How to Give Any Recipe a Healthy Makeover (Cheat Sheet Included)
I love collecting cookbooks and trying new, innovative recipes. But as a plant-based wellness crusader, many of the recipes I fall in love with either contain animal products or icky ingredients that don’t meet my health goals. What to do? Break-up with Julia Child? I think not!
You shouldn’t have to choose between your favorite festive meals or comfort foods and your well-being. In fact, some of your go-to dazzlers might just need a slight healthy make-over (like me, after a long winter!). This process is as simple as swapping out the less beneficial fare for a few nutrient-dense ingredients that taste just as great in the recipe.
So today, we’ll explore the wonderful world of recipe editing. Try some of these suggestions the next time you want to upgrade a decadent dish. Also, check out the example I included of a recipe that has been upgraded using some of these strategies. You can even print out the Crazy Sexy Recipe Substitution Cheat Sheet and post it in your kitchen for easy reference.
Alrighty, let’s go over the how’s and why’s. Then, we’ll cover some basic substitutions so you can start swappin’!
The Health Benefits of Recipe Makeovers
For starters, it’s easier to keep your triglycerides and cholesterol at healthy levels when you reduce empty calories in your diet—especially ones that come from sugar and butter. In your Cheat Sheet you’ll find substitutions for both of these babies, including fiber-rich, nutrient-packed ingredients like applesauce and avocado puree.
Now, let’s talk eggs—the binder of all binders. Even if they aren’t as risky when it comes to heart health, they don’t deliver the soluble fiber and omega-3s that chia and flax seeds bring to the table. So when you use plant foods like these, you’re boosting your good cholesterol and lowering your heart disease risk.
How about the scale? If you’re looking to trim a few lbs, try adding fiber to the mix. Fiber is nature’s appetite suppressant, so it’s definitely your ally in the quest for healthy weight loss or maintenance. When you need help skipping seconds (and midnight snacks!), try swapping in some of the suggestions in my Cheat Sheet when baking and cooking.
Plant-based proteins are your friends when it comes to dumping some simple carbs from your diet and upping the nutritional value of your meals. And in case you need one more reason to give plants a chance, they also rev up your metabolism more than animal-based foods.
Lastly, let’s talk fats. You know I’m a huge fan of healthy fats, especially monounsaturated and essential ones. But, it’s important to strike a balance. Going hog-wild with high-fat foods on a regular basis can hinder your immune system and slow your digestion. So once you’ve had your daily fill of good fats (about three servings of monounsaturated fats plus, a serving or two of polyunsaturated fats), it’s a smart idea to reach for fiber-rich substitutes. You’ll be boosting the disease-fighting power of your food and staying “regular” without sacrificing flavor or satisfaction.
And now (drumroll please), here’s your guide to simple healthy ingredient substitutes. Just remember that tinkering with recipes comes with trial and error. You’ll need to put on your recipe developer hat and be ready to experiment. You’re going to create some winners, but you’ll probably have some duds—and that’s OK! Try to have fun with it and keep in mind that this kitchen sorcery is an investment in your long-term well-being.
Get instant access to my Healthy Recipe Substitution Cheat Sheet now:
20 Easy (and Healthy!) Plant-Based Recipe Substitutions
For 1 cup butter (in baking), use one of the following:
- 1 cup avocado puree
- 1/2 cup vegetable oil + 1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce
- 1 cup mashed banana
- 3/4 pitted prunes + 1/4 tablespoon boiling water, blended to make a prune puree
For 2 tablespoons butter (in cooking), use one of the following:
- 1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 1/2 tablespoons avocado oil (has a very high smoke point)
For 1 egg, use one of the following:
- 1 tablespoon ground flax seed meal soaked in 3 tablespoons water for 5 minutes
- 1 tablespoon whole or ground chia seeds soaked in 1/3 cup water for 15 minutes
For 1 cup milk, use one of the following:
- 1 cup fortified unsweetened nut milk, seed milk or organic soy milk
For 1 cup heavy cream, use one of the following:
- 1 cup full-fat canned coconut milk
- 1 cup raw, unsalted cashews soaked for 6 hours, and then drained and blended with 1/2 cup water
For 3/4 cup dairy yogurt, use one of the following:
- 3/4 cup coconut cream (the solid portion of a settled can of full-fat coconut milk)
- 6 ounces silken organic tofu, pureed
For 1 ounce cheese, use one of the following:
- 1 tablespoon nutritional yeast sprinkled instead of 1 ounce shredded cheese
- 1 slice CHAO cheese made from coconut oil and fermented chao tofu
For 1/2 cup ice cream, use one of the following:
- 3/4 banana, frozen in chunks, and then pureed
- 3/4 cup frozen mango chunks, pureed
For 3 ounces (a deck of cards) meat, poultry, fish and shellfish, use one of the following:
- 1 veggie burger (like this one) for 1 meat burger
- 3 ounces marinated organic tofu or tempeh for 3 ounces of chicken, turkey or fish
- 3/4 cup cooked beans or lentils for ground beef or turkey
For 1 cup flour in baking, use one of the following:
Almond flour: Gluten-free and rich in protein, omega-3s, fiber and low in carbohydrates
- 1 cup flour = 1/2 cup wheat flour or gluten-free flour blend + 1/2 cup almond flour + 1/4 teaspoon extra baking powder
- Almond flour is heavy and needs more baking powder or baking soda in order for the baked good to rise adequately
- Note: baking powder has an acid included, whereas baking soda needs an acid (vinegar or lemon juice) in the recipe to work. Baking soda is also 3 times as powerful as baking powder
Coconut flour: Gluten-free, rich in fiber and low in carbohydrates
- 1 cup flour = 1/2 cup wheat flour or gluten-free flour blend + 1/2 cup coconut flour + 1/2 cup water
- Coconut flour is highly absorbent and requires more liquid in the recipe
Bean puree: Gluten-free and rich in protein and fiber
- 1 cup flour = 1 cup bean puree (one 15-ounce can beans, drained, rinsed and blended)
1 cup sugar, use one of the following:
- 1 cup unsweetened applesauce, and subtract 1/4 cup liquid in the recipe
- 1/2 cup coconut sugar + 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- Coconut sugar is still sugar, but it is minimally processed and provides magnesium, potassium and inulin (a prebiotic fiber)
Download your free Crazy Sexy Recipe Substitution Cheat Sheet here!
Sometimes it helps to see how these swaps would actually work in a recipe. So, here’s how I’d reduce the sugar, boost the nutrients and increase the fiber in this sweet strawberry treat. Instead of ice cream, I used frozen bananas. And instead of dairy milk, I used hemp milk. I also added in some spinach to boost the nutrients even more.
Instead of this…
- 1 cup chopped strawberries
- 1 cup vanilla ice cream
- 1 1/2 cups low-fat dairy milk
Blend ingredients until smooth.
Nutrition Info: 516 calories, 22.5 g fat, 4.4 g fiber, 53.1 g sugar
Green Strawberry Smoothie
- 1 cup chopped fresh spinach
- 1 1/2 cups unsweetened hemp milk
- 1 cup chopped strawberries
- 1 1/2 frozen bananas
Blend ingredients until smooth.
Nutrition Info: 251 calories, 10.1 g fat, 7.3 g fiber, 23 g sugar
Give it a try! Rather than feeling sluggish 30 minutes after a milkshake, you can feel satisfied and energized with a Green Strawberry Smoothie. Have fun with your new creations and share your healthy swaps in the comments below.
Peace & swaps,