Keto Meals

Smart Ingredient Swaps for Specialty Diets

Publish Date March 17, 2022 5 Minute Read
Author Laura N Brown, MS, RD, LDN, ACSM-CPT

Dietary change should be sustainable, which is why it’s best to make small, incremental changes that you can actually maintain. One way to make nutrition habits stick is to avoid depriving yourself of your favorite foods or types of foods. Rather, find healthy swaps that fit into the parameters of your dietary plan and make small goals centered around those changes.

Swapping in healthier ingredients is one of the first things you can do to start making small changes to a specialty diet plan. You may not even notice the difference between the two! Here are some swaps to consider:

Keto Diet Swaps

Originally introduced as therapy for childhood epilepsy, the ketogenic or “keto” diet has gained popularity due to its potential weight-loss benefits. This diet requires a strict low-carbohydrate intake, while emphasizing healthy fats and adequate protein. When following this diet plan, the body goes into a metabolic state known as ketosis, where it burns fat rather than carbohydrates for energy.

A ketogenic lifestyle requires dieters to swap out carbohydrate containing foods. Let’s discuss some ways you can make some of your favorite recipes keto-friendly.

  • Taco shells -> lettuce: Planning taco night? Swap out traditional taco shells for lettuce or a large collard green leaf as the vehicle for your favorite taco fillings. Butter leaves or romaine hearts are to great options that hold their shape while delivering a healthy boost of fiber and nutrients.
  • Rice -> cauliflower: Over the past few years, cauliflower has become the new ‘it’ vegetable. Specifically, cauliflower rice has been used as a popular grain replacement for keto-followers, with one cup of the cruciferous vegetable delivering approximately one-sixth the amount of carbohydrates compared to a cup of white or brown rice. Make your own from scratch or skip the mess and go with convenience and find riced cauliflower in the fresh, canned or frozen produce department. You can also purchase cauliflower mixed with sweet potato rice, as a vegetable medley hash or mashed for a delicious and comforting side dish.
  • Pasta -> spiralized veggies: Traditional Italian food is a fan favorite but often hard to fit into a keto lifestyle. Luckily, there are many ways to get creative with vegetables! Cook spaghetti squash to uncover long, noodle-like strands of flesh that can be topped with your favorite pasta sauce. Or utilize a spiralizer to turn your favorite vegetable into a spaghetti or fettuccini alternative. To save time, look for veggie spirals, like zucchini and butternut squash, in the frozen food section.
  • Bread -> cloud bread: Cloud bread is a unique keto-friendly alternative to satisfy your cravings for conventional bread. Made with eggs and cream cheese, Simple Truth™ Original Puff Bunz are a fluffy and airy option for sandwiches and burger buns. A two-piece serving provides only 70 calories and 1 gram of carbohydrates. You can also try Base Culture Keto Bread for a similar option. Made from a mix of almond butter, flaxseed meal and low carbohydrate flours, this product delivers 4 grams of dietary fiber and 4 grams of net carbohydrates, making it convenient for you to stick to your plan!
  • Sweets -> fruits: Fruits contain many vitamins, minerals and antioxidants that make them extremely nutritious. However, keto-followers must be cautious because many fruits are high in carbohydrates. If you’re hoping to enjoy the natural sweetness and nutritional benefits of fruit, blackberries are a great pick. One ½ cup serving of blackberries is jam packed with almost 4 grams dietary fiber, resulting in a net carbohydrate content of just 3 grams. Raspberries and strawberries are two additional low carbohydrate, high nutrient fruit options. You can easily make a raspberry fruit compote by bringing a saucepot full of raspberries, a splash of water, vanilla extract, lemon juice, lemon zest and a pinch of salt to a simmer for 10-15 minutes. Try spreading this delicious tasting fruit sauce on your cloud bread!

Plant-Based Swaps

Plant-based and plant-forward eating patterns focus on increased intake of food from plants, specifically fruits, vegetables, whole-grains, nuts, seeds, and legumes. This plan can be as strict or flexible as you choose, meaning you don’t have to give up all meat and dairy to follow a plant-based diet. Following a plant-focused eating style may reduce chronic disease risk, an important benefit when considering your overall health.

