Cooking Substitutes


Much of my passion for cooking comes from the creativity and freedom I have to personalize each recipe. I try to substitute ingredients that make the recipe both healthy and delicious, using some of these common substitutions.



Overview – Flax has a high fiber content which helps regulate digestion, maintain satiety, and regulate blood sugar (reducing the rate at which the body produces insulin after a meal). Flax has omega 3 fatty acids (a.k.a. healthy fats) which reduce artery inflammation and plaque buildup.

Healthy Cooking Substitute For –

Flour replacement varies, but a rule of thumb says begin by substituting ¼ of the flour in baked goods. Replacing flour reduces refined carb intake and gluten consumption.
Combine with water in a 1 – 3 ratio (1 TBSP flaxmeal + 3 TBSP water = 1 egg). Personally, I’m a huge fan of eggs for a number of reasons, but I enjoy vegan bakers. 
Mix flaxmeal into smoothies and shakes with little impact on texture and taste for an easy way to increase omega – 3 and fiber intake.

Grocery – Flaxseed can be found in the bulk, organic, or baking sections of grocery stores. My favorite brand is Bob’s Red Mill Whole Ground Flaxseed Meal.

Tip – Flaxseed has a slightly nutty taste and mealy feel so begin experimenting in small amounts and determine tolerance for texture and flavor changes.


SpinachOverview – Spinach is high in fiber and low in calories, making it an excellent food choice for people who are “constantly hungry” such as myself. Even better, the list of minerals and vitamins it provides to our diet seems endless, making it THE SUPERFOOD.

  • Magnesium – supports bone, muscle and nerve health
  • Calcium – supports nerve function and bone and teeth structures
  • Potassium – supports cell fluid maintenance.
  • Iron supports the function of red blood cells
  • Vitamin A supports cell growth and health
  • Folate – supports metabolism and is essential for blood formation
  • Vitamin K – supports blood clotting
  • Vitamin C and E – antioxidants supporting immune health

Healthy Cooking Substitute For –

Smoothies   Thanks to Oh She Glows’ “Green Monster”, spinach has become a key ingredient in smoothies. Near flavorless blending into smoothies makes it a simple way to improve the nutritional value of smoothies.
Stove-Top Spinach’s mild flavor makes the addition into scrambled eggs, sauces, pizzas, and stir fry easy, especially with the addition of flavorful seasonings.
Lettuce If the crunch of lettuce is what we crave, start by substituting 50% of the lettuce in a dish with spinach (i.e. toppings or salads). Spinach provides significantly more nutrients than lettuce, which is primarily water.

Grocery – Spinach can be found in the produce areas of your grocery store. It typically comes frozen (located in freezer section) or fresh (located in produce). I’ve found fresh to be superior to frozen in nearly all recipes, but frozen works just as well in smoothies.

Tip – Spinach will produce a green coloration to dishes but has an ‘earthy’ taste that is easily masked in recipes. When adding spinach to heat -based meals add near the end of the cooking process and remove as soon as the leaves begin to wilt to avoid the any slimy texture or bitter taste from forming.

Greek Yogurt

Greek Yogurt

Overview – Plain Greek yogurt tastes similar to sour cream with a thick and creamy texture. Greek yogurt is free of lactose and contains high amounts of protein, calcium, and probiotics –

  • Lactose free – prevents digestive issues associated with dairy products
  • Protein – supports satiety, muscle growth, bone density, and cardiovascular health
  • Calcium – strengthens bone and teeth structures
  • Probiotics – enhances immune function and protects against colon and bladder cancers

Healthy Cooking Substitute For –

Dips & Frosting
Substitute for mayonnaise, sour cream, or cream cheese in a 1 – 1 ratio. Add combinations of protein powders, sweeteners, spices, herbs, and hot sauces for a  substitution to eliminate significant amounts of calories from bad fats and sugar.
Sauces & Soups
Try Greek yogurt in place of milk, cream, or butter for a creamier consistency without the lactose, calories, and fat.
Greek yogurt is often substituted with portions of creams, butters, oils, or milks in these ratios for a rich and moist texture. Substitutions help reduce lactose, calories, and fat. 

Grocery – Greek yogurt can be found in both the organic and regular dairy sections of the grocery store with many sizes, flavors, and brands to choose from. My favorite brand in terms of taste, texture, and nutritional value is Oikos non-fat  Plain Greek Yogurt.

