Do you have intolerances and are wondering what food substitutions to use?
Many people are finding they have sensitivities to a variety of foods and more and more often require food substitutions for their food intolerances. These food sensitivities are often linked to poor gut health, which is a major concern in our western culture, especially in recent years.
Many of us have been consuming foods, hidden additives, and mysterious chemicals that cause inflammation in our bodies over the course of our lifetime. Although this often happens unknowingly, these foods are detrimental to your gut and overall health and overtime can lead or contribute to chronic health challenges.
The good news is there are plenty of foods to substitute for these common intolerances. It can be an adjustment to make this transition, but once you explore these options thoroughly, you’ll find that there are great (and not so great) food substitutions for most intolerances. It’s important to explore and find options that you like and that work for you.
Learning to eat and cook in a way that supports your health is invaluable. When you eat organic and minimize processed foods, along with foods that you react to, it’ll have a huge impact on your health and quality of life.
To make your transition easier, this post contains a list of ideas for healthy food substitutions for the most common food intolerances. Knowing what foods to substitute can help you shift to a gluten, dairy, egg, corn, soy, or grain-free eating style. I’ve also included a list of foods that are great staples for a healthy, whole food diet.
Healthy Foods to Add-In
Here are some healthy foods to add in to your diet when you don’t know what to eat. To optimize your experience and allow your gut to heal, it’s important to use high-quality ingredients, buy organic as much as possible, and minimize processed foods. Increasing nutrient-dense, whole foods will help you minimize inflammatory, nutrient-void, and processed foods in your diet. This is especially important when healing from a chronic or gut condition, but is essential for preventing health challenges as well.
Fruits, veggies, herbs, and spices
These foods provide a variety of nutrients, vitamins, and minerals. They also help you cleanse and rid your body of toxins. Making fruits and veggies a large percentage of your meals and snacks will boost your health in wonderful ways. Opt for organic as much as possible to avoid glyphosate, other herbicides, pesticides, and GMOs.
Beans and legumes
Beans and legumes offer a good source of plant-based protein. Soak or sprout these foods before eating to improve digestibility. Beans and legumes are great replacements if you’re vegan, vegetarian, or simply trying to eat less meat. Lentils, split peas, and beans are great in soups, salads, as a side, and in many ethnic dishes.
Here are a few varieties of beans and legumes to include:
Black, white, navy, canelli, kidney, chili, pinto, or adzuki beans
Green, red, black, or french green lentils
Grains are a great way to bulk up or provide a base for a meal. Stick to whole grains for the most health benefits. Soak or sprout them before eating to improve digestibility. Some people don’t do well with or prefer not to eat grains, and there are grain substitutions listed below if this is your eating style.
Many people who are working on gut healing, choose to eliminate grains for a time while they’re healing, as grains can feed the bad bacteria in the gut, have an impact on blood sugar, and cause other challenges during the healing process. Many of these people add grains back in, without a problem, after they’ve healed.
Here are some gluten-free, whole grains to try:
Rice (brown, red, black, wild)
Nuts, Nut Butters, and Seeds
Nuts and seeds are great to add in to your diet for healthy fats, protein, and fiber. As with anything (except vegetables!), include these foods in moderation. Too many can be irritating on the gut for some people and can slow digestion as they take a lot of energy to digest.
To get all the benefits, without overdoing it, eat nuts once per day and seeds once or twice/ per day. Check for additives and added sugars with packaged, roasted, seasoned, or flavored nuts and seeds. Even better, eat them raw or make them at home.
Healthy Animal Proteins & Fats
Organic and grass-fed or pasture-raised meat, butter/ghee, tallow, and eggs are all healthy animal proteins or fats. Good quality protein and fat are essential for a healthy diet, although keeping animal fats and proteins to moderate portion sizes is important.
Buy organic, grass-fed, or pasture-raised products to avoid harmful antibiotics, hormones, and chemicals whenever possible. Many people who don’t tolerate dairy, tolerate butter and ghee and these can be a great addition for healthy fats and amazing flavor for your meals.
Fish and seafood
Adding in good quality fish and seafood can be a great way to get healthy fats and omega 3’s in your diet. Whenever possible buy wild-caught fish as farmed fish has many additives and chemicals that are harmful to your gut to the point where they’re no longer healthy foods.
Keep in mind toxicity in the oceans and how that affects the bigger and older fish, such as tuna and seabass. Opt for more fatty and low toxic fish like salmon and sardines are both good options.
Healthy Cooking Oils & Fats
Good healthy fats are essential for a balanced diet. Your body needs healthy fats to support your immune system, hormonal balance, blood sugar levels, brain health, and to maintain good energy levels. It’s good to only use oils up to their set smoke/ heat point as the particles in the oils transform and can become harmful beyond that.
