10 Swaps to Lighten Up Recipes

Center frame is a smoothie in a glass topped with blueberries and a mint leaf. Out of focus in the background blueberries and mint sit on a table.

Created by: Julia Mueller, The Roasted Root

If you’re looking to lighten up your diet in the New Year, or to incorporate more nutrient-dense foods on your daily menu, there are plenty of opportunities to swap out less-healthy ingredients for more nutritious options.

A simple change like replacing heavy cream with coconut milk can make a world of difference for your nutrient profile as well as digestive health. Here are 10 healthy replacements to clean up your menu while keeping you satiated.

Non-Dairy Milk

For those who are sensitive or allergic to dairy, or are sensitive to food products that contain animal hormones, unsweetened non-dairy milks are a great alternative. Coconut, cashew, almond, and hybrid milks are great options to eliminate dairy from your recipes. You can use non-dairy milks as a 1-to-1 replacement for regular milk in most recipes, though be cognizant of the fact that non-dairy milk is very low in fat. For recipes that call for cream or a higher fat dairy, use canned full-fat coconut milk. Use almond milk in your morning oatmeal, smoothies or even hot chocolate.

Red Palm Oil – Superfood

Cooking oils that contain healthy fats, such as red palm oil, coconut oil, avocado oil and almond oil are great for replacing vegetable oils or butter, which contain no health benefits and are difficult to digest. Red palm oil, on the other hand, is considered a superfood. It contains a high amount of nutrients, including carotenoids, sterols, Vitamin E and antioxidants. Use red palm oil (or coconut oil) in place of butter in your baked goods for a delicious treat boosted with health benefits.

Coconut Sugar

Lower on the glycemic index, coconut sugar is an excellent substitute in any recipe that calls for cane sugar or brown sugar. With a slightly caramel flavor, coconut sugar is both delicious and a better option for those who are cognizant of their blood sugar levels, or are looking to lower their sugar intake. Coconut sugar contains inulin, which slows glucose absorption, resulting in a much smaller sugar spike than other refined sugars. Use coconut sugar as a replacement for cane sugar, or if preparing a recipe that calls for a liquid sweetener, you can use honey, pure maple syrup, agave nectar or coconut nectar instead. Just note that if a recipe calls for a granulated sugar, you won’t get the same texture (and you may need to add more flour) when using coconut sugar.


Fruits that are high in fructose, such as bananas, are marvelous in a variety of recipes, for breads, muffins, cookies, pancakes and more. Bananas or applesauce can also be used as a replacement in recipes that require eggs or oil. Make a recipe vegan by replacing each egg with ¼ cup mashed banana or applesauce, or reduce the amount of oil used in a recipe by substituting part of it for banana.

Sweet Potato

Sweet potatoes are a great alternative to russet, Yukon gold or red potatoes, as they contain less starch, making them lower on the glycemic index. They also contain Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Vitamin B6 and fiber, making them much more nutrient-dense than your typical potato. Similar to bananas, sweet potatoes are very useful in baking, adding sweetness and moisture without the use of oil. Simply roast or steam a sweet potato and mash it before adding it to your recipe.

Cider Vinegar

Proven to be useful in lowering your blood sugar, cider vinegar is a smart choice for your daily diet. It helps lower your cholesterol, aids in digestion (since it helps kill harmful bacteria while promoting healthy bacteria) and even helps detox your system. Use cider vinegar in place of balsamic or white vinegar in your marinades, dressings, etc. You can also use a small amount of cider vinegar in vegan treat recipes in place of eggs.


Rather than sourcing your carbohydrates from bread, which is often made from bleached wheat flour and contains gluten, serve your meals with a side of rice, which is easier for your body to process. Easiest to digest is white rice or sprouted brown rice, as regular brown rice limits your ability to absorb minerals when it’s not sprouted. You can also use rice in place of oats for breakfast, with a splash of milk or honey.


When it comes to making homemade sauces or dressings, tahini is a marvelous addition and can be used in place of heavy cream. Tahini makes thick, creamy sauces, and you only need a small amount to achieve a smooth texture. Tahini can also replace peanut butter or oil in many ethnic recipes, or even baked goods. High in phosphorous, lecithin, magnesium and Vitamins B1, B2, B3, B5 and B15, tahini is rich in nutrients.

Canned Coconut Milk

Rather than using oil or butter in baked goods, or heavy cream for sauces, you can use canned coconut milk as a non-dairy alternative. Full-fat coconut milk contains healthy fats which help hold breads, cookies, and cakes together, while providing the added benefit of Vitamins C, E, B1, B3 and B6.

Gluten-Free Pasta or Flour

For those who have an intolerance or allergy to gluten, there are multiple options for gluten-free pasta. Be sure to read the ingredients list to be sure you’re not intolerant to ingredients used in the gluten-free versions, as most gluten-free pastas contain corn and/or quinoa and rice. You can easily eliminate all-purpose flour from your diet altogether by replacing it with a good gluten-free all-purpose flour blend. If you want to take it one step further, you can go entirely grain-free, using almond, cashew, tiger nut or coconut flour rather than a flour blend with grains.