5 Healthy Recipe Substitutions [Plus Free PDF]

If you want some simple and healthy recipe substitutions when cooking and baking, look no further. There are ways you can make almost any recipe more heart healthy by using recipe ingredient substitutions.

Preparing all or most of your meals at home is one technique for managing dietary intake of nutrients. You have total control over the ingredients and the amount of each ingredient you add to recipes.

Included in this article are two free PDF handouts, click either of the links below to take you to them. And let me know in the comments if you find them helpful!

>Free 3-page list of herbs and spices<

>Free heart healthy recipe substitutions pdf handout<

Why Do We Need to Substitute Ingredients?

If you have heart issues and eat high fat or high sodium foods often, then you’ve likely been told by your physician to make some changes in your dietary habits. Using recipe substitutions when cooking is a great way to add nutrients to recipes and eliminate the things your heart does not need.

Small changes can lead to big results when it comes to heart health benefits. Let me help explain 5 common recipe substitutions below along with a brief explanation of how each substitution may help prevent heart disease. I hope you enjoy learning why these are all great substitutions to make and get inspired to try some of these soon!

5 Common Recipe Substitutions

#1: Whole Grains in Place of Refined Grains

Easy substitutions to make any recipe more heart healthy. Substitute wheat pasta for refined pastas.
Substitute whole wheat pasta for
refined pastas.

The main difference between whole grains and refined grains is in the amount of processing the grain goes through. Whole grains are less processed and therefore contain more components (and nutrients) from the original plant.

On average, whole grains provide more protein, B vitamins, fiber, iron, magnesium, and selenium than their refined counterparts. This is because refined grains go through more processing, removing the bran and germ parts of the plant. This results in a finer texture and longer shelf life. However, it strips the product of valuable nutrients.

Diets rich in whole grains have been known to help lower risk of heart disease, including total and low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol levels. Because of this, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and the American Heart Association recommend replacing refined carbohydrates with more whole grains (1).

#2: Low Fat Dairy Products in Place of Full Fat Dairy

Easy substitutions to make any recipe more heart healthy.  Substitute low fat dairy products for full fat dairy products.
Substitute low fat or nonfat dairy products for full fat dairy products.

Switching out full fat dairy products in cooking and baking for lower fat versions may also be a great choice for heart health. This can be anything from replacing the regular sour cream on your baked potato with a low fat version, to substituting almond milk for whole milk.

Many dietary guidelines recommend limiting dairy fat consumption in order to lower saturated fat intake and heart disease risk.

The American Heart Association recommends including mostly low fat and nonfat dairy sources.

However, some recent studies suggest that dairy fat does not increase risk of cardiovascular disease. In fact, the study states that the more fatty acids participants had in their blood or fat tissue, the lower the risk of cardiovascular disease appeared to be (2).

There were limitations to this study, however. More research need to be done in order to fully define the relationship between full fat dairy and heart disease risk. Currently, we cannot say that this justifies switching completely to full fat dairy products.

Overall, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics still recommends limiting overall saturated fats in your diet.

Here are some substitutions to try that will help you limit saturated fat:

Instead of:Try This:
Whole MilkFat free or low-fat milk, plant-based milk alternatives
MayonnaiseReduced fat, plain, Greek yogurt or plant-based yogurt
CheeseReduced fat or low sodium cheese or plant-based cheese alternatives
Cream CheeseFat free or Neufchatel cheese or pureed low-fat cottage cheese

#3: Applesauce in Place of Vegetable Oil

Easy substitutions to make any recipe more heart healthy.  Substitute applesauce for vegetable oil when making baked goods.
Substitute applesauce for vegetable oil when making baked goods.

You may have noticed on some boxes of cake mix, muffin mix, or bread mixes that there is a healthier recipe suggestion using applesauce in place of the vegetable oil.

Substituting applesauce for oil is recommended mainly in baked goods recipes, including muffins, cakes, and cookies. This is an easy and healthy baking substitution for a few reasons.

First, by using unsweetened applesauce, which is preferred over sweetened applesauce, you are avoiding added sugars. Unsweetened applesauce contains naturally occurring sugars that are already slightly sweet. This reduces the need to use the full amount of sugar in your recipe.

Second, applesauce will keep your baked good moist without adding any saturated fat.

And third, applesauce contains less calories per cup than oil. So, you would save on overall calorie intake as well.

For reference, 1/2 cup of vegetable oil is 883 calories, 0 gm carbohydrates, 103 gm total fat, and 15 gm of saturated fat.

