A vegan diet offers a lot of incredible health benefits. However, not all vegan diets are created equal when it comes to their potential to have a positive influence on well-being.
It all depends on how you implement it.
You could be vegan and live mostly off of junk food. Or you could eat mainly fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, and other unprocessed foods.
Naturally, the later will have a much more positive impact than the junk food version.
However, switching to healthier, unprocessed options isn't always easy, and it can be challenging knowing where to start.
That's why in this post, you'll find 10 healthier alternatives to popular vegan foods and ingredients that you can start implementing right away.
Note: It's not necessary to make all these changes at once. Begin with the one that is the most doable for you. You can always incorporate more later.
Alright, let's takes a look at what the 10 healthier alternatives are.
- Swap 1: Replace refined grains with whole-grain options
- Swap 2: Replace processed vegan meat-alternatives with healthier alternatives
- Swap 3: Replace processed vegan cheese with healthier alternatives.
- Swap 4: Replace oil with healthier alternatives
- Swap 5: Use natural nut butter instead of the regular kind
- Swap 6: Use healthier alternatives to sugar
- Swap 7: Replace store-bought fruit juices and smoothies with homemade options or whole fruits
- Swap 8: Instead of sugary drinks make delicious infused water
- Swap 9: Instead of store-bought vegan ice cream, make your own nice cream
- Swap 10: Replace salt with herbs and spices
- Summary: 10 healthier alternatives to popular vegan foods
Swap 1: Replace refined grains with whole-grain options
During the processing of grains, many valuable nutrients are lost. By choosing the whole-grain option, your vegan meal becomes healthier without any additional effort.
Here are a few swap suggestions:
- Spaghetti → Whole wheat spaghetti
- Pasta (different varieties) → whole wheat pasta
- Rice (different varieties) → brown rice, wild rice
- White flour → whole wheat flour
- Couscous → whole-grain couscous
- Bread (different kinds) → whole-wheat bread
- Wheat tortillas → whole-wheat tortillas or corn tortillas
- Sugary cereal → oats/oatmeal
Note: Pseudocereals such as quinoa and amaranth are minimally processed grains and belong in the healthy group along with the whole-wheat options.
Swap 2: Replace processed vegan meat-alternatives with healthier alternatives
Vegan meats are particularly helpful at the beginning of a vegan journey because they allow you to veganize all your favorite recipes. But these products are generally low in nutrients and usually high in oil and salt.
Therefore, seen long term, these products should only be consumed in moderation. You can replace them with healthier low/ or unprocessed options such as tofu, tempeh, chickpeas, and other legumes.
It is difficult to give general swap suggestions here because it always depends on the recipe. What may be an excellent substitute for one may not work for another.
Below, are a few substitution ideas, but feel free to ask me for a recipe-specific alternatives :).
A few ways to get started:
- You can replace vegan gyros meat with tempeh marinated in gyros spice
- You can make vegan chicken nuggets out of tofu or chickpeas
- For Vegan "chicken/turkey" stripes, you can marinate tofu or tempeh and cut them into strips.
- To make salads more hearty, you can use chickpeas, kidney beans, and other legumes.
- You can use lentils instead of vegan minced meat.
- For your sandwich, use veggies instead of vegan lunch meat.
Swap 3: Replace processed vegan cheese with healthier alternatives.
Similar to meat alternatives, vegan cheese is convenient when you're transitioning to a plant-based diet. Although the vegan options are healthier than the dairy ones, they can't compete with whole foods.
Therefore, you may want to replace vegan cheese with more nutritious options.
Again, it is difficult to make general suggestions here on which substitute is the best because it always depends on the recipe.
For some dishes, you can simply omit the "cheese." In others, you can substitute with pumpkin/squash, cauliflower, or cashews, for example. Nutritional yeast can also be a tasty option.
If you crave some "real" cheese, there are tons of homemade vegan cheese recipes that are super yummy as well as rich in vitamins and mineral.
Here are a few suggestions
- Vegan Provolone
- Easy Garlic & Herb Vegan Cheese
- Vegan Cheddar Cheese
- Melty Stretchy Gooey Vegan Mozzarella
- Easy Vegan Cheese Sauce
Swap 4: Replace oil with healthier alternatives
Omitting oil from your diet offers many benefits but can be tricky in the beginning.
