The entire Academy of Culinary Nutrition curriculum is focused on teaching our students how to make every bite count. Sure, getting into the kitchen and whipping up tasty dishes is ultra-fun, but we also want every recipe our students create to be packed with the most nutrient-dense and nourishing ingredients on the planet. That’s where Culinary Nutrition swaps come in.
There are a lot of junky foods out there, from the refined white flours and sugars that throw our blood sugar out of balance to the GMO-laden vegetable oils that activate our immune systems and cause inflammation.
And when you’re first stepping onto the health train, it can be difficult to figure out what you can use to replace your familiar cooking standbys. That’s why we wanted to share our favourite culinary nutrition swaps, along with a handy infographic of healthy substitutions you can download.
So whether you’re searching for a substitute for coffee, margarine, bread crumbs, dairy milk, cooking spray, or enriched white pasta, we’ve got a load of ideas that are not only delicious but offer you a ton of nutritional kapow.
Check out our absolute favourite culinary nutrition swaps below – and download for more!
9 Amazing Culinary Nutrition Swaps
Instead of Potato Chips: Try Kale Chips or Sweet Potato Chips
Conventional potato chips are typically deep-fried in oils that can be detrimental to our health, not to mention they are void of nutrition. Instead, try kale chips, which are jam-packed with nutrients including antioxidants, healthy fats, fibre, anti-cancer compounds, amino acids, anti-inflammatory phytochemicals, blood-building minerals, and an array of vitamins and minerals. They’re a great way to get in those dark leafy greens and are very easy to make – here are 8 kale chip recipes for you to try.
If kale chips seem too far off the beaten path, sweet potato or yam chips are a fantastic option. They have that carb-y, slightly sweet taste and contain antioxidants that support eye health, Vitamin C for immunity, and anti-inflammatory compounds. In fact, you could use many root vegetables to make chips!
Instead of Margarine: Try Ghee or Coconut Oil
Margarine is made of highly refined, pro-inflammatory vegetable oils. As oils are liquid, companies use a process called hydrogenation to transform them into a spreadable ‘butter’. This process creates trans fats, which our bodies are unable to recognize. Trans fats are linked to serious health conditions such as high cholesterol, heart disease, and cancer. You can read more about how to choose healthy cooking oils here, and the difference between margarine and butter here.
Ghee is your best bet and replicates the flavour and texture of butter closely. Ghee can help to nourish the cells of the gut lining, reduce our cardiovascular disease risk, and can help with healthy weight management. Discover 20 ways to use ghee in your cooking and baking – it’s versatile!
For a vegan option, we like to swap in coconut oil in cooking and baking. It’s easy to digest, helps to balance blood sugar, has anti-microbial and anti-bacterial properties, and can help nourish the nervous system. And the other parts of the coconut have a similar effect!
Instead of Table Salt: Try Unrefined Salt
Iodized salt (table salt) has been highly processed and stripped of its minerals, and then fortified with iodine and infused with anti-caking agents to prevent clumping. These anti-caking agents can contain ingredients that are linked to cancer and neurological diseases.
Salt, which is an excellent preservative and has an addictive quality, is used in a wide variety of processed foods to extend shelf life and amp up flavours. It’s this excess of sodium that can lead to health issues (along with some of the additional perils of ingredients in processed foods). You can read more about the dangers of table salt here.
On the other hand, whole and unrefined salts can be a flavourful and healthful addition to your food. Grab our guide to salt here, where we break down the common types of salts and how you can use them in your cooking.
Instead of White Bread: Try Whole Grain Gluten-Free Bread
Most commercial breads on the market have their grains stripped, the nutrient-rich bran and germ, leaving only the starchy endosperm. To make up for the loss of nutrients, breadmakers then fortify what’s left with artificial vitamins, minerals, proteins, and fats, along with preservatives to make the bread more shelf-stable. Then there’s the gluten, which can be difficult to digest and can cause inflammation – learn more about the health effects of gluten here.
Note that gluten-free breads can still be refined, and made with plenty of starches and sugars. That’s why we opt for whole-grain gluten-free breads, sprouted gluten-free breads, or gluten-free sourdough. Grab our favourite gluten-free bread recipes here – and here are more bread-free alternatives you can try.
Instead of Coffee: Try Dandelion Root, Dandy Blend, Herbal Teas or Herbal Coffee Alternatives
The caffeine in coffee can disrupt our hormone balance, particularly our stress hormones and the hormones that balance blood sugar levels. Coffee can also disturb our sleep. Plus, it’s important to consider that most people are adding a lot of sugar and milk to their coffees to make them more palatable, and/or having them alongside a pastry.
There are several coffee alternatives that we enjoy. Dandy Blend, a gluten-free herbal coffee alternative, closely resembles the taste of coffee. You can also discover other brands of coffee alternatives, most of which use dandelion root. Herbal teas are a fantastic substitute for coffee, or you can sip on a delicious dairy-free elixir or dairy-free hot chocolate.
Instead of Peanut Butter: Try Almond Butter or Sunflower Seed Butter
Peanuts grow underground and are very susceptible to a fungus called Aspergillus, which is a source of aflatoxins – aflatoxins can be toxic and highly carcinogenic. Some studies have shown links between aflatoxins and liver cancer, impairment of growth in children after weaning, and even developmental delays. Peanuts are also very high in omega-6 fats, which many of us are getting too much of – and when we consume excessive amounts of omega-6s, they can turn pro-inflammatory.
If there aren’t nut allergies, almond butter (or basically any nut butter) is a good replacement. For those with nut allergies, sunflower seed butter can replicate peanut butter in many recipes (though note that it doesn’t taste exactly the same!). Tahini or pumpkin seed butter would also work.
Instead of Dairy Milk: Try Nut or Seed Milk, Rice Milk, Oat Milk or Coconut Milk
Dairy products can trigger a wild variety of symptoms, including digestive difficulties, allergies, skin conditions, and more. For more about the health impacts of dairy, listen to our podcast Is Dairy Helpful or Harmful? Exploring Truth and Myths – and learn how to eliminate it from your diet using these tips.
Most dairy-free milks can be swapped 1:1 in recipes. Learn how to make your own nut or seed milk (it’s super easy!), which you can blend using nuts, seeds, grains like rice or oats, or shredded coconut.
If you’re a baking fanatic, learn how to substitute for dairy in your baking here.
Instead of Milk Chocolate: Try Organic Dark Chocolate or Raw Cacao
Aside from the dairy content of milk chocolate, it is typically loaded with sugar and may not be made with chocolate that is environmentally sustainable or fair to the workers that grow the cocoa beans.
Instead, try an organic fair-trade dark chocolate or cacao powder. Cacao is packed with nutrition, including magnesium for relaxation, iron for energy levels, fibre for digestive health, and antioxidants. Cacao has also been well-studied for its impact on mood. Learn more about the health benefits of chocolate – and all the different ways you can enjoy it – in our complete guide to chocolate.
Instead of Corn Syrup: Try Raw Honey, Maple Syrup, Coconut Syrup or Molasses
High fructose corn syrup places an extra burden on the liver and is linked to diabetes, insulin resistance, liver diseases, and obesity.
For sweetness in your recipes, try a natural sweetener like honey, coconut syrup, maple syrup, or molasses instead. While these are also sugar, they are less refined and contain more nutrients. Learn all about natural sweeteners and how to best use each of them and check out our guide to honey.
You won’t miss your old standbys when these culinary nutrition swaps are on the scene!