As someone with a lot of food sensitivities who always liked to cook, I’ve had to do a lot of trial and error finding decent substitutes for a lot of foods in traditional recipes. Back when Paleo and AIP food blogs weren’t a dime a dozen, trial and error was pretty much the only option! But I’ve always enjoyed the challenge of trying to take recipes I couldn’t eat and turn them into delicious, healthy meals. With cooking, more often than not, you’re sure to find that a little trial-and-error can reap big rewards. It’s how I’ve come up with all of the recipes you can find here and in my books, and I’m no culinary genius (trust me!). To help you get started adapting all of your favorite recipes, here are some of the tricks I’ve learned for subbing non-Paleo ingredients:
Grain-Based Sides or Snacks
Traditional applications: Grains might appear as a side dish (rice, grits) or in snacks (granola, cereal, crackers).
How to sub it: Use cauliflower rice as a side dish, toasted nuts and/or seeds or coconut flakes in granola or cereal, and use plantain chips, sweet potato chips, or other veggie chips instead of chips and crackers.
Sandwiches, Burgers, or Wraps
Traditional applications: Grain-based breads (tortillas, buns, bread) may be used for wraps, burgers, and sandwiches.
How to sub it: Use lettuce leaves, portobello mushroom caps, or roasted sweet potato rounds in place of tortillas, buns, or bread for wraps, burgers, and sandwiches.
Grain Flours or Starches
Traditional applications: Grain flours and starches might appear in baked goods, as breading for meats, or in soups and sauces as thickening agents (especially as corn starch).
How to sub it: Use finely-milled blanched almond flour, hazelnut flour, chestnut flour, sunflower seed flour, pumpkin seed flour, pumpkin flour, or plantain flour 1:1 for wheat flour for baking or use up to half tapioca starch or one quarter arrowroot (with one of those flours making up the remainder), almond meal or finely-crumbled bacon for breading, and arrowroot or sweet potato starch 1:1 for corn starch as a thickening agent. Coconut flour is difficult to sub with because it is much more absorbent than other flours, but you can start by using 1/4 the amount of wheat flour called for and adding other flours or starches as needed to add bulk to the recipe. Alternatively, you can add it a teaspoon at a time to a Paleo batter you’ve made that is too wet (letting it sit for a bit to thicken before judging whether you need to add more).
Traditional applications: Gluten acts as a binder in baked goods and many gluten-free products use gums like guar or xanthan (which are not Paleo).
How to sub it: Add an extra egg or egg white; a bit of nut butter, coconut oil, or mashed banana (1/4 cup is about equivalent to one egg); flax meal or gelatin (1 tablespoon mixed with 3 tablespoons of water is about equivalent to one egg), or applesauce, plantain puree, or pumpkin puree (1/3 cup is about equivalent to one egg) to any Paleo batter that needs some extra binding to hold it together.
Traditional applications: Sweeteners might appear in baking, beverages, and condiments.
How to sub it: Use evaporated cane juice (sucanat) 1:1 for white sugar, muscovado sugar or maple sugar 1:1 for brown sugar, honey instead of corn syrup, or replace 1 cup of sugar with 1 1/3 cups molasses or 3/4 cup honey or maple syrup (decreasing other liquids in the recipe by 1/4-1/3 cup to accommodate these liquid sweeteners). Make your own powdered sugar by processing evaporated cane juice until powdered and adding 1-2 tablespoons arrowroot for every cup of sugar.
Traditional applications: Beans might appear in side dishes (refried beans, 7-layer dip), entrees (chili), or dips (hummus).
How to sub it: Use 1:1 ground meat in sides and entrees and roasted root vegetables such as beets or sweet potatoes for homemade hummus.
Traditional applications: Peanuts might be eaten whole (like in nut mixes) or as peanut butter.
Traditional applications: Soy sauce is frequently used in sauces or as a condiment.
Shortening and Butter (or Butter Substitutes)
Traditional applications: Butter might appear in baking or as a cooking fat.
Milk or Cream
Traditional applications: Milk or cream might appear in baking, novelties, soups, or condiments.
How to sub it: Use 1:1 coconut milk, homemade almond milk, or any other homemade nut- or seed-based milk.
Traditional applications: Served as a side dish (on the cob or in soups, salads), snack (popcorn), or used as a thickener (corn starch).
How to sub it: Use vegetables such as squash, carrots, sweet potatoes, or peas as a side or in soups and salads, roasted pumpkin seeds instead of popcorn, and arrowroot or sweet potato starch 1:1 for corn starch as a thickening agent.
Vegetable or Peanut Oils
Traditional applications: May appear in baking, cooking, or condiments.
Traditional applications: Baking powder is used in baking as a leavening agent.
Traditional applications: Ketchup, mustard, mayonnaise, barbecue sauce, salad dressings, relishes, chutney, horseradish, whipped cream, and vinegars are often used as condiments.
How to sub it: Make your own ketchup, mustard, mayonnaise, barbecue sauce, salad dressings, and other condiments using Paleo-friendly ingredients.
Budget-Friendly AIP Cookbook
The Nutrient Dense Kitchen is a beautiful, simple cookbook all about helping you understand which ingredients will give you the most nutritional bang for your buck, and showing you how to incorporate them into your diet in efficient, budget-friendly, and delicious ways. With 125 AIP recipes and 5 meal plans, it’s a cookbook you’re guaranteed to cherish. Now available on Amazon.