10 Healthy Vegan Food Swaps


By Mia Bencivenga


January 26, 2021

Many people are intimidated by the word “vegan.”

In their minds, vegan food conjures up images of endless lettuce, blocks of bland white tofu, and zero flavor. But in reality, vegan food can be super flavorful, filling, and most importantly delicious!

Whether you’re trying to eat more plant-based for the environment or are looking for a simple way to eat more nutritious foods, here are some healthy vegan food swaps.

ONE–Dairy Milk → Oat Milk

Oat milk is my dairy alternative of choice because I find it’s the creamiest type of non-dairy milk, making it a satisfying dupe for your recipes. 

If you’re concerned about missing out on calcium and vitamin D, there are lots of oat milks that come fortified with the nutrients you need. 

Soy milk and almond milk are also good alternatives, but some people are sensitive to soy products, and the almonds used to make almond milk use up a lot of water and natural resources.

Tastes great in: cereal, your morning coffee, desserts, pasta sauces and soups.

TWO–Dairy Cream → Coconut Cream/Cashew Cream

Does your recipe call for something extra creamy? Just because you’re eating plant-based, doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice any deliciousness. Plus, healthy fats are a great way to stay satisfied and keep between-meal snacking to a minimum. 

Coconut cream can either be incorporated into the dish for maximum richness, or you can whip it into a delectable topping or frosting.

If you have some unsalted raw cashews at home, you can make your own cashew cream. Simply soak the cashews overnight and blend them the next day. It’s cost-effective, easy and delicious. 

Tastes great in:  vegan pumpkin pie, curry, vegan ice cream or whipped cream, vegan vodka or alfredo sauces, stews, and vegan pot pies.

THREE–Butter → Olive Oil 

Instead of butter for your bread, why not jazz up some olive oil for dipping instead?

Olive oil contains healthy mono and polyunsaturated fats. However, butter is almost completely saturated fat, making it not the ideal choice for people who are watching their intake. 

If you need a better dupe than olive oil for baking, there is a variety of vegan butter out there that will work great. My personal favorite is vegan cultured butter, which tastes great in a vegan chicken pot pie.

Tastes great in: cakes, quick bread (like banana and pumpkin), focaccia, pasta sauces, stir-fry, any pasta dish, sauteed or roasted vegetables.

FOUR–Parmesan Cheese →Nutritional Yeast

Who doesn’t love to sprinkle a little parmesan cheese on top of pasta? Nutritional yeast may sound, well, unappealing, but it’s golden yellow color, cheesy and nutty flavor make it a welcome addition to almost any dish. 

Plus, nutritional yeast is often fortified with B vitamins, which many vegetarians and vegans lack due to their plant-based diet.

Tastes great in: vegan spaghetti alfredo, vegan mac and cheese, on top of pasta, sprinkled on veggies, or anywhere you need a cheesy kick!

FIVE–Ground Beef → Lentils 

Lentils are an awesome dupe for ground beef. Plus, they’re packed with tons of protein and fiber, making them a healthy choice as well as a delicious one. 

A helpful tip for making lentils delectable is to cook them in a savory broth or to use a vegan bouillon cube. You can also put a dash of soy, tamari, or Worcestershire sauce in with the broth to help give the lentils a deep umami flavor.

Tastes great in: vegan Sloppy Joes, veggie burger patties, bean-balls to go with spaghetti, incorporated into soups and stews, as taco “meat,” or anywhere you need a beefy boost.

SIX–Mayo → Mashed Avocado/Hummus

Whether you need a healthier topping on a sandwich or burger or just want something to jazz up your slice of bread, avocado and hummus are great alternatives.

Just add a little salt and a squeeze of lemon to your avocado and you’ve got a rich, creamy topping that I personally prefer to mayonnaise anytime.

Hummus comes in so many variations, from garlic to spicy to roasted red pepper to pickle, you’ll wonder why you settled for mayo in the first place!

Tastes great in: burgers, pita chips, fresh or toasted bread, roasted or fresh veggies, sandwiches, wraps, tacos, and anything that needs a little flavorful spread.

SEVEN–Chicken → Firm/Extra Firm Tofu

Before you start coming up with all the reasons you hate tofu, hear me out. I know tofu gets a bad rep for being bland and squishy, but I’d argue that that’s because people don’t know how to prepare it.

First of all, it’s important that you pick the right type of tofu. If you’re trying to dupe for let’s say, fried chicken, you’re going to want to go for a firm to very firm tofu. Otherwise, the tofu can crumble apart when you’re trying to bake or fry it.

Also, tofu needs all the water pressed out to achieve maximum crispiness when cooking. Ideally, after pressing you would also give it a marinade overnight so that it has more depth of flavor as well.

If you haven’t given tofu a try, I promise it’s worth it. Plus, it’s high in important nutrients like protein, iron, and calcium.

Tastes great in: Chicken Fried Tofu, General Tso’s Tofu, wraps, tofu scramble, veggie burger patties, veggie “meat” loaf, tacos, vegan sloppy joes.

EIGHT–Eggs → Flaxseed

Ground flaxseed is also excellent in baking, as it helps bind foods together, just like eggs. It also adds a nutritional punch of healthy fiber and fat.

All you have to do is mix flaxseed in with a few tablespoons of water (read the packaging for instructions!) set aside for a few minutes, and you’ll come back to find a thick liquid that will do wonders for your baked goods.

Tastes great in: olive oil cake, regular cakes and cupcakes, quick bread (like banana and pumpkin), fritters, pancakes, and muffins.

NINE–Sour Cream → Dairy-Free Yogurt 

Sour cream is a staple in dishes for many reasons. It provides a little zip and a creamy quality that many dishes need.

If you’re craving that extra boost of flavor, dairy-free yogurt can get the job done! Just be sure to make sure it’s not sweetened or flavored.

An added bonus: many dairy-free yogurts contain the same cultures as regular yogurt, which is a great way to get extra probiotics into your diet!

Goes great in: mushroom stroganoff, vegan tuna casserole, burrito bowls, vegan sloppy joes, veggie burgers, baked and mashed potatoes.

TEN–Cheese → Dairy-Free Cheese

Too scared to commit to a plant-based diet, on account of your deep love for cheese? Totally get it. 

But don’t stress, cheese enthusiasts! Thankfully there are some dairy-free magicians out there who have used cashews, nuts, tofu, and coconut milk to create hard and soft vegan cheeses you’ll love.

The nutritional quality of the non-dairy cheeses will vary, some will have healthier fats in them (thanks to the nuts and tofu) but others will contain high levels of saturated fat just like regular cheese. Not all vegan food is created equal, so always read the labels to make sure what you’re getting will be good for you and your nutrition goals.

Tastes great in: mac and cheese, grilled cheese, charcuterie boards, veggie burgers, veggie burrito bowls, veggie tacos, pizza, pasta sauces, vegan casseroles, vegan ravioli,and stuffed shells. 


By: Mia Bencivenga