Healthy Food Substitutions for going Gluten-Free | Part 1
Or … how to replace gluten, dairy, sugar and grains in your pantry ingredients and recipes.
Okay, so you’ve adjusted your lifestyle to gluten-free and dairy-free, or perhaps you’re now eating paleo or even keto. And perhaps while you have your head around some of the alternatives, you wouldn’t mind getting to know a few other tips and tricks. Well, look no further as this is a great list to start with. We’re going to break down some healthy food substitutions for going Gluten-Free, Dairy-Free, Sugar-Free, Paleo and Keto.
How to make it personal
Now keep in mind that you will want to adjust your diet to what suits YOU. Each of us has a body that prefers different foods based on our biological evolution. Don’t ever override this as your body is amazing at telling you what you need and what you should consider ditching. I know for me that dairy causes congestion, leading to hay fever and sinus congestions too. Very uncomfortable. But even though I no longer have dairy in my diet, if I consume too much nut milk, or too regularly, those symptoms will return. So for me ‘milk’ in general whether animal-based or plant-based it something to watch.
Over time you can listen to your own body and be honest about what it likes or dislikes. The aim is to get you to think of food in terms of your health. Don’t be fooled into thinking that all replacements are healthy. You need to be discerning about what you’re replacing. This is where you get to delve deeper into the questions around your health. Asking yourself regularly “Can I eat this or is it time to ditch it?” is prudent in your healthy evolution.
To get you started with the healthy food substitutions
Let’s just say upfront that this list is not comprehensive, and is a starting point to help you navigate your kitchen and dietary options. We start with some simple suggestions which will allow you to think differently in your kitchen. Learn the qualities of the foods and how they behave with other ingredients. Does it absorb more moisture? Is it drying and absorbent? Can it bind or does it make the recipe crumbly? Is it oily or watery? These are important to understand the incredible alchemy of the ingredients, and how they can marry together beautifully, or oppose and create disaster!
Many of our recipes are designed at the bare minimum to be gluten-free and dairy-free, but some are keto and paleo as well. You will also find some vegan recipes and many sugar-free recipes. Do feel free to check out our YouTube Channel Janines Gluten Free Kitchen for great video recipes to help you with healthy food substitutions.
1. Replacing Wheat Flour
Two main flours are my go-to for replacing wheat flour, but I find the best alternative is to use a combination of almond flour (or almond meal) with some coconut flour. The coconut flour is very important to give the product structure and absorb the moisture, as without it the result can be quite soft and unformed. The almond flour gives a nice lightness that lends an oily and moist quality to the recipe so it’s not dry. This will keep the recipe keto and paleo also.
Other ingredient options include tapioca flour (from the cassava plant, paleo but not keto), arrowroot (comes from the Maranta arundinacea plant, paleo but not keto), rice flour, cornflour, quinoa flour, banana flour, oat flour and other grain-free flours. These last five flours are not my preferred options to cook with as they have either little nutrition value or are difficult to work with due to texture and ‘cookability’. But feel free to experiment to see what works for you. A base cake flour mix that I recommend is 2 cups of almond flour, 1/2 cup coconut flour and 1 teaspoon of gluten-free baking powder to make it rise.
2. Replacing dairy milk
Homemade nut milk is lovely to drink. When you make it yourself you know that you’re going to get just nuts and water. Given it’s so easy to make I recommend this option any day over store-bought options which are often high in sugar, salt, gums and very low in nut content. For cooking, any nut milk works well as does coconut milk. Each has a unique flavour. Cashew milk, macadamia milk and coconut milk are much creamier. Almond milk and walnut milk are low in fat and high in protein. Almond milk is the one that has the mildest taste and very close to cows milk in texture. If you’re nut-free, try seed milk for a nut milk-free option.
3. Replacing butter
Butter has a very unique taste. The closest dairy-free alternative to butter you can try is margarine. Margarine is generally not very healthy and there are several articles on the internet if you’d like to read more. Some kinds of margarine such as Nuttelex are processed differently making them a healthier option. These are often non-hydrogenated and start with cleaner oil. You might like to try an organic vegetable shortening too.
Another option is to use coconut oil but be aware that it has a very specific taste. In cooked recipes, the consistency of coconut oil can work well, but in uncooked products can be quite different. It has a low melt point, so products are likely to start melting when it begins to warm up. If it’s staying refrigerated or being eaten very cold then this won’t be an issue. Coconut butter is a very tasty option and doesn’t melt, but it packs a punch with coconut flavour. I love using coconut butter in fat bombs or nutballs.
