Plant-Based Food Tips: Healthy Recipe Substitutions - Nutrition (2024)

Whether you’re an experienced chef or completely new to cooking for a whole food, plant-based diet, you’re likely to find many instances when recipe substitutions are necessary. Thankfully, there are plenty of substitutions plant-based eaters can make instead of using animal products, added salt, sugar, or oil. If you can master these versatile plant-based ingredients, cooking and baking will be a breeze.

Meat, fish, or poultry: There are many vegan meat substitutes available today, including hotdogs, hamburgers, chicken nuggets, deli meat, and more. We recommend that you stay away from heavily processed fake meat products that contain isolated proteins (i.e., soy protein isolate) and added oils, but there are many other excellent options.

Coarsely ground or mashed beans like chickpeas, white beans, and black beans make a great sandwich and burrito fillings. Adding cooked bulgur to your soups, stews, marinades, tacos, and casseroles gives them a ground meat texture. It absorbs flavors well, so try seasoning it with any flavor. You can use portobello mushrooms and eggplant instead of grilled meats, burgers, or steaks.

Eggs: Chickpea flour makes a good omelet, and aquafaba is a good choice for recipes that call for egg whites, like mousse and meringue. Try skillet-cooked crumbled tofu with spices and vegetables to create a “scrambled-like” egg substitute. In dishes where eggs are usually used for binding, you can use rolled oats, cooked oatmeal, bread crumbs, instant potato flakes, nut butters, or tomato paste.

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Milk: There are many varieties and flavors of non-dairy milks made from soy, rice, almond, hemp, etc. Read the label and choose products with no added sugar or oils.

Cheese: There are many cheese substitutes made from soy, rice, almond, hemp, and other ingredients. We recommend that you stay away from heavily processed “fake cheese” products that contain isolated proteins (i.e., soy protein isolate) and added oils. In some recipes, you can also use tofu, nut butter, or nutritional yeast to add a cheesy flavor. Soaked and blended raw cashews are helpful for the creamy/cheesy part of plant-based dishes. Finally, you can use miso, tamari, or tahini to replace cheese-flavored ingredients.

Sugar, honey, or other sweeteners: When it comes to a whole food plant-based lifestyle, refined sugars, like high fructose corn syrup and white sugar, are off the table. These are heavily processed and devoid of nutrients and fiber. Go for whole food sources of sugar like date sugar, date paste or syrup, dried fruits, fruit purées like unsweetened applesauce, and mashed bananas. (To make date paste, just blend 1 cup of pitted dates with 1 cup of water until smooth.)

Butter, Shortening, Fats and Oils: You can use vegetable stocks, water, or other liquids for sautéing or frying. When preparing salad dressings, use a base of vegetable stock, water, or vinegar instead of oil.

When fats and oils are called for in baking recipes, one of the best substitutes is date paste or unsweetened applesauce. Puréed pumpkin, bananas, and other fruits will work in some recipes, but they can change the flavor of the finished product.

Salt: There are many granulated spices you can use instead of salt to season your meal, such as onion, parsley, and garlic. Other substitutes include fresh onion, garlic, lemon juice, salsa, and hot sauces. Several salt substitutes on the market do not contain salt. Choose low-sodium soy sauce or tamari in recipes that call for them.

Plant-Based Food Tips: Healthy Recipe Substitutions - Nutrition (1)

Meat Substitutes

Beans, peas, and lentils are high-fiber protein sources that you can easily use as a main course or instead of meat in recipes.
Veggie Burgers
Made from various plant foods, including beans, vegetables, and grains.
Made from fermented soybeans, tempeh has a meaty texture that can be used instead of ground meat; it works well in curries, chilis, and stir-fries.
Made from soybeans, tofu has a mild taste and absorbs the flavor of any recipe.
Portobello Mushrooms
With a savory flavor, mushrooms can be used in place of grilled meats, burgers, or steaks.

Plant-Based Food Tips: Healthy Recipe Substitutions - Nutrition (2)

Dairy Substitutes

Unsweetened almond, oat, hemp, soy, hazelnut, or rice milk.
Soymilk, coconut milk, mashed potatoes, pureed garbanzo beans, aquafaba (liquid from canned beans), soaked and blended cashews, puréed tofu
Nutritional yeast, soaked and blended cashews or almonds, puréed tofu, or miso. You can also use store-bought brands with no added oils or protein isolates.
Mix 1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar or lemon juice with 1 cup of non-dairy milk.
Unsweetened, non-dairy varieties.
Ice Cream
Place frozen fruit like bananas and strawberries with a few dates and a bit of liquid in the blender for “nice cream.”

Plant-Based Food Tips: Healthy Recipe Substitutions - Nutrition (3)

Egg Substitutes

Baking—1 egg is equal to:
¼ cup silken tofu blended
1 tbsp ground flaxseed meal + 3 tbsp water
½ mashed banana
¼ cup applesauce or puréed fruit
¼ cup cooked oats
½ cup unsweetened non-dairy yogurt
Cooking—1 egg is equal to:
¼ cup mashed potato or sweet potato
¼ cup cooked oats
2-3 tbsp. tomato paste
½ cup unsweetened non-dairy yogurt
Scrambled eggs
Skillet-cooked crumbled tofu with spices and vegetables
Egg Whites
Use Aquafaba (the liquid from canned chickpeas)

Plant-Based Food Tips: Healthy Recipe Substitutions - Nutrition (4)

Oil Substitutes

Water, vegetable broth, or vinegar.
Unsweetened applesauce, puréed pumpkin, bananas and other fruit, date paste.
Salad Dressings
Vinegar, low-sodium soy sauce, and lemon juice can all be used as bases for dressings.

