7 Delicious Plant-Based Ingredient Swaps That’ll Benefit Your Health and the Planet
These nutritious vegan substitutions won’t compromise the flavor or texture of your dishes (we promise).
For those looking to revamp their diet in the long term, plant-based eating is one of the most practical solutions for starting healthier eating habits. Not only is it better for your body—it's better for the planet, too. (Believe it or not, if everyone transitioned to a predominantly plant-based diet by 2050, food-related greenhouse gas emissions could be reduced by nearly 75 percent.)
The best way to start adopting a more plant-based meal regine is to eat less meat, especially red meat. Why? Because cattle are the top agricultural source of greenhouse gases worldwide—if cows were a country, they'd be the third largest greenhouse gas emitter on earth.
Every bit counts. To make sure your plant-based eating habits stick, many experts recommend avoiding going cold turkey overnight. Instead, easing into consuming fewer animal products and more sustainably-sourced plant foods will help ensure long-term success. Make vegetarian or vegan meals a mainstay several nights a week in your house, and start swapping in these delicious vegan alternatives whenever you can. Once you see how delicious your dishes will (still) taste, plant-based eating will be more appealing than ever.
Use cashew cream in place of sour cream, heavy cream, or yogurt in any recipe.
Cashew cream is dairy-free, rich, and incredibly creamy. It works as a delicious replacement for heavy cream-based sauces, like Alfredo, or cheesy dips, like queso or ricotta. It's also truly magic when paired with garlic or lemon juice and fresh herbs (you’ll want to drizzle it over everything). Slightly-sweetened cashew cream can take the place of whipped cream in non-dairy desserts, too. To make, simply soak cashews in water for a few hours to soften them. After draining, whirl them up in the blender with water and seasonings until creamy.
Cook with mushrooms or eggplant in place of red meat.
Both of these healthy vegetables have a naturally earthy, umami-rich flavor that makes them the perfect stand-in for red meat. Coat a portobello mushroom or thick slab of eggplant in plenty of olive oil and seasonings (such as garlic, fresh herbs, or chili flakes) then grill or sear them over high heat. Place on a burger bun with gochujang, harissa, or chimichurri, and you’ll wonder why you ever bothered with ground beef. You can also roast thin-sliced cremini mushrooms in the oven with plenty of olive oil, a hint of maple syrup, and liquid smoke for an addictive vegan bacon replacement. Our personal favorite application, however, are these Meatless Meatball Subs.
Try nutritional yeast in place of parmesan cheese.
Nutritional yeast (sometimes referred to as “nooch") is common in vegan and vegetarian dishes as a stand-in for cheese, thanks to its savory, umami-rich flavor. Like parm, it tastes delicious when sprinkled on everything from popcorn and baked potatoes to roasted cauliflower, tofu, kale salad, and pasta. The difference between them? Unlike parmesan cheese, nutritional yeast is packed with B vitamins, protein, minerals, and antioxidants.
Use jackfruit instead of pork or chicken.
Jackfruit comes from the jackfruit tree, which is a cousin of the fig tree, mulberry tree, and breadfruit family that grows in Southeast Asia. The texture of jackfruit is not dissimilar to a banana, mango, or pineapple in terms of being dense and fibrous, but the taste is quite distinctive. Many say a jackfruit has a flavor similar to pulled pork or shredded chicken, especially when cooked. Besides containing the typical mix of vitamins and minerals you'd find in most any fruit, jackfruit is a great source of magnesium, vitamin B6, and antioxidants. Try it slow-cooked with black beans and stuffed into tortillas, stirred into curries or chiles, or shredded over salad.
Swap out cow’s milk for oat milk, nut milk, or soy milk.
For anyone who is lactose intolerant, has a dairy allergy, is vegan, or just doesn’t like the taste of cow (or goat) milk, dairy-free milk substitutes are nothing new. To the rest, however, the options can be overwhelming. To make sure you’re choosing one that’s a healthy addition to your next cold brew, look at the sugar label. “Select brands that contain less than 5 grams per serving, or better yet, 0 grams of sugar, so that your milk substitute is not adding to your daily sugar intake,” recommends Marisa Silver, RD. We know oat milk, hemp milk, soy milk, and almond milk won’t let you down in the flavor department, and according to Silver, these are four of your healthiest options.
Use avocado or a vegetable-based spread instead of butter.
Avocado toast fans know what I’m talking about—buttered toast (as much as I love it) can’t come close. Customize yours with chili flakes and a squeeze of lemon. You can also spread avocado on baked potatoes, swirl it into pasta, or drop it into smoothies. And if you're looking to get into vegan baking, you've got endless options. Try a vegetable-based vegan spread instead of using dairy butter—you can substitute many of these alternatives one-for-one for butter in all your favorite recipes. You'll be cutting back on saturated fat by 25 to 40 percent, too.
Substitute silken tofu for mayonnaise and firm tofu for scrambled eggs.
Tofu—particularly the silken style, which has a softer consistency—is a great substitute for mayonnaise in creamy sauces or dressings that require a thickening agent, like ranch dressing. Tossing it into the blender will smooth it out into a velvety consistency. And unlike mayo, tofu is both vegan and packed with protein.
You can also use firm tofu as a delicious scrambled egg swap. Simply mash it with a potato masher, then gently sauté over medium heat with olive oil, veggies, and black garlic (yum) for three to four minutes until cooked through.
Swap coconut ice cream in for dairy ice cream.
Coconut milk can be used as a delicious vegan stand-in for heavy cream or milk in everything from savory sauces, soups, and curries to sweet smoothies, custards, and lattes. My personal favorite, however, is coconut ice cream. It’s widely available at your local grocery store (look for brands like Coconut Bliss, Van Leeuwen, Jeni’s Splendid, and So Delicious), but you can make it from scratch too. Simply whirl coconut milk with frozen bananas in your blender, and top with fresh fruit, nut butter, or more coconut for the most delectable dessert. Coconut is naturally great for your gut, and packed with antioxidants.