- Avocado oil, algae oil, butter, and ghee are good options for high heat cooking on the stove, grill, and in the oven.
- Coconut oil and olive oil can be used for baking and on the stovetop under 350 degrees.
- Olive oil, sesame oils, and nut oils are good to use for salad dressings and dips. You can also add these oils to dishes once they’re cooked.
- Buy organic, unrefined, cold-pressed, and extra virgin oils whenever possible to get the most benefits.
High-quality salts add essential minerals to your diet. Sea salt and pink Himalayan salt are both good options in moderation and will add amazing flavor and benefit to your food.
Many people are finding they have sensitivities to a variety of foods, making it difficult to know what to eat. Here’s a list of the most common food sensitivities and ideas for healthy substitutions that can help you transition to a gluten, grain, dairy, egg, corn, soy, or sugar-free eating style. You can also find some meal and snack ideas in the recipes section on my website.
Remember to read the labels and watch out for mysterious ingredients, fillers, preservatives, additives, and ingredients. Be wary of ingredients that you don’t know or can’t pronounce. Dairy, gluten, corn, soy and sugar are hidden in many pre-prepared, pre-packaged, and processed foods.
Gluten is an extremely common food sensitivity. It’s found in products made with wheat, barley, and rye; and includes spelt, Kamut, ancient forms of wheat, farro, triticale, durum, semolina, and bulgar. Also, oats are often a trigger for people with gluten sensitivity due to cross-contamination from processing.
Gluten is found in most bread, pasta, crackers, seasonings on flavored crackers and chips, in preservatives, fillers, thickeners, additives in many processed foods, and in many other products. Although it’s a process to take gluten out of your diet, it can be highly beneficial for those that react to it.
- Gluten-free grains include gluten-free oats, rice, quinoa, corn, millet, buckwheat, kasha, teff, and amaranth.
- Alternative flours include coconut, almond, brown rice, buckwheat, amaranth, sorghum, and teff.
- Starches for grain-free baking and thickening agents are arrowroot, cassava, and tapioca starch.
- Chia and flax seeds combined with water or eggs can be used as a binder in gluten-free baking, tortillas, or pancakes.
- Tamari is a gluten-free soy sauce, that has almost the same flavor.
- Watch for hidden gluten in sauces, dressings, dips, pre-prepared foods, and pre-packaged foods. Unless a product claims to be gluten-free, it likely isn’t. Be wary of ingredients you don’t know. Many times “natural flavors”, preservatives, fillers, and additives contain gluten or other gluten-containing grains.
- There are plenty of gluten-free bread replacements, however many of these products contain other ingredients that people often react to or that aren’t healthful. Check out this nut and seed bread recipe, for a delicious and nutritious bread alternative.
- Pasta substitutes that are gluten-free, include rice, quinoa, and corn pasta. See the grain-free pasta options below for more alternatives.
- Beer contains gluten, but there are gluten-free beer options available. Cider, wine, and many liquors are gluten-free.
Some people have trouble digesting grains, and there are more and more grain-free food substitutions available.
- Grain-free flours include almond flour or meal, flax meal, coconut, oat, green banana, and cassava flour.
- Starches for grain-free baking and thickening agents are arrowroot, cassava, and tapioca starch.
- For crackers and chips, look for grain-free, pre-packaged options. You can also make your own chips from root vegetables or kale and crackers from nuts and seeds.
- Watch for hidden gluten and grains in sauces, dressings, dips, pre-prepared foods, and pre-packaged foods. Unless a product claims to be “gluten” or “grain-free”, it likely isn’t. Be wary of ingredients you don’t know as many times “natural flavors”, preservatives, and additives contain gluten and grains.
- Wine is grain-free, as is most cider and hard sparkling water beverages. If you’re really sensitive, be aware that most liquor is made or at least partially made from grains. You can find tequila (agave), gin (juniper), vodka (potato), and rum (sugarcane) that may work for you. Although, people can also be sensitive to alcohol itself.
- There are options for packaged, grain-free noodles made from lentils, chickpeas, black beans, and mung beans.
- Fresh zucchini and carrots can be made into noodles using a spiralizer or vegetable peeler. By cutting zucchini into thin, flat “noodles” lengthwise, they can replace noodles in lasagna. Spaghetti squash is also a healthy noodle replacement.
Dairy is a common food intolerance and many people can’t digest lactose and casein in dairy. Fortunately, there are lots of options available these days to substitute for dairy. Remember to read the labels and watch out for hidden ingredients, fillers, additives, and ingredients that you don’t know or can’t pronounce. Anything made with or from whey will contain dairy as well.
- Almond, cashew, macadamia, coconut, hemp, sesame, or oat milk are all good milk replacements.
