Plant-Based Food Substitutions

substitutes for ingredients

Great healthy plant-based food substitutions for everyday use.

The following is a partial list of choices when converting recipes.  There are so many varieties of things on the market today that it makes it easier to switch out for instance, oil for applesauce.  While it comes down to personal taste, there are several options from which you can choose from.  A full list can be found in my new cookbook “A Plant-Based Revolution” cookbook.


Dairy Milk:  To replace dairy milk in recipes, use one of the following alternatives:

Almond – This is very well-known and usually fortified with B12 and low in protein.

Coconut – lower in protein but it is also high in B12, Vitamin D, magnesium, and calcium.  For a richer or creamer texture for a recipe, you can use evaporated coconut milk. 

Cashew – also low in protein but generous in B12, calcium, vitamin D, A, E, and iron. This is becoming more popular and many like it because of its flavor and thicker consistency which is closer to dairy milk. 

Soy – contains good amounts of B-12, calcium, vitamin D, magnesium, phosphorous, folate and riboflavin.  This milk has the most protein of all the non-dairy milks. 

Oat – naturally free of lactose, nuts, soy, and gluten.  If made from certified gluten-free oats. oat milk is a good choice for people with allergies or intolerances  Not to mention, it is delicious and may benefit bone and heart health.

Hemp – the most nutrient-dense option.  It has only 2 grams of protein but substantial in calcium, vitamin D, riboflavin, B12, phosphorous, magnesium, iron, and zinc with an earthy flavor.

Rice – low in protein and higher in calories.   Make sure to purchase one fortified with calcium and other vitamins and minerals.  If you have sensitivities to soy or nuts, this is a good option. 

Pea Protein Milk – Fortified with calcium and added fat.  This milk is from Ripple and it comes in different varieties, unsweetened to sweetened and vanilla.  A good option if you want to stay away from nuts or soy.

Flax Milk – fortified with Vitamin D2 and B12 and contains calcium.  As with most non-dairy milks, this also comes in unsweetened, regular, and vanilla.

Buttermilk:  To replace buttermilk, mix 1 Tbsp. of apple cider vinegar or lemon juice to 1 cup of non-dairy milk.  Let it sit for at least 10 minutes.

Cheese Substitutes

Cheese:  There are many cheese substitutes made from a wide variety of ingredients.  It is best to stay away from heavily processed “fake cheese” which can contain isolated proteins, (i.e. soy protein isolate) and added oils.  You can make your own cheese with tofu, nut butters and even nutritional yeast to replace “real” cheese. Soak and blend raw cashews, with other ingredients to give a creamy – cheesy flavor to plant-based dishes.  There are many recipes to make your own cheese and you will find it in our in this book. In this book I even have a recipe for plant-based Parmesan cheese!


Sweeteners:  You want to make sure to stay away from refined sugars, high fructose corn syrup and white cane sugar as they are heavily processed and have no nutrient value.  Instead use date sugar, date paste, date syrup  and fruit purees such as applesauce and mashed bananas.  Try to keep maple sugar as a minimum as it is still refined and has a high Glycemic index. 

Butter, Shortening, Fats & Oils

Butter, Shortening, Fats & Oils:  Instead of the unhealthy options, you can use silken extra firm tofu, vegetable stock, water, aminos, or other liquids for sautéing or frying.  Here are some good choices to replace butter and oils:

Unsweetened applesauce (good to use if you do not want something to taste like bananas.  This is a good alternative for recipes that are dense.  Do a 1 to 1 swap of applesauce for a plant-based butter alternative.

Bananas – This is a great choice for cookies, bread and even pancakes, but it will add a banana flavor.  You can substitute 1 Cup of bananas for 1 Cup of oil.  If your batter seems dry, keep adding more in until you have the right consistency.

Mango puree – depending on the recipe, you can swap mango puree for butter, for instance in a sweet potato casserole.

Nut butter – It works great in cookie, bread, and muffin recipes.  You will want to use a 1 to 1 ratio.  However, this will lead to a dense product. 

Cooked mashed white beans – Use ½ the amount to replace the shortening

Extra Firm Silken Tofu – You can switch out oil for tofu with ease because there is a 1 to 1 ratio.  Simply cut the needed amount into cubes and blend it until smooth.  You can also add it in a marinade.   Tofu can also be frozen


Salt:  It is particularly important to try and reduce your sodium intake.  Use “no salt” seasonings or other spices to kick up the flavor.  If you use salt, try sea salt or kosher.  Certain foods have a naturally high salt content such as celery and would be great to add to dishes that are appropriate. 


Eggs:  There are many ways to replace eggs in recipes.  Here are a few examples to replace an egg:

There are two new egg replacers on the market you can use – “Ener-G” or  “New Egg” egg replacer.  Follow the directions on each product to replace one egg.

3 Tbsp. un-whipped aquafaba (the juice from a can of chickpeas) or

2 Tbsp. for egg yolks or 1 Tbsp. for egg whites.

Mix 1 Tbsp. ground flax meal with 2 1/2 Tbsp. water and let sit for 10 minutes before using

Mix 1 Tbsp. chia seed with 3 Tbsp. water and let sit for 15 minutes

1/4 Cup applesauce or a pureed fruit

1/2 of a mashed banana

1/2 Cup unsweetened non-dairy yogurt

Mix 3 Tbsp. chickpea flour with 3 Tbsp. water

1/4 Cup silken tofu

Use cornstarch – Mix 2 Tbsp. of cornstarch with 3 Tbsp. water

or you can mix 1 Tbsp. soy protein powder with 3 Tbsp. water

or use Arrowroot powder – Mix 2 Tbsp. arrowroot powder with 3 Tbsp. water

1 1/2 Tbsp. pureed pumpkin. 

Other Substitutes

Salad dressings:  There are so many wonderful flavored balsamic vinegars on the market today and perfect to drizzle over a salad.  Three of my favorites are blueberry, fig, and cherry.  You can also use low-sodium soy sauce, coconut aminos, Braggs aminos, low-sodium tamari sauce and lemon juice.  I offer several different plant-based dressings in this book as well.

Ice Cream:  Make your own “nice cream” using frozen bananas and different fruits, adding a couple dates or almond butter. Several recipes for Nice Cream can be found in this book.

White Flour:  Substitute with whole wheat, chickpea, almond, coconut, oat, or rye

White Rice:  There are many different types of rice on the market.  Use brown rice as it is a healthier option.  To substitute white rice: use brown jasmine or brown basmati rice, but the cooking time is longer than the white.  Brown basmati is a slightly firmer texture with a mild nutty flavor and is fluffier than Jasmine, while Jasmine is firm but somewhat sticky.  Jasmine is often used in Chinese cooking and for sushi because of it is slightly sticky. If using brown jasmine, the ratio is different. 

NOTE: Please refer to A Plant-Based Revolution Cookbook for a full list of all substitutions needed.

Michele Wallace

Entrepreneur and author of A Plant-Based Michele has also earned her Plant-Based Nutrition Certification from eCornell University. The book is an easy and complete guide for those wanting to get healthy and offers step-by-step instructions, including over 85 delicious and healthy recipes.
A Plant-Based Revolution is dedicated to whole food plant-based nutrition.

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