What do we mean by food substitutions?

Have you ever been in the middle of making a recipe to soon realize that you don’t have an essential ingredient? Or what about when you have to eat for a medical condition, like watching your sugar for diabetes? These are two cases when food substitutes are incredibly important! In this blog, we’ll be discussing 5 small food substitutes that will help improve your nutrition and meet your needs. Stick around to the end for substitutes to help decrease sugar, improve heart health, and make vegan friendly. We even include information on food substitutions to use when you’re in a pinch but are missing an ingredient!

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Healthy Food Substitutions to meet Your Nutrition Goals:

These dietitian-approved food substitutions are dense in nutrients and have higher amounts of a variety of vitamins and minerals than their normal counterparts. These food swaps are especially handy if you have been recently diagnosed with diabetes and need to be more mindful about your carbs. Do you have heart disease and need to make sure you are eating healthy fats?  Or maybe you have a food sensitivity or food allergy? No need to fear, these grocery shopping and cooking tips will help you quickly and easily make a food substitution!


grocery shopping cart


Start with These 5 Fabulous Food Substitutions to Eat Healthier Without Dieting

healthy food substitutions

We have compiled a list of our favorite food substitutions and recipes to help “put your best fork forward” that work well to manage some medical conditions.

1. CAULIFLOWER can help manage diabetes

Cauliflower is delicious raw or roasted and can be transformed into so many things. Did it slip your mind to grab potatoes at the store? Mashed cauliflower is there for you as a potato substitute. Want to add some veggies to your pizza? Cauliflower pizza crust has your back. Or maybe you ran out of rice (oops). Cauliflower is there, yet again, to save the day! There are many health benefits of adding cauliflower to a dish too. As a cruciferous veggie, cauliflower adds heart-healthy fiber and can even support liver health! Also, if you have diabetes and are trying to manage your blood sugar, cauliflower can help you do that! Check out our recipes below.


Cauliflower and diabetes

Here are some of our favorite recipes using cauliflower as a food substitute:

shepherds pie low carb

Cauliflower Recipes

  • Fried rice – Substitute riced cauliflower for rice or mix it right into the rice for an added veggie! You can try this Earthly Choice cauliflower rice* for a quick fix.
  • Pizza – Use cauliflower to make the pizza crust. This is a great gluten-free pizza option if you can’t tolerate gluten.
  • Shepherd’s Pie – Use mashed cauliflower in place of potatoes. This is a great option if you need to reduce your potassium intake with CKD. You can also mix mashed potato with mashed cauliflower as a hybrid mashed potato.

2. ZUCCHINI can help lower your blood sugar

Have you heard of zoodles? They are noodles made out of zucchini and can be made using a spiralizer*. If you don’t have a spiralizer, you can use a veggie peeler, it may just take a bit more effort. Not only can it be used to substitute spaghetti noodles but also for wide noodles in lasagna. If you shred zucchini it can be used as a hashbrown substitute! Just like cauliflower, zucchini can be easily be incorporated into dishes to increase fiber and reduce the total carb amount in a meal to allow for more stable blood sugars.


Zucchini and diabetes

Here are some of our favorite recipes using zucchini as a food substitute:

Diabetes Management zucchini hash browns

Zucchini Recipes

  • Lasagna – Layer thinly sliced zucchini with (or instead of) lasagna noodles. This is a great way to use up those summer veggies!
  • Spaghetti – Mix spiralized zucchini noodles into your spaghetti noodles for more fiber! There are some fancy spiralizers out there like this one from the Spiralizer brand*, which you can get more variety from, or this simple handheld spiralizer from OXO*.
  • Hash browns – Shredded zucchini can be used to make hash browns as a way to add veggies to your brunch menu.
  • Enchiladas – Mix shredded zucchini with your enchilada filling!

3. GREEK YOGURT can help manage your heart disease

Greek yogurt is so versatile. It can be used in so many recipes or as a topping. If you don’t have sour cream but have a tub of plain Greek yogurt, you should try using the yogurt as a substitute! It gives you that same tang with a bit of creaminess. You can also use it as a spread if you’re out of cream cheese for your bagel or as a base for your dips! If you’re baking, you can substitute plain Greek yogurt in a 1:1 ratio for sour cream, oil, or buttermilk. You can even use 1/4 cup of Greek yogurt in place of an egg if you realize you used the last one for breakfast that morning. From a nutrition perspective, Greek yogurt adds protein and a creamy texture! You can purchase yogurt in a variety of fat contents, depending on your nutrition needs. If you’re using it as a spread, you can even try different flavors.


greek yogurt heart disease

Here are some of our favorite recipes using Greek yogurt as a food substitute:

Diabetes Management zucchini hash browns

Greek Yogurt Recipes

  • Schmears/Spreads – Smear Greek yogurt on a piece of toast or a bagel. It’s delicious with fruit and nut butter on top!
  • Dollop it on – Add plain Greek yogurt to chili, baked potatoes, or quesadillas. 
  • Dip it – Use it for a variety of dressings and dips, like this Greek yogurt ranch dip or lemon dill dip

4. WHOLE GRAIN FLATBREAD can help your digestion

Why are we including whole grain flatbread as a food substitute? It’s because flatbread can be used in so many dishes! Maybe you’re craving pizza but all you have are a couple of tortillas in your pantry and you do not want to make a whole crust from scratch. Flatbread to the rescue! They can also be used as a crust for mini quiches or, if you find yourself with extra dip but no chips, all you have to do is cut and bake a flatbread and you have homemade chips! If you’re using them as a substitute for white flour flatbreads, the whole grains offer a great way to incorporate more fiber which can help digestion and feed your good gut bacteria!


