One of the most common questions people have when trying to eat a more plant-inspired diet, is how to substitute the foods they currently love and consume.
The good news is there has never been a better time to try this type of lifestyle. Besides many more options in restaurants, there are also plant-based processed foods being created and refined every day, and they just keep getting better and better.
In this article, you’ll find suggestions for healthy plant-based substitutions. And don’t forget to download the FREE downloadable/printable PDF for a quick breakdown of the substitutions covered below.
*Please note- it is highly recommended to eat more whole foods, plant-based foods. However, pre-packaged and processed foods can be great for those transitioning to this way of eating, or for those needing healthy, quick options. =)
- For milk substitutes, choose plant-based milks such as almond, cashew, soy, rice, coconut, hemp, and flax milks. You can also make your own.
- If you love creamer in your coffee, try different variations of nondairy creamers, such as soy, coconut, oat, or almond milk. Keep in mind that many store-bought creamers may be processed. Or use plant-based milks such as cashew, oat, soy, or coconut milk.
- For cheese substitutes, there are a lot of incredible store-bought options. Brands such as VioLife, Chao, Miyoko’s or Daiya (and many more!) have made huge improvements in recent years.
- Or better yet, make your own cheese using cashews (like this Vegan Queso, Almond Ricotta) or even tofu (as in this Tofu Ricotta).
- Nutritional yeast is a great addition as it has a ‘cheesy’ taste. Mix it in with tofu for a great nut-free cheese in lasagna or Lasagna Rolls.
- You can also find really delicious dairy-free sour creams, cream cheeses, yogurts, mayonnaise, and ice cream.
- In the place of buttermilk, add 1 tablespoon of apple cider vinegar to 1 cup non-dairy milk and let sit. It has a similar texture/flavor to buttermilk.
- For butter, there are a lot of options such as Earth Balance or Miyoko’s. If you are using butter for frying foods, you can also use vegetable stock or water instead.
- A few common meat alternatives are seitan, tempeh, and tofu, which can be cooked in a variety of methods.
- Or use black beans, portobello mushrooms, lentils, nuts, or jackfruit (which can be used as ‘meat’ in a pulled jackfruit sandwich).
- Add liquid aminos to your bean soup or split pea soup, to give it a smoky flavor. Use sparingly as a little goes a long way.
- For sandwiches, you can mash chickpeas with spices such as in this Chickpea No-Tuna Salad.
- If you enjoy fish, tempeh or tofu is a good substitute. Season it the same way you would season fish, with spices like lemon pepper, cajun, etc.
Oil can be useful in some recipes and consumed in moderation, but it’s generally overused in cooking. To replace oil:
- In salad dressings, replace with water, unsweetened almond milk, fruit juices, yogurt, mayo or vinegars.
- For baking, use date paste or other fruit puree (mashed pumpkin) or applesauce.
- For frying, use unsalted vegetable broth or water.
- Scrambled tofu with turmeric and other spices can be a great choice.
- Indian black salt (Kala Namak) gives foods an unbelievable “eggy” taste (and smell).
- There are also processed items on the market like “Just Egg“, which cooks and tastes almost exactly like eggs.
- For baking, you can substitute eggs with flax eggs or chia eggs.
- In the place of gelatin, use agar agar, xanthin gum, or guar gum.
- For thickeners, use tapioca, chia seeds or xanthin gum.
- For sugar, make sure you purchase raw and organic sugar to make sure it doesn’t contain bone char, which some do. Or use maple syrup, agave nectar, date or date paste, brown rice syrup, or molasses instead.
Be aware that salt does not contain any animal products, but some people do like to reduce their salt intake. Note that it’s not easy to find a salt substitution that tastes exactly like salt.
- Use coconut aminos or try a mix of spices such as onion, garlic, or lemon juice and other spices.
- Miso paste is also a great option. Use sparingly.
Gluten does not need to be avoided for most people. But for those who have gluten sensitivities or celiac disease, there are some many options available:
- Try gluten-free pasta made from corn, chickpeas, or brown rice, zucchini noodles or spaghetti squash.
- Instead of cornstarch, use arrowroot powder as a thickener for sauces.
- Use corn tortillas instead of flour tortillas.
- Try gluten-free crackers (like rice crackers) or gluten-free breadcrumbs.
- For flours, there are a lot of choices, including coconut, almond, buckwheat, chickpea flour, brown rice, sorghum flour, etc.
- For grains, use quinoa, polenta, millet or buckwheat.
- Instead of soy sauce, use tamari.
Nut- Free Substitutions
- Replace nuts with all types of seeds including sesame, sunflower, pumpkin, hemp seeds and many more.
- In baked goods, use rice crisp cereal, crushed pretzels, oatmeal or rolled oats, raisins, cranberries, vegan chocolate chips, or pumpkin or sunflower seeds.
Recipe ideas for transitioning to a plant-based diet:
- Buffalo Cauliflower Tacos
- Slow Cooker Soy Chorizo Chili
- Shiitake Black Bean Burgers with Spicy Aioli
- Egg Salad with Capers and Turmeric
- Black Bean Veggie Quesadillas
- Easy Vegan BLT with Spicy Mayo
- Roasted Butternut Squash Pasta
- Spicy Jalapeno Pasta Salad
- Sausage and Kale Rice Bowl for One
Want to learn how to apply these substitutions to your weekly meals? Check out this “Batch Cooking like a Pro” article.