of inflammatory polyunsaturated fats. Instead, make your own easy salad dressing with 3 parts good quality olive oil and 1 part lemon juice.

19. Soy sauce

Commercially prepared soy sauces contain all the health problems of soy: phytic acid, goitrogens, hormone-disrupting phytoestrogens… no thank you! Instead, use coconut aminos, a rich liquid with a surprisingly similar flavor.

 Dairy products

20. Cream

If you avoid dairy, place a can of coconut milk in the fridge overnight. Then, without shaking the can, skim the thick coconut cream from the top of the can. Use this as a substitute for cream – you can even whip it for dairy free whipped cream!

21. Non-dairy milks

Most cartons of non-dairy milks are not a healthy choice. Instead, use canned coconut milk (you can thin it out with a little bit of water, if desired). Alternatively, reach for raw milk!

22. Low fat dairy products

“Low fat” is a marketing code word for chemical-laden hot mess. Full-fat dairy products are by far the healthier choice. Grass-fed dairy, if available, is preferable.

23. Sweetened condensed milk

It’s actually surprisingly simple to make sweetened condensed milk with your own quality ingredients. Here’s how.

From the fridge

24. Pickles

Real pickles don’t contain vinegar. Say what?! Yep, traditionally-prepared pickles are fermented with salt and pure water, allowing the fermentation process to bring that tangy crunch and a boatload of beneficial enzymes and probiotics. Bubbie’s Kosher Dill Pickles are naturally fermented and available in most grocery stores.

25. Shredded cheese

Popular brands of shredded cheese add cellulose – a.k.a nasty wood pulp – as an additive. Avoid this unwanted ingredient and shred your own cheese!

26. Mayonnaise

Bad-news vegetable oils (safflower/canola/soybean oils) and icky stabilizers hide in commercial mayonnaise. If you are making a sandwich, butter the bread instead. For mayonnaise-based recipes like potato salad and salad dressings, sour cream usually makes a suitable substitute. Otherwise, make your own with quality olive oil.

For baking

{Not a swap} White flour

This one is tricky because no other flour behaves exactly like refined white flour. Unfortunately, there isn’t an easy swap. I recommend finding recipes designed specifically for coconut flour (like mine!), the healthiest flour available.

27. Cornstarch

Swap out this most likely GMO ingredient with arrowroot flour.

cupcake sprinkles28. Sprinkles

Refined sugar and artificial colorings? No thanks, I’ll take these DIY naturally-colored coconut sprinkles!

29. Food coloring

Who needs behavior-altering artificial colors when there is this set of natural food colors?

30. Sweetened shredded coconut

Did you know that most sweetened shredded coconut contains propylene glycol, a synthetic solvent used in anti-freeze? Yuk! Instead, use 100% pure unsweetened shredded coconut.

31. Chocolate chips

Raisins would be the politically correct substitution, but who the heck wants raisin cookies over chocolate chip cookies? I recommend this unique brand of chocolate chips (also available in your health food store) which is soy free and dairy free.


Do you have any recipes to healthily? Have you tried any of these healthy ingredient substitutions? 

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  1. says

    Great list. I’d also say sunflower seed butter instead of peanut butter, given that I can’t eat almonds. :)

    What isn’t good for you about other vinegars? That one was new to me.

    • says

      Yes, Sunbutter is a good option! Regarding the vinegars, white vinegar and wine vinegars are pasteurized, so the beneficial enzymes are destroyed during the heat processing. The raw apple cider vinegar is full of these beneficial enzymes, plus it has detox and cleansing properties for the body.

  2. Chrisi says

    Hey Lauren, what do you think of coconut vinegar, like the one made by Coconut Secret? Do you know why there aren’t more types of raw vinegar available, like raw apple cider vinegar? Would another raw vinegar have the same beneficial health properties that raw apple cider vinegar has?

  3. says

    This is great, thank you Lauren. I have celiac disease and constantly make alterations to recipes. I’ve been compiling an alterations list to post on my website similar to this one and I’m glad to see these ingredients works for you as well.

  4. Jennifer says

    Such great information, thank you! Regarding brown rice, do you know if protein powder made from brown rice contains phytic acid as well? Thanks!!

  5. Diana says

    Great list! Thank you :) Another important reason to avoid those oils (canola, etc) AND soy sauce is because they are GMO.

  6. says

    Thank you so much for these healthy substitutes, most of them I was already aware of, but never had heard of the vinegar before. I find most of these healthy items in the Mennonite Stores in Ohio when I go there, I stock up for the winter. They have the best prices and quality also. I also am a heavy user of oats. Thank you continue with your good healthy ideas.

  7. says

    Hi Lauren! Thank you for your great list. Recently, I have learnt a cooking course. I also read some information about cooking in the Internet. But I have very little experience. All of the information that you shared is very useful for me. This is a great and informative article. Thanks again!

  8. Coco Powder says

    I just wanted to note that Cacao powder and Coco powder are exactly the same. I came across this post and CocoLady explains it perfectly.

    So essentially you are over paying for your powder. Also any type of vinegar is fine, so saying to stay away from pickles in vinegar is a bit extreme. Also you contradicted yourself many times, specifically with honey and the maple syrup. Also your description is phytoestrogens is inaccurate. If you don’t believe me just look up all the vegetables that contain it. You would have to wipe out over half of your ‘healthy’ eating to get rid of them. They don’t interrupt our hormones or anything of that nature. They are perfectly safe. Also the thing on brown rice and canned broth is false too. You can find broths easily with no msg or salt now a days. Also organic doesn’t always mean healthier either. Ever hear of blood meal? Or what if your farmer uses manure and doesn’t compost it. You are at risk for ecoli.

  9. ENID says

    HI , I have been reading your information and you do not mention natural organic Rolled Oats. Where does this stand on your baking list and oxalate list.


  10. Monica Rubright says

    On the Paleo Diet, it clearly states NO grains. Quinoa is a grain…… What I want to know is, is split peas a grain??? I know its peas but …………

  11. Celeste says

    I’m a bit confused about your point about almond butter. I’m sure in a different post you talked about how bad almonds are for containing that anti-nutrient acid in their skins…

  12. Marsha says

    I can’t have coconut, any other suggestions for a flour. I do soak and rehydrate almonds, pecans and walnuts for only for munching. What about lentil flour. I don’t make a lot of baked goods, but would like something once in a while.

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