What about oils?
And of course, to cook meats and other savoury goods, a good quality vegetable oil can’t be beaten. Olive oil and avocado oil is my choice for taste, health and cooking qualities. You want to avoid vegetable oils which contain a particularly damaging omega-6 PUFA called linoleic acid. Linoleic acid is bad for you in a few different ways and you can read about that here. Avoid soybean, peanut, corn, cottonseed, sunflower and safflower oil if you want to avoid linoleic acid.
4. Crumbed products
There are a few gluten-free crumbing mixes on the market that work well but are all grain-based. If you wish to go grain-free here are some of my suggestions.
- Almond meal (or other nut meal) – this is a great crumb, it holds well but note that it doesn’t give a crispy coating.
- Grind seeds – I love this as a crumb. you can mix in spices or dried herbs to the mix to make it super special. Simply put your choice of pumpkin, sesame and/or sunflower seeds into a food processor until you have a ‘crumb’ consistency.
- sesame seeds – yep, straight sesame seeds. Lovely taste but can brown very quickly so keep the temperature lower for this.
ps, I like to coat my products in beaten eggs first before crumbing anything so that it sticks well. If you are vegan, you can mix some arrowroot in a little water to make a ‘glue’ and coat in this first before crumbing.
If you need breadcrumbs IN a recipe, such as meatballs or falafel, try using flax meal instead. Golden flax meal will give a mild taste and hold products together well.
5. Replacing cream
The standard alternative to replacing cream is coconut cream, and not much else is available for this substitution. At a pinch, if you’re wanting to serve with cream, you can use coconut milk yoghurt, but as far as using it as an ingredient, coconut cream is all there is. I certainly wouldn’t recommend anything else for the same texture, consistency, fat content and taste.
6. Replacing Soy Sauce
Yes, there is gluten-free soy sauce on the market and that is an option, such as Tamari. Soy sauce is made from the soybean, which is a no-no if you’re avoiding grains. If you’re going paleo or prefer to cut out the grains, you will want to use Coconut Aminos instead. Many grocers and health food stores stock it now and you most definitely can find it via online shopping.
7. Replacing Sugar
Ah sugar, tastes so lovely but oh so bad! It’s the ingredient we love and hate all at the same time. While going totally sugar-free is the ultimate aim, let’s break down some options for those still keen to have sweet treats or are in the transition process.
- Maple syrup – a great natural alternative, gentle sweetness with no strong taste influence, can be used as a 1 to 1 replacement. One downside is that it’s a liquid, so if you’re making a fatty icing or a dry biscuit, the extra moisture doesn’t really work well. Very paleo-friendly but definitely not keto
- Honey – much like maple syrup with all the same qualities bar 2. For one thing, honey is much sweeter than sugar so you will need to reduce the amount you use. Secondly, honey has a very specific taste and will make anything you cook with it taste like honey. Good if you want the honey flavour, not so good if you don’t.
- Monk fruit – a natural sweetener that does not elevate your insulin, has almost no carbs and bakes very well. The downside … it tastes awful when used to match sugar sweetness. Let’s just say I’m not a fan, but hey, try it for yourself and see (I recommend a very small jar or better yet, borrow some until you know if you like it because it ain’t cheap).
- Stevia – a natural sweetener with an intense flavour. It is almost negligible in carbohydrates and is found to be quite beneficial to your health. But alas, like monk fruit, some do not like the after taste of Stevia (uh… me!)
- Erythritol – another natural sweetener which has no after taste (yay). It does, however, have a ‘cooling’ effect on the tongue (think mint) which is a bit odd. I have however found that this only happens if mixed in with a fat first, trapping the sweetener in the fat molecules. The moment it hits water (your tongue) the cooling occurs. If you mix this sweetener in something water-soluble first, such as milk or eggs, then this doesn’t happen. I will mention though that erythritol makes your baked cookies kinda soggy and stops them from going super crispy, just a heads up. So if you like soft cookies, you will not be disappointed. And did I mention that I really, really like Erythritol? Yep, it’s my go-to for a natural sweetener when I want to avoid carbs.
And as we said before, this list for healthy food substitutions is not comprehensive, so we would love to hear from you where you find great alternatives and how you’ve woven them into your own culinary expertise. Give us your hints and tips below in the comments section.