Navigating regimented diets and obscure ingredients can sometimes make healthy eating fall into the too-hard basket or difficult to maintain long-term. But with social platforms and the internet bursting with informative and accessible content around more nutritious eating, creative recipes, food substitutes and the benefits of tweaking your diet, we’re more educated than ever. Here, we share nine of our favourite alternatives that we think are better than the real deal.
1. The humble cauli
Underrated, understated and often misunderstood, cauliflower can add so much more to your plate than a cameo as a steamed side dish. Cauliflower can easily be subbed into many staples like mac ‘n’ cheese and rice and can even step up to be the hero of your dish in recipes like buffalo cauliflower wings or roasted cauliflower steaks. And if you haven’t tried baked cauli, you’re missing out!
Cauliflower is known as a heart-friendly vegetable thanks to its antioxidant compound sulforaphane. It is high in choline (a brain development hero), low in calories, and high in vitamins and fibre.
2. Opt for sweet potato
This gnarly-looking root veg is a fibrous, highly nutritious food full of vitamins and minerals. It’s a versatile veg to sub in place of its less nutrient-dense regular potato cousin – in things like curries, mash, homemade wedges or soups. Or embrace its subtle flavour and creamy texture in a more daring dish like sweet potato pancakes, fudgy sweet potato brownies, muffins or sweet potato pie.
3. It’s a date!
These small but mighty fruits are found on date palm trees and often act as a natural sweetener in raw food baking or as a sugar substitute in healthier baking recipes. While they’re still high in fructose, they are a rich source of protective plant compounds with antioxidant properties. Whether you opt for the king of dates – the Medjool – or your average supermarket dried date, you can eat them solo, elevate your snacking game with sweet or savoury stuffed dates, or try your hand at homemade bliss balls or pop a couple in your morning smoothie.
4. Have fun with fungi
Ah, Mushrooms. A fungus of great division. With a long history of medicinal benefits in the Chinese culture and revered as a ‘food of the gods’ in ancient Egypt, while we might not all agree on eating them, their impressive health benefits can’t be denied. They’re known to act as a prebiotic for supporting gut health, have cholesterol-lowering properties, decrease your risk of cancer, benefit your immune system and protect brain health.
Mushrooms are known for their meaty texture and are often used to substitute the real thing in dishes like Bolognese, burgers, kebabs, tacos or pâté. And if you feel like branching out from traditional supermarket varieties, try growing your own.
5. Tofu power
Tofu, also known as bean curd, hails from Han dynasty China thousands of years ago but exploded in popularity in the western world in the 1960s as healthy eating became a priority. Also used as imposter meat, tofu is an excellent source of all the good stuff and is an easy substitute in most meals. Its health benefits include being a source of complete plant protein and a food that’s packed full of powerful, protective antioxidants.
6. Go nuts
Nut allergy sufferers aside, these are a power-packed addition to your everyday food intake. They’re an incredible source of fibre, iron, minerals and vitamins, and oh so easy to incorporate into what you’re already eating. Sprinkle a handful over your salad instead of oil-laden croutons, grab a handful as a nutritious snack, add a few to your daily smoothie or try a new nutty recipe. From Brazil nuts to almonds, macadamias, pecans, pistachios or cashews, there’s a nut for every palette.
Keep in mind that not all nuts are created equal – choose raw, unsalted, unadulterated nuts to reap maximum health benefits.
7. Look at legumes
Move over amaranth and jackfruit; it’s time to take things back to basics and embrace good old-fashioned legumes. They prove that healthy eating doesn’t need to be expensive, and are full of plant-based protein, low in fat, filling and equally at home as a main attraction or as an addition to existing dishes.
Legumes include beans, peas, lentils and soy nuts and often come either dried or canned. And while they may have a reputation for their unwanted gaseous side effects, research has shown that this is short-lived as your body adjusts to an increased fibre intake.
8. Go loco on coco oil
From slathering it on as a moisturiser to stain removal, polishing wood, removing eye makeup and healing wounds, it seems there’s not much that coconut oil can’t be used for!
Known in the culinary world for its cooking properties at higher temperatures (which olive oil doesn’t tolerate), it can also easily be subbed in place of butter and margarine in plenty of recipes and has even been linked to weight loss. Its sweet, nutty flavour infuses a tropical taste to baking, and its high smoke point makes it a perfect non-stick addition to the frypan for weekend pancakes.
9. Dairy-less milk
Less of a trend, more of a movement, you’ll now often find a selection of plant-based milk available at your local café. While soy milk may have originated as a solution to dairy intolerance, we now see almond, oat, coconut, and rice milk lining supermarket shelves. Not only are most plant-based milks lower in fat and calories, but they’re enriched with other nutrients like calcium and vitamin D, free of the hormones in cow’s milk and benefit the environment through lower emissions and less land use.
It might take your taste buds some adjusting, but once they do, it’s an easy switch to make.
Satisfying snack swaps
Are you a serial snacker? Prep ahead and get armed with these four easy swaps when you’re looking for quick snack satisfaction:
- Sweet craving? Grab a handful of trail mix containing mixed nuts, seeds, and a few chunks of dark chocolate.
- Ice cream o’clock? Choose a chia pudding that you’ve prepared ahead, or make your own nice cream.
- Need a protein hit? Put down the cookie and choose whole-wheat crackers with nut butter or homemade roasted chickpeas.
- Fancy some fizz? Pour some soda water and add a slice of fresh lemon, cucumber or a few strawberries. There’s something about the satisfaction of fizzy soda on a hot day, but who says it needs to be sugar-laden?
Conscious consumption leads to long-term health benefits
Being more conscious of what you consume and subbing in healthier alternatives is an easy way to improve your diet without compromising on taste or making drastic changes that are tricky to maintain. It’s as simple as swapping out or adding in beneficial ingredients that you won’t even notice over time – who knows, some alternatives might become your new favourites!