- You can buy unsweetened, plain coconut, almond, or cashew yogurt, which can also be used in place of sour cream and mayonnaise in dips, dressings, and spreads.
- Homemade cashew “cheese” dip is a delicious addition. Simply soak cashews for a couple of hours and add lemon, garlic, olive oil, salt, and a variety of other ingredients. Good additions are nutritional yeast, white wine vinegar, and fresh or dried herbs. This cashew cheese ricotta is a great replacement for ricotta in lasagna.
- Almond, cashew, or coconut-based alternative cheeses are available in most stores these days.
- There are yummy, vegan butter substitutes available as well.
- Coconut oil can replace butter or ghee, although many people tolerate butter even if they don’t tolerate other dairy. You can test this for yourself by eliminating dairy for 3 weeks and then reintroducing butter. Notice how you feel as you add the food back in.
- Nutritional yeast can replace parmesan and is a good addition to sauces, dips, and homemade non-dairy cheeses. It’ll give your dish a “cheesy” flavor.
- Ground chia and flax seeds combined with water is an egg replacement for baking.
- Tofu is a scrambled egg replacement. Simply sautee vegetables and add in scrambled tofu along with your favorite seasonings.
- Arrowroot or other starches mixed with water replaces egg when breading chicken, fish, or vegetables.
Some people react specifically to corn while tolerating other grains just fine. There are plenty of food substitutions for corn available.
- Brown rice, coconut flour, or grain-free tortillas make good substitutes for tortillas. Lettuce wraps make a light and crunchy shell for tacos or wraps.
- Nuts and seeds are often useful as the base for grain-free crackers and breads.
- Corn-free chip varieties include potatoes, other root vegetables, or other grains. You can buy grain-free chips and crackers as well. You can make homemade kale chips or root veggie chips by using a mandoline slicer.
- Arrowroot powder or tapioca starch can replace cornstarch as a thickener or binder.
- Be sure to read labels on anything pre-packaged as corn is hidden in many additives. Avoid additives derived from corn including maltodextrin, lecithin, citric acid, lactic acid, or ascorbic acid, among many others.
*Minimizing processed foods is good for both your gut and overall health. These foods tend to cause inflammation and a host of other challenges in the body. When you take processed foods out of your diet, it’s easier to avoid corn.
Soy is a common intolerance and many people try to avoid soy products in their diet.
- Coconut aminos is a delicious, although sweeter, food substitution for soy sauce or Braggs. It is useful in stir fry or on grains, sauteed, or steamed veggies.
- Ume vinegar is a great salty alternative on sautéed vegetables or in a stir fry.
- Salt can replace soy sauce and is lovely in a sauce with coconut aminos.
- Mushrooms, chicken, fish, or meats are good replacements for tofu and tempeh.
Refined Sugar Substitutions
These delicious and healthy sweeteners can easily take the place of sugar. It’s best to use all sweeteners in moderation to maintain healthy blood sugar levels.
- Fruit (fresh, frozen, or dried) is a good sweetener for desserts and snacks. Ripe banana, dried dates, or raisins all work great to use in baking, treats, smoothies, or other snacks.
- Honey has an amazing flavor and is good for baking and sweetening tea, coffee, dressings, sauces, protein balls, homemade snacks, treats, yogurt, and oatmeal.
- Maple syrup has a great flavor and is good for baking and sweetening things like protein balls, homemade snacks and treats, plain yogurt, and oatmeal, among other things.
- Stevia is a low glycemic sweetener that is useful in baking or to sweeten smoothies, protein balls and other snacks and treats. It has a very distinct flavor that only some people like, but can be useful in small amounts when eliminating sugars and other higher glycemic sweeteners from your diet.
- Monk fruit or lakanto sugar is another low glycemic sweetener. It has a more neutral flavor than stevia but has a similar purpose.
- Coconut sugar is a good replacement for refined cane sugar in baking recipes and offers a rich flavor.
- Molasses has a strong and distinct flavor. It can be a good replacement in certain types of baking.
*Maintaining a low glycemic diet and minimizing added sugars and sweeteners can be beneficial for many people.
Making the Switch
It can be challenging to transition to a different style of eating, but as you cut down on foods that cause inflammation in your body, you’ll undoubtedly start to feel better. These changes are well worth making and may prevent chronic health challenges later or help you heal from challenges that you’re facing now.
With less inflammation in your body, you give your body the chance to heal. The body then has the chance to address other important stressors and toxins that aren’t a priority when it’s busy fighting chronic inflammation. No matter where you are on your journey, it can always be helpful to move away from stress, food, and environments that cause inflammation in the body. Using these food substitutions to create a unique and healthy eating style that works for your body, is a great place to start.
Hopefully, this helps you get started on your journey towards better health!