We're always looking for ways to make our favorite foods healthier without sacrificing flavor. So we compiled a list of our best substitutions and discovered some new ones along the way. Below are our 67 (!) top picks, guaranteed to make that next meal a delicious, better-for-you hit. It wasn't easy taste-testing all this food, but someone had to. Amiright?
1. Black beans for flour
Swapping out flour for a can of black beans (drained and rinsed, of course) in brownies is a great way to cut out the gluten and fit in an extra dose of protein. Do it: When baking, swap out 1 cup flour for 1 cup black bean purée (about one 15-ounce can).
2. Gluten-free flour for wheat flour
This switch makes it possible for all of us to enjoy a rich baked good... even those of us who can't eat gluten. When you use gluten-free flour, you lose the stickiness, which helps bind the muffin, cake, or pizza together, so you'll need to throw in 1 teaspoon xanthan gum per cup of flour.
3. Quinoa for couscous
While couscous is made from processed wheat flour, quinoa is a whole-grain superfood packed with protein and nutrients. Bonus points: They have almost the exact same texture.
4. Zoodles for pasta noodles
Thin strips or ribbons of zucchini are a great stand-in for carb-packed pastas. Plus, it’s one excuse to skip the boiling—simply saute for a few minutes until soft.
5. Ground flaxseeds for bread crumbs
Crushing flaxseeds and mixing it with some herbs makes an easy, lower-sodium substitution for traditional bread crumbs.
6. Spaghetti squash for pasta
Roasted and pulled apart with a fork, spaghetti squash is a great low-carb substitute for pasta. One squash will make between two and three servings.
7. Lettuce leaves for tortilla wraps
It's not a perfect swap, but forgoing the carbs for fresh lettuce is a fun (and easy) switch that can lighten up any wrap or taco dish. Plus it provides a nice little crunch that the wrap doesn't.
8. Corn tortilla for flour tortilla
Who said gluten-free folks can't have tacos? Dig in.
9. Quinoa for oatmeal
Cooked with milk (cow, almond, hemp—whatever’s on hand) and some cinnamon, quinoa makes a perfect protein-packed hot breakfast. Pro tip: You can also easily find gluten-free oats, but we highly recommend trying quinoa for your morning meal.
10. Veggies for pita
Forget the pita. Fresh veggies work as killer dippers with hummus and contain fewer carbs plus more nutrients per bite. You can also use a large collard leaf to stuff your hummus, olives, and falafel.
11. Nuts for croutons
Every salad needs that extra crunch. But for a dose of healthy fats in place of bread, try some lightly toasted slivered almonds, pecans, or walnuts.
12. Unsweetened applesauce for sugar
Using applesauce in place of sugar can give the necessary sweetness without all that, well, sugar. Pro tip: You can sub sugar for applesauce in a 1:1 ratio, but for every cup of applesauce you use, reduce the amount of liquid in the recipe by 1/4 cup.
13. Natural peanut butter for reduced-fat peanut butter
While they may appear better than traditional Skippy or Jiff, reduced-fat versions of peanut butter can actually have more sugar—and an extra-long list of artificial additives—than the classics. Natural peanut butter (preferably unsalted) provides the same savory flavor without all the extra junk.
14. Seltzer water with citrus slice for soda
Instead of sugary sodas, opt for a glass of sparkling water with a few slices of citrus—grapefruit, lime, orange, and lemon all work well—for a little extra flavor.
15. Stevia for sugar
The natural sweetener stevia is up to 300 times sweeter than sugar, so a little goes a very long way. But watch the grocery bill—this fashionable sweetener can also cost up to five times as much as granulated sugar. Since it's so much sweeter, swap with caution: A recipe calling for 1 cup sugar should be swapped for 1 teaspoon liquid stevia (or about 2 tablespoons stevia powder).
16. Cacao nibs for chocolate chips
News flash: Those chocolate chips actually start out as cacao nibs—the roasted bits of cocoa beans that then get ground down and turned into chocolate. Opting for these unprocessed (or at least less-processed) morsels cuts out the additives and added sugar in chocolate while also delving out a healthy dose of antioxidants.