Tip – Review the labels of each yogurt, flavored Greek yogurts can have large amounts of added sugar and are higher in calories.

Flax, Almond, and Coconut Milks

Coconut milk

Overview – Lactose-free, often lower in sodium (reduces artery inflammation), and lower in calories. Shelf versions are available and don’t require refrigeration.

  • Coconut milk – depending on brands can have a buttery flavor
  • Almond milk – hint of nutty flavoring with a creamy texture
  • Flax milk – earthy flavor with thicker texture than milk, bordering on gritty

Healthy Cooking Substitute For –

Traditional Milk Use
Great substitute for basic consumption and makes an excellent thickener in smoothies and malts. I’ve noticed no difference in baking results when swapped with regular milk. The substitution reduces calories and lactose.

GroceryFlax, Almond, and Coconut milks can be found in the organic and regular dairy sections of grocery stores. My favorite is Blue Diamond Almond Coconut, but is difficult to find with regularity and is more common in Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s than a traditional grocer.

Tip – Different brands and types of milk may react differently in recipes (especially those calling for full -fat milks) so experiment and take note of texture and flavor changes.

Chia Seeds

Chia SeedsOverview – Chia has an earthy seed flavor and produces a viscous (gel -like) texture when combined with liquids for more than 5 minutes. One serving of chia seeds contains –
  • 100% more omega-3 fatty acids than salmon
  • 2x more antioxidants than blueberries
  • 6x more calcium than milk
  • 6x more iron than spinach
  • 41% of daily fiber.

Fiber and omega-3 fatty acids help regulate digestion and hunger, spikes in blood sugar, and artery inflammation. High levels of calcium and iron have been known to combat cancer cells and repair damaged DNA cells. At this point I’ll pause briefly to let you run to the grocery store or order some online…

Healthy Cooking Substitute For –

An egg substitute similar to flaxseed meal (1 TBSP chia + 3 TBSP water = 1 egg). Again, I love eggs but for vegan bakers the mixture should sit for around 15 minutes to become viscous.
Add in soups, sauces, oatmeal, yogurts, puddings, and smoothies to thicken. Substituting for starch as a thickener can eliminate gluten and reduce calories.
Chia can be an effective breadcrumb substitute in meatballs or as breading on baked meats. This will reduce gluten and refined carb intake.

Grocery – Chia seeds can be located in most grocery stores near the organic section and in health food stores. Swanson’s 100% Pure Chia Seed is a my favorite in terms of price and quality, but it’s tough to go wrong with Bob’s Red Mill.

Tip – Chia’s viscosity thickens the longer its combined with a liquid. Chia comes in both black and white seeds which are equal in nutrition and flavor, but some people find white seeds more visually appealing.

Protein Powders

Protein Powder
Overview – Protein powders are available in many forms and flavors and are a a convenient way to incorporate more protein into our daily diet. Protein powders are particularly useful for athletes and weight -lifters as it provides a concentrated source of protein without added fats, carbs, or sugars.
Healthy Cooking Substitute For –

Start by substituting ¼ of the traditional flour and continue to experiment. Replacing flour with protein powders increases satiety while replacing carbs and gluten.
Smoothies & Shakes
Make a smoothie or shake to curb a sweet tooth. Combining with fruit, milk, and ice will create a thick and creamy texture like ice cream. This substitution eliminates significant amounts of sugar, fat, and calories in traditional smoothies and shakes.
Mix protein with milk before adding to coffee or tea for a tasty awesome way to replace pure sugar with protein.

Grocery – Protein can be expensive and with so many different types and qualities of protein I shop online. Protein Pow is a great reference for learning how each protein powder might be used. I personally favor a creamier consistency for shakes so my favorite brand is Myofusion.

Tip – I’ve found Protein Pow to be the most comprehensive protein substitution website. When searching for flavor read reviews on Amazon, as those are generally the most honest. Last but not least, protein powder should not be a meal substitution, but a supplement to a healthy food-based diet.


QuinoaOverview – Quinoa is commonly found in black, white, red, and tricolor varieties and is  gluten free. Quinoa is a seed with a nutty flavor and rice texture and is the only grain with a complete protein profile (meaning it has all the amino acids necessary for our bodies to function properly). In addition, the high fiber, iron, and calcium content gives it an excellent nutrient profile.