Whether you’re vegan, vegetarian or just trying to cut back consumption of animal products, the following alternatives can help you maintain a balanced diet:

  • Meat -> Meat alternatives: These products deliver protein while decreasing consumption of saturated fat, a type of fat commonly found in animal products that may increase disease risk when consumed in excess. Tofu is a stable meat substitute. Made from soybeans, tofu contains no artificial flavors or preservatives and takes on the flavors of the dish you’re cooking. Meatless crumbles are an excellent substitute for ground meats. Delivering an impressive 23 grams of protein and 3 grams of fiber, crumbles can be enjoyed in tacos or Italian cuisine. If you’re looking for a soy-free option, Quorn Meatless Pieces are made from mycoprotein, a natural occurring fungi that’s high in protein and fiber. Similar to tofu, mycoprotein soaks up the flavor of your dish, making it an excellent pair for stir-fry kits.
  • Meat -> vegetables: Another way to mimic meat in your favorite meals is to add more vegetables! Mushrooms, eggplant, jackfruit, cauliflower and heart of palm are just some examples of great veggies that mimic the texture and taste of meat. Enjoy Eggplant Parmesan or use eggplant as the main ingredient in a sandwich. Not ready to give up meat fully and looking for a way to slowly cut back on your animal consumption? Consider mixing cauliflower rice or mushrooms with tomato sauce to make a delicious pasta sauce that’s lower in saturated fat, higher in fiber and full of flavor.
  • Grains -> protein rice/pasta: When following a plant-based diet, it’s important to considering varying your protein sources. Increasing the protein content in commonly enjoyed meals with plant-based substitutes can be easier than expected thanks to all the new innovative products found on grocery store shelves. One product to highlight, RightRice, is a rice substitute made from lentil and pea flour that delivers 10 grams of protein per serving. Another great option is one of the many varieties of lentil pasta, which works extremely well as an ingredient replacement in your favorite Italian meal.
  • Milk -> milk alternatives: If you choose to avoid dairy products, there’s a large variety of milk alternatives to choose from. Nutritionally, soy milk is the closest plant-based alternative to cow’s milk, containing similar amounts of protein per serving size. Choose unsweetened soy milk to help limit added sugars. Almond milk is another option that delivers a nutty flavor and excellent source of vitamin E. Similarly, oat milk is a great option for plant-based followers who have allergies to soy or nuts. Almond and oat milk both contain less than 3 grams of protein per 8-ounce cup, and therefore, should not be relied on as a source of protein. When considering milk alternatives, look at the nutrition label to find options that deliver 25% or more of your daily value for calcium, a nutrient important for bone health.
  • Cheese -> nutritional yeast: For many dairy-free, plant-based eaters, cheese can be a hard food to give up. Luckily, nutritional yeast is an excellent cheese substitute that can add a savory and slightly cheesy flavor to any dish. Packed with amino acids, vitamins and minerals, nutritional yeast is completely vegan and free from gluten, artificial flavors and sugar. Most notably, nutritional yeast is an excellent source of vitamin B12, a nutrient essential for nerve and blood cells that’s often lacking in diets without animal foods. Plant-based followers can add this seasoning to pasta, mash into baked potatoes or stir into casserole for a cheesy taste.

Gluten-Free Swaps

Gluten is the common name for proteins found in certain grains, including wheat, barley and rye. For individuals with celiac disease, a wheat allergy or gluten sensitivity, even a small amount of gluten can be detrimental. Therefore, a gluten-free diet is necessary.

Below are some easy and nutritious swaps for a gluten-free diet:

  • Soy sauce -> coconut aminos: Soy sauce, most commonly made from the fermentation of soy and crushed wheat, can be a hidden source of gluten. If you’re craving the flavorful ingredient popular in Asian cuisines, coconut aminos are a delicious alternative. As an added bonus, coconut aminos deliver 40% less sodium per serving when compared to regular soy sauce.
  • Breadcrumbs -> crushed nuts: If you are looking for an alternative to breadcrumbs, crushed nuts may be the ticket! Simply place your favorite nut in a plastic baggie and get to pounding. Or, use a food processor or blender to pulse the nuts until finely chopped. The use of crushed nuts will add heart healthy fat and fiber, as well as a delicious nutty taste. For recipe inspiration, try pecan crusted chicken tenders.
  • Pizza dough -> cauliflower crust: You can make your own gluten-free cauliflower crust, or simplify pizza night by enjoying Newman’s Own Crisp Cauliflower Crust Pizza. Deliver an additional nutrient boost by topping your pizza with frozen vegetables, like chopped spinach or an onion and bell pepper blend. If you’re not a cauliflower fan, try a gluten-free crust mix made with rice flour.
  • All-purpose flour -> almond flour: Gluten-free bakers can rejoice! Substitute all-purpose flour for almond flour for a rich and buttery alternative. Low in carbohydrates and high in nutrients, almond flour can satisfy your sweet tooth as the main ingredient in Gluten-Free Almond-Carrot Cake.
  • Oats -> pure, gluten-free oats: Oats are naturally gluten-free, but are often contaminated during processing. Gluten-free followers longing for a warm bowl of oatmeal should look for oats that are certified gluten-free. Oats are an excellent source of dietary fiber, a plant-based nutrient that will fill you up and may support heart health.

Looking for more substitutes or product recommendations to fit into your new nutrition plan? Visit to schedule a nutrition consultation with a Kroger Dietitian. Together, you can create a well-balanced nutrition plan that includes your favorite foods, making it easy for you to enjoy a healthy lifestyle on your own terms.

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