17. Vanilla extract for sugar
Cutting sugar in half and adding a teaspoon of vanilla as a replacement can give just as much flavor with significantly less (you guessed it) sugar. You can't sub this one in equal ratios, but next time you're whipping up some cookies, try cutting 2 tablespoons of sugar and adding an extra 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla extract.
18. Cinnamon for cream and sugar in coffee
Cutting out the cream and sugar in favor of a sprinkle of cinnamon can cut the sugar out completely. Plus, if warm and cozy had a flavor, this is exactly what it would taste like.
19. Unsweetened iced tea for juice
While delicious and convenient, bottled teas, juices, and sports drinks are packed with sugar. But you don't just want to drink plain water for the rest of your life either. The next time you're in the mood for something icy with a little flavor, opt for a home-brewed, unsweetened iced tea.
20. Plain yogurt with fresh fruit for flavored yogurt
Pre-flavored yogurts often come packed with extra sugar. To skip the sugar rush without sacrificing flavor, opt for plain yogurt (or better yet, plain Greek yogurt) and add fresh fruit and/or honey if you want that extra hint of sweetness.
21. Frozen or fresh fruits for canned fruit
Cut down on excess sugar and preservatives by choosing fresh or flash-frozen varieties.
22. Red wine for white wine
Red wine apparently offers health benefits unmatched by the white stuff, including cancer-fighting compounds and natural cholesterol checks. We’ll take it. But we’re not saying good-bye to WW forever.
23. Soda water for juice (as a mixer)
24. Soda water for tonic water
Yes, it’s clear and bubbly, just like soda water, but tonic water is actually full of sugar. Adding plain soda water and a pinch of lime gives almost the same taste with 32 grams less sugar per 12 ounces.
25. Unsweetened applesauce for butter
Don’t knock this one till you’ve tried it. The applesauce gives the right consistency and a hint of sweetness while keeping the dairy away. This works well in any sweet bread, like banana or zucchini, or in muffins—and even with pre-boxed mixes. On your first try, only try swapping out half the fat: A recipe using 1 cup butter would use 1/2 cup oil and 1/2 cup applesauce.
26. Avocado purée for butter
They’re both fats and have nearly the same consistency at room temperature, so if butter isn’t in your diet, try avocado instead… even in desserts. The creaminess and subtle flavor of the avocado lends itself well to the texture of fudge brownies and dark chocolate flavorings. Check out this recipe for perfect proportion guidelines. It can take some experimenting to get this swap perfect, but generally, using 1 cup avocado purée per cup of butter works.
27. Almond milk for dairy milk
Almond milk is so hot right now. Add it to your smoothie, froth it in your coffee, and make vegan hot chocolate. You’ll never miss that cow stuff.
28. Banana ice cream for ice cream
No milk, no cream, no sugar… but the same, delicious consistency. It’s simple: Freeze bananas, then purée.
29. Olive oil for butter
When you’re about to stir-fry your favorite vegetables, sauté in oil instead of butter to stick to your vegan diet.
30. Coconut milk for cream
Coconut milk is a great substitute for heavy cream in soups and stews. And don’t be turned off by the word “coconut”—it doesn’t taste like the sweetened shredded kind.
31. Nutritional yeast for cheese
The taste is cheesy, and the texture is comparable to flakes of Parmesan. Instead of topping that taco with cheddar, try a sprinkle of nutritional yeast for a dairy-free cheesy flavor.
32. Mashed bananas for baking fat
The creamy, thickening power of mashed (ripe!) banana acts the same as avocado in terms of replacing fat in baking recipes. One cup mashed banana works perfectly in place of 1 cup fat.
33. Prune purée for butter
In brownies and other dark baked goods, prune purée makes for a perfect butter substitute. Yes, seriously. Combine 3/4 cup prunes with 1/4 cup boiling water, and puree to combine. Sub in equal amounts in most dark baked good recipes.