Here are a few quick tips to get you started
- For sautéing in a pan→ use vegetable stock or water
- Oil-free salad dressing → vegan yogurt with garlic and fresh herbs
- or balsamic vinegar/lemon juice + Tahini + garlic powder + ground pepper
- Bread with butter → whole-wheat bread with hummus or avocado
- Mayonnaise → homemade oil-free vegan mayonnaise
- Here are some more tips for oil-free cooking and baking
Swap 5: Use natural nut butter instead of the regular kind
Often nut butter, such as peanut or almond butter, is heavily processed and contains additional sugar, oil, salt, and other additives.
A healthier option is natural nut butter, ideally the kind where the only ingredient on the label is the respective nut/seed.
At first, it may take your taste buds a while to get used to the natural flavor. However, once they are, you will never want to go back.
Swap 6: Use healthier alternatives to sugar
Some great options include coconut sugar, monk fruit sugar, erythritol, agave syrup, and rice syrup.
However, the best and healthiest alternative to sugar is date paste. You can easily make it yourself.
To do so, soak 500g of dates overnight in 250ml of water. The next day, place the dates and water in a blender or food processor and mix until you get a paste.
You can replace sugar with date paste 1:1. So, if a recipe calls for 250 grams of sugar, you can use 250 grams of date paste.
If you do not use up the paste all at once, store it in the fridge.
Swap 7: Replace store-bought fruit juices and smoothies with homemade options or whole fruits
For the most health benefits, prepare juices and smoothies freshly instead of buying pre-made ones at the store. These beverages often have additives that you may want to avoid, are overpriced, and may contain fewer nutrients.
Plus, do you really know what is in them?
If you don't have the time or appliances to make your smoothies and juices, you can go to a place where the smoothies and juice are made fresh upon order.
Alternatively, and possibly the bed option is eating whole fruits instead. Maybe instead of a smoothie, make a fruit salad with or prepare a fruit platter.
Swap 8: Instead of sugary drinks make delicious infused water
Most people, by now know that sugary beverages like pops/sodas are not the best choice for their health. Yet, they continue to be popular, among others, because many don't like the plain taste of water.
Well, here is the solution: make your own infused water. Seriously, it's so easy and so delicious!
This post shows you 7 amazing recipes you can try out.
Moreover, if you prefer carbonated beverages, investing in a soda stream will be a good idea for your health and budget.
Swap 9: Instead of store-bought vegan ice cream, make your own nice cream
I know, I know, nothing beats Ben and Jerry's vegan ice cream. It's my guilty pleasure, too; I could eat a pint every single day. But I know better (most of the time).
So, for those hot summer days, when I need some cooling off, I like preparing my own nice cream.
It usually requires only a few ingredients and is super easy to make as well as incredibly healthy.
Here are some of my favorite recipes:
- Dark Chocolate Nice Cream (Vegan, Paleo, Gluten Free, Dairy Free)
- Vegan Chocolate Peanut Butter Ice Cream
- 2-Ingredient Vegan Blueberry Ice Cream Recipe
Swap 10: Replace salt with herbs and spices
While reducing the salt intake is recommended, particularly to those with high blood pressure, we all could benefit from decreasing our salt consumption.
Luckily, food does not have to taste bland without it. Instead of using salt, try seasoning your food with spices and herbs.
Not only will it taste so much better, but the herbs and spices also provide additional nutritional value.
There are so many amazing herbs and spices out there.
Here are the ones I use the most often: rosemary, oregano, basil, parsley, cumin, thyme, lemongrass, coriander, dill, ginger, garlic, and curry, garman masala.
Additionally, you can add Sriracha, hot sauce, or adding nuts and seeds to your meals to make them more exciting.
Note: Himalayan salt may be a healthier alternative to regular table salt, but use it in moderation. If you can't let go of salt entirely replace it with Himalayan salt.
But as a first choice, go for herbs and spices.
Summary: 10 healthier alternatives to popular vegan foods
Which of these healthy swaps are you planning on implementing first?