In comparison, 1/2 cup of unsweetened applesauce is only 50 calories, 12 gm carbohydrate, 0 gm total fat, and 0 gm of saturated fat.

Overall you will save a whopping 833 calories, 103 gm of fat, and 15 gm of saturated fat when substituting 1/2 cup applesauce for 1/2 cup vegetable oil.

#4: Herbs and Spices in Place of Salt and Salt Seasonings

Easy substitutions to make any recipe more heart healthy.  Substitute herbs and spices for salt or salt seasonings.
Substitute herbs and spices for salt or salt seasonings.

I LOVE using and encouraging the use of herbs and spices in cooking to replace salt or salt blends.

Research shows that there is a significant relationship between dietary sodium intake and cardiovascular disease risk. One study states that for each 1 gm increase in daily sodium intake, there is a 6% increase in risk of heart disease (3).

In addition, the American Heart Association recommends that those with heart disease or hypertension limit daily sodium intake to 1,500 mg per day.

For reference 1 teaspoon of salt is 2,300 milligrams.

Two popular and basic salt-free spices that add a huge flavor punch are onion and garlic powder. Although the possibilities are endless, as are the different forms of herbs and spices available: fresh, powdered, minced, flaked, sliced, etc.

Some herbs and spices are used more frequently than others depending on the type of cuisine you are cooking. For example, garlic, onion, basil, and oregano, among others, are used very often in Italian cuisine.

To help you figure out which herbs and spices you should use, I made a free herb and spice PDF handout for you based on 6 different types of cuisine. You can download this below.

Just remember that when using dried herbs and spices, you do not need as much as you would when using fresh herbs and spices.

Rule of thumb: Use 1 teaspoon of dried herbs for every 1 tablespoon of fresh herbs. Adjust further according to your tastes.

Free Herb and Spice PDF

Click the download button below to view a handy list of common herbs and spices to spice up your international recipes. There are certain herbs and spices that are so universal, they are used in all six cuisines listed! Which are your favorites and how do you use them? Comment below.

#5: Sugar Substitutes in Place of Table Sugar

Easy substitutions to make any recipe more heart healthy.  Substitute sugar alternatives for refined sugar products.
Substitute sugar alternatives for refined sugar products.

When I refer to sugar substitutes, I am not talking about honey, molasses, maple syrup or organic cane sugar. However, these can also be substituted for regular sugar. These are also considered “added sugars” which you should limit in your diet.

I’m talking about sugar substitutes that do not add a significant amount of calories or added sugars to recipes. These are non-caloric sweeteners, meaning they have zero calories, fat, sodium, and carbohydrate, unless they are mixed with real sugar. Many of these zero calorie options are great for diabetics as they won’t promote spikes in blood sugars, if using a reasonable amount.

Maybe you’ve heard of Splenda or Stevia? Well, there are plenty of options nowadays in terms of SAFE and healthy sugar substitutes for cooking and baking.

In terms of heart health, most health organizations recommend limiting how much added sugars you consume. This is because added sugars have no nutritional value and add unnecessary calories. This could lead to obesity which is a risk factor for heart disease. Diabetics also need to limit added sugars to control blood sugars and prevent other chronic conditions like heart disease. For these reasons, considering sugar substitutes in place of regular table sugar may be a healthy diet substitution.

Below are some of the many sugar alternative options available on the market today.

healthy sugar substitutes: Allulose, monk fruit, Sucralose, and stevia.
1) Splenda Allulose zero calorie sweetener (allulose), 2) It’s Just Monk Fruit Extract (monk fruit extract), 3) Splenda zero calorie sweetener (maltodextrin, sucralose), 4) Stevia In The Raw (maltodextrin, stevia leaf extract)

Are Sugar Substitutes Safe?

Most of these sugar alternatives are zero calorie and measure cup for cup like sugar and claim to taste like sugar. But are they safe to consume regularly?

One very important thing to mention about the sugar substitutes mentioned above is that none of them contain erythritol. Recent research has linked erythritol consumption to an increased risk of cardiac events such as heart attack or stroke resulting from blood clots (4).

And while all of the artificial sweeteners above are approved by the FDA for consumption, erythritol is also currently approved by the FDA. However in light of recent research, perhaps they’ll reconsider their stance.

Splenda which contains sucralose, has been around for years. Stevia (from the stevia plant), monk fruit (also known as Luo Han Guo), and allulose are all plant-based sweeteners and generally regarded as safe.