Healthy Cooking Substitute For –

Quinoa flour can be made by grinding quinoa seeds into a flour substance or purchased. Substituted with regular flour, quinoa flour can boost the protein and fiber content while eliminating refined carb and gluten consumption.
Substitute for rice in chili, gumbos, and oriental dishes in a 1 – 1 ratio. This will reduce refined carb intake while increasing fiber and protein consumption.
Use cooked quinoa in breads and pancakes that call for oatmeal or substitute a regular oatmeal dish with quinoa to make a gluten -free alternative.

Grocery – Quinoa can be found in ethnic food isles, bulk bins, and organic sections of grocery stores. Certain brands produce a mushy and sticky quinoa, but I have found Trader Joe’s Organic TriColor Quinoa to be the best.

Tip – Rinse quinoa before cooking to remove its bitter coating. This can be a pain, but using a french press is a quick and convenient way to do this. Try preparing quinoa by adding spices and seasonings to the water for an enhanced flavor profile.

Coconut Oil

coconut OilOverview – Coconut oil has a subtle buttery coconut flavor and a unique fatty-acid structure. Comprised of medium chain triglycerides (MCT), coconut oil’s MCTs are quickly metabolized in the liver, producing ketone bodies (which help fight pathogens and protect the brain). In addition, the rapid break down means coconut oil is more likely to be used as energy and less likely to be stored as fat.
Healthy Cooking Substitute For –

Coconut oil provides a moist texture in baking recipes. Substitute in a 1 – 1 ratio for other fats such as oil, butter, and shortening.
The high smoke point makes this an ideal and forgiving oil for stir -fry cooking.
In salads, marinades, and sauces, coconut oil makes a great substitute with its subtle flavor, allowing the primary ingredient flavors to be more pronounced.

Grocery – Coconut oil is usually found in the organic section of grocers, but can be found with other cooking oils. Virgin coconut oil is believed to be optimal in terms of quality.

Tip – Coconut oil is solid at temperatures below 76°F so keep that in mind if using a MISTO.


CauliflowerOverview – Cauliflower has a semi -bitter and sulfurous flavor and is loaded with fiber, B vitamins, vitamins C, and K, beta carotene, and manganese, making it an antioxidant powerhouse. The cruciferous vegetable has been linked to several cancer-prevention studies for its anti-inflammatory properties and cancer-destroying enzymes.
Healthy Cooking Substitute For –

Mashed Potatoes
Boil and puree with garlic and herbs to make mashed potatoes with a fraction of the calories and carbohydrates.
Cauliflower can be ‘riced’ using a food processor or grater and substituted into fried rices and paellas. The ‘rice’ can also be used to make an amazing pizza crust
Creamy Sauces
Cauliflower puree can be substituted in sauces such as Alfredo to dramatically reduce the fat and calorie content. Experiment adding spices, herbs, and cheese to find the perfect flavor.

Grocery – Cauliflower is found in the produce isle of grocery stores, generally near its close family member broccoli. Brands vary, but select heads of cauliflower with a uniform color and firm feel.

Tip – Cauliflower contains high amounts of sulfur which may create intestinal discomfort if eaten in large quantities. Boiling and sauteing cauliflower in broth is a delicious and healthy way to prepare it.


PB2Overview – Made by removing the oil from the peanuts before being converted to a peanut butter powder, PB2 is my favorite substitute. In addition to 85% less fat and calories than traditional peanut butter, it eliminates significant amounts of additives and preservatives found in traditional peanut butter.

Healthy Cooking Substitute For –

Creamy Peanut Butter
Start by mixing 2 TBSP of PB2 with 1 TBSP of milk for a creamy peanut butter substitute with a fraction of the calories and fat.
Experiment adding PB2 to foods such as oatmeal, pancakes, whipped cream, cake, pie, cookies and other baked goods in place of the flour. Similar to previous flour substitutes, begin by replacing ¼ of the flour.
Smoothies and Shakes
Adding PB2 to my protein shakes is a healthy snack that curbs my peanut butter craving until the next meal.

Grocery – I’ve found PB2 at most grocery stores, but will order from Amazon in bulk.

Tip – PB2 comes in regular or chocolate peanut butter flavoring. It’s relatively new so experiment with different uses and please report back with recipes.

Have a Suggestion? Let Us Know!