34. Chia seeds for butter
These funny lookin' little seeds are good for more than just growing countertop pets. Combine 1 tablespoon chia seeds with 9 tablespoons water, let sit for 15 minutes, and you get a gel that's the perfect consistency to stand in for fat in baking recipes. One word of caution: Don't try to cut out all the fat with this substitute—it works best when subbing an equal amount of this mixture for half of the fat in a recipe.
35. Chia seeds for eggs
Surprise! Combining 1 tablespoon chia seeds with 1 cup water left to sit for 15 minutes yields a perfect 1-to-1 egg substitute for baking. (But we probably wouldn't suggest subbing chia for butter and eggs in the same recipe.)
36. Flax meal for eggs
This one's an old vegan trick. Mix 1 tablespoon ground flaxseeds (a.k.a. flax meal) with 3 tablespoons warm water and whisk with a fork to combine. Now let it sit in the fridge for 5-10 minutes before subbing for 1 egg in any baked recipe.
37. Herbs or citrus juice for salt
You heard it here first: Food doesn’t need to be salted to taste good. Fresh herbs and citrus juice can provide just as much flavor without the added risks of excess sodium intake.
38. Garlic powder for salt
Just like fresh herbs, garlic powder can provide a flavorful punch without adding sodium. A word of warning, though: Don't mistake garlic powder for garlic salt.
39. Low-sodium soy sauce for standard soy sauce
The taste is virtually the same, but choosing a low- or reduced-sodium variety can cut down sodium intake by nearly half.
40. Homemade salad dressing for bottled dressing
By making dressing from scratch at home, it's easy to cut out the added sugar, sodium, and preservatives typically found in premade dressings. Try mixing vinegar or lemon juice and oil in a 2:1 ratio and flavoring with spices such as rosemary, thyme, oregano, and pepper.
41. Sliced tomatoes for tomato sauce (on pizza)
Cut out the extra sodium, sugar, and preservatives by replacing jarred tomato sauce with fresh, sliced tomatoes. The texture is a bit different, but the flavor is much more vibrant and fresh.
42. Rolled oats for bread crumbs
While bread crumbs can pack extra sodium, using rolled oats seasoned with thyme and rosemary means you won’t be skimping on flavor at all.
43. Sweet potato fries for French fries
Opting for sweet potatoes rather than the traditional white adds an extra dose of fiber, and vitamins A, C, and B6. Plus, it cuts out roughly 20 grams of carbohydrates per 1-cup serving. Don’t write off white ones for good though, they still have some great health benefits too.
44. Kale chips for potato chips
Who would’ve guessed that a leafy green could make such delicious chips? When lightly tossed in olive oil and some seasoning (salt and pepper, paprika, or chili powder are our faves) and baked, these curly greens turn into a delightfully delicate, crunchy snack.
45. Unsalted nuts for salted in trail mix
The problem with most trail mixes? They pack in the sugar-filled, candy-coated chocolate, and dried fruit. Instead, make your own trail mix with unsalted nuts and dark chocolate bits that are lower in sugar and higher in antioxidants.
46. Popcorn for potato chips
Lower in fat, natural popcorn without pre-flavored seasonings is a great snack alternative to replace those oily, super-salty potato chips. Try made-at-home flavors by adding cinnamon, chili powder, or Parmesan.
47. Dark leafy greens for iceberg lettuce
All greens are not created equal. Darker greens usually mean more nutrients like iron, vitamin C, and antioxidants. Sorry, iceberg’s just not cutting it anymore—go out and get some grown-up greens.
48. Whole-wheat flour for white flour
In virtually any baked good, replacing white flour with whole-wheat can add a whole new dimension of nutrients, flavor, and texture. Because whole-wheat includes the outer shell of the grain, it also provides more fiber, which aids in digestion and can even lower the risk of diabetes and heart disease. Health benefits of dietary fiber. Anderson JW, Baird P, Davis RH. Nutrition reviews, 2009, Jul.;67(4):1753-4887.