Recent research does make some positive claims about lesser known allulose. This plant-based sweetener has 90% fewer calories than sugar however product labels call it a “zero calorie sweetener”. Research states that D-allulose does not spike blood sugars, making it suitable for diabetics. It also claims to have anti-obesity, anti-hyperglycemia, and anti-inflammatory effects (5).

Likewise, monk fruit research makes similar claims with being suitable for diabetics. This sweetener contains antioxidant mongrosides, which research shows may reduce oxidative stress in lab rats (6).

One popular artificial sweetener that does contain erythritol is Swerve granular sweetener. Erythritol, is a sugar alcohol made by fermenting glucose with a microorganism. This controversial sweetener is also used to sweeten many keto or zero-calorie products.

Swerve erythritol sweetener

Research is still in progress, even if positive results and claims have been made. If you are on the skeptical side when it comes to artificial sweeteners, I suggest erring on the side of caution and avoiding them.

And if using regular table sugar (also known as sucrose) or other natural alternatives like maple syrup, agave nectar, honey, etc., remember to practice moderation. These are all considered added sugars which should be limited to protect against heart disease (7).

Things to Consider When Substituting Ingredients

One thing you may notice when making one or more ingredient substitutions is that the final product may not look or taste quite like the original recipe. This is because cooking and baking are essentially chemical reactions that lead to delicious (or occasionally not so delicious) results.

Nutritional Changes

Okay, let’s be honest. This is the whole reason why you considered recipe substitutions in the first place.

Most of us modify recipes to reduce unwanted calories, saturated fat, sodium and/or added sugars in our diets. Healthier modifications will also add more vitamins, minerals, fiber, and/or phytonutrients.

Nutritionally, there are no downfalls when it comes to these types of changes. Although read on to see what potentially unpleasant outcomes swapping ingredients could lead to.

Consistency Changes

When reducing the fat or sugar content of a recipe, this may change the consistency of the final product. Most often this is because the moisture content is being altered.

Fat acts not only to flavor foods but results in more tender baked goods. You may notice cookies are more delicate or crumble when eaten if they are made with too much butter. By substituting lower fat ingredients, baked goods may become drier or harder. And when using lower fat dairy in place of heavy cream, the consistency may also be noticeable.

One example is using 2% milk in place of heavy cream to make a cream-based pasta sauce. This may lead to a much thinner, watery sauce versus a rich, creamy version the original recipe would have resulted in.

Sugar helps baked goods retain moisture, which means they will store better and last longer. You can sometimes reduce the amount of sugar the recipe calls for without much change in consistency. However, keep in mind that depending on the sugar substitute you use, replacing sucrose (sugar) with something else may have a big impact on the overall consistency.

Substituting one type of flour for another is also likely to change the consistency. This is because of the protein content in flours. Protein in flour lends to the strength of the final product. Bread flours are highest in protein and cake flours are finer and have much less protein. So substituting whole wheat flour for all-purpose flour may lead to a tougher, firmer or chewier product.

Taste Changes

Substituting one ingredient for another may also cause changes in the flavor of your final product.

For instance, salt is used in many recipes, even if just a pinch. This acts as a subtle flavor enhancer and often keeps foods from tasting “flat”.

Some of the flavor changes you experience may not be bad. I actually prefer the taste of brown rice over white rice, for example.

You can also try adding natural flavor enhancers like herbs, spices, vinegars, or lemon juice to recipes so you don’t have to sacrifice flavor for health.


The substitutions mentioned above are only a few common healthy recipe substitutions. To see my full list of heart healthy swaps, click the image below.

I suggest trying only 1-2 ingredient substitutions per recipe to see how it affects the final product. With some substitutions, you may notice a change in the consistency and/or flavor. If not, GREAT! You’ve found the perfect substitute for your recipe. Most of these substitutions will help reduce the total amount of calories, fat, and/or cholesterol in a recipe.

In the end, it’s your choice which substitutes you choose to experiment with. However, I do understand that some recipes are best left unchanged, especially ones handed down from generation to generation.

Remember, no food is ever off limits. Allowing yourself to eat even the high fat or sodium foods you love every so often is good for the soul. Besides, the practice of moderation and mindful eating is another blog topic altogether 😊.

Get your free heart healthy substitutions handout by clicking the image below.

Interested in some of my favorite heart healthy recipes that use substitutions?

For more tips on how to live a heart healthy life right NOW. Check out “5 Things You Can Do to Support Heart Health NOW“.

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