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Healthy Substitutes for Cooking, Eating, and Cravings!

Healthy Substitutes for Cooking
Written by Derek Howes

I’m asked about my diet a lot but what people SHOULD ask me is what I use to substitute so that I not only stay sane while on a calorie deficiency, but also give into my cravings pretty much whenever I want (in a healthy way).

The main thing to remember is moderation first, substitutes second. If you over-eat on anything you’ll gain weight so just remember to keep everything to a minimum. No you don’t have to eat plain chicken and broccoli to lose weight! Here are my favorite healthy substitutes!

  1. Use LEAN beef or ground turkey (93/7, 95/5, 99/1, etc). Whatever you can find that is leanest. It may cost $1-2 more but is a truckload healthier than 75/80/85!
  2. Use FAT FREE/LIGHT/HOMEMADE salad dressings. Not only can you use these on salad…but anything (even as a marinade)
  3. Butter Buds instead of Butter. No fat/cholesterol and as close to butter as you can get
  4. Eat turkey/chicken breasts instead of the whole bird/dark meat (a lot less fat)
  5. Crystal Light/Unsweetened teas (or anything similar) instead of sugary juices/teas
  6. Use FAT FREE cheeses
  7. Unsweetened apple sauce is a great substitute for oil/butter/sugar when baking (my favorite)
  8. Bananas are also a great substitute for oil/butter/sugar when baking
  9. Mashed avocado is another great substitute for oil/butter when baking
  10. Minced prunes instead of butter in darker baked goods such as brownies works great!
  11. Skim milk instead of whole
  12. Coconut milk or almond milk is a great low-calorie, cheap and healthy alternative to regular milk
  13. Sugar free pancake syrup (yes, there is such a thing!)
  14. Do you need your flavored syrups used in coffee? Well there are also sugar free alternatives of this as well!
  15. Sugar free chocolate syrup or cocoa powder instead of regular chocolate syrup
  16. Lower or sodium free soy sauce which they also have at restaurants if you ask
  17. Love salt? Well most places actually have a “sodium free salt” called NO SALT
  18. Love sugar? Well as I’m sure almost everyone knows to use artificial sweeteners (I prefer Stevia). Keep the sweeteners to a minimum though. It’s all about moderation
  19. Use FAT FREE plain Greek yogurt or FAT FREE sour cream instead of regular sour cream
  20. FAT FREE plain Greek yogurt is also great as a mayo substitute
  21. Mashed avocado is another great mayo substitute
  22. Oat flour, almond flour, coconut flour, whole wheat flour, or soy flour instead of regular flour
  23. If your recipe calls for a whole egg – use 2 egg whites instead to cut down on the fat
  24. Eat dried fruit instead of candy! You’ll kill that sugar craving and remain healthy (+ full of fiber) at the same time
  25. Rolled oats work great as bread crumbs! If you blend them up a bit they work even better
  26. Natural peanut butter instead of regular. Read the ingredient list on it…it should just be roasted peanuts, salt, palm oil, sugar (or less)
  27. Dark chocolate (if you are going to have chocolate) instead of regular chocolate
  28. Sweet potato fries instead of regular fries (not only are they loaded with fibers and vitamins, they taste better IMO!)
  29. Frozen yogurt is a great alternative to ice cream if you love ice cream as much as I do

I’ll add to this as things come to me or I find more great substitutes. If you have any substitutes you swear by, go ahead and post them below so I can try/add them to this list!

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About the author

Derek Howes

Derek Howes is a personal trainer and chef with over a decade of experience in the gym and kitchen. Derek, who is also known as The Protein Chef on his blog and YouTube channel shows his viewers every week that food doesn’t need to be boring or repetitive, it’s all about balance, moderation, and having the knowledge to change things up. His recipes which have been featured in the news, magazines, and on TV are cheap, quick, AND delicious! His motto in life is “everything in moderation” and is without question the most important habit he follows.


  • LOVE THIS! Thank you so much for posting this! I am starting a “life style” change and I was trying to find out what would be better alternatives so that I can keep with my goals and not cheat! Again THANK YOU!!!!

  • Just found your website from the post on reddit a few days ago and can’t wait to try your recipes! One of your tips is to make your own salad dressing. As someone who eats a lot of salad but uses store bought ranch, do you have any personal favorite recipes for salad dressings? If so, would you mind sharing? :)
    Thanks Derek keep up the good work!!

    • Hi Brian! I actually have a couple salad dressing recipes up if you go to my “Side Recipes” up top you will see them. Both the Alfredo and ranch are delicious on salads (in my opinion). I’ll be putting more up in the future! Thanks my friend

  • Brian,

    I’ve found these dressings that are made with yogurt and won’t break the calorie bank, but still taste amazing. The caesar and salsa ranch are my personal favorites – they go great with fresh veggies, salad, or on a sandwich. They’re usually near the fresh veggies/refrigerated dressings in the produce aisle. They’ve got a bit more ingredients than something you’d make at home, but they might make for a good transition into a healthier eating lifestyle, and probably have a longer shelf-life than homemade stuff. Enjoy!

  • Hey! I’m so happy with all of your recipes! They’re just brilliant. It makes us so easy to eat delicious and healthy at the same time that we’re getting in shape at the gym. Congrats guy! Greetings from Mexico 😀

  • Hi Derek! Just stumbled over your YouTube-channel the other day. Great recipes for even more gains at the gym! Tried your chicken-taco last Weekend… loved it, although i had to fry the chicken (no fat added ;-)) because I dont have a slow cooker.

    Keep up the good work!

    Greetings from Germany :-)

  • Hey David! Just found your website this week, and wanted to give mad props! Your recipes are delicious and I have learned a lot! I seriously missed baking and have found my joy in the kitchen again! My kitchenaid thanks you too!

    Some subs I love are:

    Avocado oil (slightly healthier than olive oil and tastes better IMHO)
    Monk fruit extract (less aftertaste than poor quality stevia)

  • I use almost all of these substitutes (except coconut because I’m allergic to it). Also, I discovered that silken tofu can make a fool proof mayo/ranch dressing substitute if seasoned correctly! I mix:

    – 1 package silken tofu (12 oz)
    – 1/3 cup milk of choice (I like almond)
    – 1/4 tsp sweetener of choice
    – 1 tsp salt or salt substitute (if using salt substitute, use more spices/herbs and less substitute)
    – juice from 1/2 lemon (or 1 tsp apple cider vinegar)
    – (for ranch dressing, add another 1/2 tsp sweetener, 1 clove of garlic, and black pepper to taste)

    Blend it all up and keep stored in the fridge (I haven’t tried this, but maybe adding some egg yolk will make it even more mayo-like). If anyone tries this recipe, I hope you enjoy! (I modified the recipe from some blog but can’t remember which one)

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