49. Olive oil spray for olive oil from the bottle
Oil glugs out of the bottle, leading to overly greasy dishes. Using a spray bottle is a great way to cut down on oil while still getting the nonstick benefits. A little mist is all that’s needed.
50. Brown rice for white rice
When white rice is processed, the "brown" bran layer gets stripped away, cutting out essential nutrients (like fiber). Opt for brown rice for a fuller nutritional profile.
51. Turnip or cauliflower mash for mashed potatoes
Add in a different veggie to your standard dinner plate by using turnips or cauliflower (or both!) instead of white potatoes for a creamy mash. Add some fresh herbs in place of the salt, and it’s a much healthier stand-in. Got picky eaters at the table? Try mixing 1/3 potato, 1/3 cauliflower, and 1/3 turnips.
52. Grated steamed cauliflower for rice
Lighten up a carb-heavy dinner by replacing white rice with grated cauliflower. The texture and the taste are virtually the same, and that's really all that matters.
53. Whole-wheat bread for white bread
You've heard it all before, but we can't forget to mention this one. Whole-grain wheat beats out processed white with a complete nutrition profile and better flavor and texture.
54. Rolled oats for cereal
Chewy and a little crunchy, these guys are nothing like their cousins in the cereal aisle. While rolled oats are—literally—rolled into a flat grain; cereal is (usually) more processed with extra added sugar.
55. Greek yogurt for sour cream
Lighten up those taco toppings by opting for Greek yogurt instead of sour cream. You’ll never taste the difference, plus Greek yogurt offers an extra dose of lean protein.
56. Avocado mash for mayo
Half a mashed avocado is a great substitute for mayo on any sandwich. Both give some moisture, but avocado is avocado and it makes everything in life better. Oh, and it's full of healthy fats.
57. Greek yogurt for mayo
Add some herbs and a squeeze of lemon juice, and they’ll taste almost identical.
58. Puréed fruit for syrup
Both sweeten flapjacks or a nice whole-wheat waffle, but puréed fruit warmed on the stovetop packs less sugar than Aunt Jemima.
Cleaner Protein Swaps
59. Dry beans for canned beans
Canned beans are convenient, sure, but they also tend to have excess sodium and plenty of preservatives. Plus, even though the canned versions are dirt cheap, dried beans are even cheaper. It may take a little more work (just some simple soaking and boiling), but this switch is still worth it, especially when it comes to flavor.
60. Ground turkey for ground beef
Ground turkey (or chicken) is a great substitute for ground beef to cut down on saturated fat. Reminder: Because of the lower fat content, ground poultry often ends up drier than beef, but a few tablespoons of chicken stock can solve the problem in a snap.
61. White-meat, skinless poultry for dark-meat poultry
The biggest chicken debate to date: white meat vs. dark meat. And the white meat has it beat—lower in fat, higher in protein and iron. But oh, how we love that juicy dark meat.
62. Bison for beef
Higher in B vitamins and lower in fat, bison is a great substitute for the ol’ beefy standard (when available, of course).
63. Prosciutto or pancetta for bacon
Bacon is often the go-to for that smoky flavor in savory dishes (and even in some sweet ones). But opting for a few slices of prosciutto means you’re choosing a higher-quality meat.
64. Quinoa and ground turkey for rice and ground beef in stuffed peppers
More protein and antioxidants in the quinoa and less fat in the ground turkey make this an all-around healthier option for the popular side dish.
65. Oven or pan-frying for deep-frying
Yes, those chicken tenders are deliciously greasy, but foregoing the oil bath for just a misting of oil in a pan or oven makes it easy to cut fat without sacrificing flavor.
66. Steaming for boiling
While both are great options for meats and veggies, steaming is king because it removes fewer nutrients from vegetables. While boiling can leech out some of the better nutrients (hence why water turns green after boiling broccoli), steaming keeps all that green goodness inside the veggies.
67. Sauté in chicken broth instead of oil
While this won’t brown your vegetables as much as oil might, sautéing in chicken (or veggie) broth lightens up the dish while adding tons of flavor.
Originally published March 2013. Updated January 2017.