Pick out of a few of your favorite recipes and try just one substitution at a time until you find the right combination for you and your family. Remember…be creative and experiment. Keep your taste buds and thoughts open as you create and enjoy new delicious plant-based meals!

Copyright 2024 Center for Nutrition Studies. All rights reserved.

Plant-Based Food Tips: Healthy Recipe Substitutions - Nutrition (2024)


What are the health benefits of a plant-based diet? ›

Research shows that plant-based diets are cost-effective, low-risk interventions that may lower body mass index, blood pressure, HbA1C, and cholesterol levels. They may also reduce the number of medications needed to treat chronic diseases and lower ischemic heart disease mortality rates.

What are 5 plant-based foods? ›

Leafy greens, broccoli, carrots, Brussel sprouts, cauliflower, sweet potatoes, squash, bell peppers, cucumbers…the more, the merrier! Whole grains: many whole grains are a vital source of protein and fiber. Oats, quinoa, brown rice, amaranth, and bulgur are hearty and satisfying options.

What is the PBWF diet? ›

A PBWF diet involves eating plant foods and is arguably a less rigid version of veganism. Plant based means the majority of your calories come from plants including the main plant based food groups: Whole grains – quinoa, barley, brown rice, oats, whole wheat etc. Legumes – beans, chickpeas, black beans, lentils etc.

Is plant-based actually healthy? ›

Most adults can benefit from a plant-based diet. Research shows plant-based diets may prevent and treat chronic diseases and reduce dependence on medications. If you suffer from a digestive disease, consult your doctor prior to changing your diet.

What is the healthiest bread for plant-based diet? ›

The Best Vegan Bread You Can Buy at the Grocery Store
  • Ezekiel 4:9 Sprouted Whole Grain Bread. Read More. ...
  • Dave's Killer Bread. Read More. ...
  • Brownberry Oatnut Bread. Read More. ...
  • La Brea Bakery's French Baguette. ...
  • Rudi's Rocky Mountain Sourdough. ...
  • Angelic Bakehouse's Sprouted Whole Grain Bread. ...
  • What to Look for When Buying Vegan Bread.
Mar 27, 2024

Can I eat eggs on a plant-based diet? ›

Eggs can and should be part of a plant-based diet, and these five suggestions showcase how easy it is to incorporate the incredible egg into your plant-forward dishes.

What happens to your body when you start eating plant-based? ›

Eating a plant-based diet improves the health of your gut so you are better able to absorb the nutrients from food that support your immune system and reduce inflammation. Fiber can lower cholesterol and stabilize blood sugar and it's great for good bowel management.

Are potatoes plant-based? ›

The definition of a plant-based diet can depend on who you ask. Generally, it is an eating style that emphasizes real, whole foods that come from plants, including: Vegetables: kale, spinach, tomatoes, cauliflower, potatoes, squash, etc. Whole grains: brown rice, oats, quinoa, barley, etc.

What is a 100% plant-based diet? ›

Plant-based or plant-forward eating patterns focus on foods primarily from plants. This includes not only fruits and vegetables, but also nuts, seeds, oils, whole grains, legumes, and beans. It doesn't mean that you are vegetarian or vegan and never eat meat or dairy.

What's the best plant protein? ›

The following healthful, plant-based foods have a high-protein content per serving:
  1. Tofu, tempeh, and edamame. Share on Pinterest Soy products such as tofu, tempeh, and edamame are among the richest sources of protein in a vegan diet. ...
  2. Lentils. ...
  3. Chickpeas. ...
  4. Peanuts. ...
  5. Almonds. ...
  6. Spirulina. ...
  7. Quinoa. ...
  8. Mycoprotein.

What plant has highest protein? ›

Here, we've ranked 20 of the highest-protein veggies, legumes, and minimally processed meat alternatives, like tempeh, for your convenience.
  • 1) Organic Edamame. Protein: 18 g per 1-cup serving (cooked) ...
  • 2) Organic Tempeh. ...
  • 3) Organic Tofu. ...
  • 4) Lentils. ...
  • 5) Black Beans. ...
  • 6) Lima Beans. ...
  • 7) Peanuts or Peanut Butter. ...
  • 8) Wild Rice.
Aug 23, 2017

Is peanut butter on a plant-based diet? ›

The bottom line. Most types of peanut butter are free of animal products and can be enjoyed as part of a vegan diet. However, some varieties are made in facilities that also process animal products or contain refined sugar that was produced using bone char or non-vegan ingredients like honey or fish oil.

How do you set up a plant-based diet? ›

Use salad as a base.

Add a variety of other vegetables and plant-based options like fresh herbs, peas, tofu, or beans. Eat whole grains for breakfast. Start your day with quinoa, oatmeal, buckwheat, or barley. Add some nuts, seeds, and fresh fruit to make a tasty meal.

What are plant-based foods to eat everyday? ›

Here are some tips to get started with a plant-based diet: Fill half your plate for meals and snacks with non-starchy vegetables and fresh fruits, such as leafy greens, carrots, peppers, broccoli, cauliflower, berries, grapes, apples, pears and melons.

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