Flatbread is a good food substitute

Here are some of our favorite recipes using whole grain flatbread as a food substitute:

Gluten and Dairy Free Breakfast

Whole Grain Flatbread Recipes

  • Quiche – Cut out circles from the flatbread and place in a muffin tin, add egg mixture, and bake to create mini quiches!
  • Pizza – spread tomato sauce, cheese, and your favorite fixings on flatbread then bake until melty and delicious. It’s super easy and is a quick pizza option!
  • Chips – Cut flatbread into pieces, spray with cooking spray, and bake until crisp. Dip in hummus or guacamole for a tasty snack.

5. SILKEN TOFU can help you boost your protein

Okay, this is something you might not have on hand but I had to include it because I love using silken tofu in desserts and smoothies. Adding silken tofu not only gives you a boost of protein but helps make everything super smooth and creamy – you’d never think you were eating tofu! Tofu is a soy product which means it contains phytoestrogens. Phytoestrogens help support happy hormones!


tofu scramble

Here are some of our favorite recipes using silken tofu as a food substitute:

tofu food substitute

Silken Tofu Recipes

  • Smoothies – Use silken tofu as a source of protein in your smoothies.
  • Chocolate pudding – Use silken tofu to add protein and a creamy texture to your chocolate mousse or pudding!
  • Tofu scramble – Use tofu instead of scrambled eggs.

Experimenting in the kitchen can be fun for the whole family! Regardless of what ingredients you use, the important part is to get cooking and have fun!

Bonus Food Substitutions

Because we are on a roll, here are some more healthy food swaps divided by nutrition goals.

cranberry recipes

Food Substitutes to decrease sugar:


  1. Flavored seltzer water like Spindrift* or La Croix* instead of regular soda as a food substitute to decrease sugar.
  2.  Mocktails instead of sugary alcoholic cocktails.
  3. Plain greek yogurt with fresh fruit on top instead of pre-sweetened yogurt.
anti-inflammatory mocktail recipes

Food Substitutes for vegans:


  1. Flax eggs are a vegan egg substitute for eggs used in baking.
  2. Tofu can be a protein substitute for tofu curry.
  3. White beans can be a protein substitute in vegan bean burgers.
hummus recipe

Food Substitutes for heart health:


  1. Hummus instead of ranch dressing.
  2. Mashed avocado for mayonnaise in tuna salad.
  3. Mushroom blend for beef and mushroom burger.
  4. Greek yogurt for mayo in coleslaw.

If you ran out of an ingredient for a recipe, see if you can use one of these food substitutes!

Looking for food substitutions because of a shopping mistake?

We’ve all been there… you just got back from the grocery store and realize you forgot to grab a new jar of mayo. Or you started a recipe and go to grab the cream only to realize you don’t have any! Luckily, there are plenty of food substitutions when you find yourself in this pickle – some of them even have a healthy twist to them! You might even learn that you love these substitutions so much that you end up using it more than the original counterpart.

Here is a comprehensive list of food substitutions from missing ingredients in your pantry.

We like Alice Henneman, MS, RD from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln list of basic ingredient substitutions.

Even More Tips for Healthful Eating

How do these substitutions tie into nutrition guidelines? Well, let’s take a quick look at some tips for healthful eating from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics:

  1. Include a variety of your favorite, nutritious foods.
  2. Try cooking more at home and experiment with new, fun ingredients.
  3. How much we eat is as important as what we eat. Eat and drink the right amount for you, as MyPlate encourages us to do.
  4. Find activities that you enjoy and be physically active most days of the week.
  5. Consult a registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN), who can provide sound, easy to follow, personalized nutrition advice to meet your lifestyle, preferences, and health-related needs. 

We hope we inspired you to experiment with new ingredients. Different foods provide us with different nutrients, different amounts of fiber, and serve different purposes. With simple additions, you can add more variety to our favorite dishes! Not only is including variety good for our bodies but it can also be fun to try out new things.

*Disclaimer: the taste of these healthier ingredients might taste a bit different than what you are accustomed to, we hope you like them as much or even more than your typical choice.

Let us know what you think of these ingredient swaps and recipes!


Looking for more mealtime and recipe inspiration? Check out some of these blogs!


If you would like help getting back in the kitchen, make an appointment with one of our culinary nutritionists today by clicking here or calling 301-474-2499. Our dietitians are here to help you every step of the way.  We can help you transition to foods that will help you meet your nutrition goals.


-Blog contributions by Kaitlin Williams Eckstein, MPH, RDN, LDN

Rebecca Bitzer loves to empower Registered Dietitian Nutritionists (RDNs) and their clients.  Co-author of Welcome to the Rebelution: Seven steps to the nutrition counseling practice of your dreams and  Taste the Sweet Rebellion: Rebel against dieting.