Smart Food Swaps
How to satisfy your cravings and replace familiar foods without introducing problematic ingredients
One of the keys to success with keto is finding good substitutes for foods you miss - and sometimes knowing how you can avoid popular keto ingredients that may not appeal to you.
The Senza team has fielded thousands of questions about keto food substitutes from nearly 600,000 users of our keto lifestyle app. Recently, Coach Karlie took the initiative to gather our collective wisdom. Follow her tips to master the art and science of making smart food swaps.
- Why substitutes are a reality of keto life
- Tips for successful keto recipe mods
- Best food swaps for keto
- How to avoid food swap traps
Why substitutes are a reality of keto life
Starting keto - or any lifestyle change - is a big commitment. We’ve learned from personal experience and feedback from our community that letting go of familiar foods is one of the hardest parts of keto. Since so many convenient ingredients and packaged foods are incompatible with maintaining nutritional ketosis, we’ve compiled a list of easy swaps.
Yes, it is possible to enjoy many of your favorite meals, adapt some standard recipes, and modify in a pinch to make your daily food choices more keto-friendly. Read on!
Tips for successful recipe mods
When you want to modify a recipe to suit a lower carb lifestyle, keep these guidelines in mind:
- If it’s a grain-based recipe (pasta, pizza, sandwich, etc.), determine if you need to find an alternative recipe, or if you can swap a few ingredients to make your original recipe work.
- A good rule of thumb is to modify no more than two key ingredients in a recipe. If you need to swap more than that, search the Senza Recipe Box for a keto-friendly copycat of the recipe you want to revise - or be prepared for unpredictable results of your cooking efforts.
- If you only need to replace one or two main ingredients (for example, bread crumbs and low-fat milk), go for it! You can check our suggested swaps list below to see what alternatives might work. Keep a variety of these keto pantry items on-hand for quick modifications whenever it’s necessary.
The best food swaps for keto
When you’re craving RICE… try cauliflower rice (fresh or frozen), shirataki (yam noodle) rice, shredded cabbage, minced mushrooms, or riced broccoli.
When you want PASTA... make zoodles (spiralized zucchini), shirataki (yam) noodles, spaghetti squash, or kelp noodles (best for soups and Asian flavors).
If you need to replace WHEAT FLOUR (for baking)… use almond flour & eggs or coconut flour & eggs - but find and follow a recipe because liquids will be different. Try our Low Carb Baker's Kit to sample these ingredients in smaller quantities.
If you need flour as a THICKENER for gravies/sauces - try tahini, tomato paste, arrowroot (use sparingly as it has some carbs from starch), ground psyllium husk, or xanthan gum (be cautious with this one as it can disrupt GI function).
When your recipe calls for BREAD CRUMBS… sub crushed pork rinds (aka Pork Panko), desiccated coconut, grated parmesan cheese, or almond flour.
If you’re craving OATMEAL… make Keto N’oatmeal from chia seeds, coconut flakes, chopped nuts and seeds.
For a BURGER BUN or TORTILLA… lettuce-wrap that, or serve it over salad; coconut and almond flour wraps are available, but expensive and moderate in carbs.
Instead of POTATOES… you can mash, fry, or grate cauliflower, radish, and turnip.
To swap out CHIP, CRACKERS, PRETZELS… you can try cheese crisps or almond flour crackers.
When you’re looking for YOGURT… opt for full-fat, unsweetened Greek yogurt or coconut cream.
Instead of MILK or CREAMER… look for plain whole milk, half-n-half, or heavy whipping cream from grass-fed cows. Dairy sensitive? Coconut is the answer. You can substitute full-fat coconut milk, coconut cream, coconut yogurt, coconut oil, etc. instead of butter, cream, and milk.
Instead of VEGETABLE OIL, MARGARINE, or PLANT-BASED BUTTER… seek out non-inflammatory cooking fats, such as butter, coconut oil, lard, olive oil, tallow, and bacon grease.
When you would normally use SUGAR, HONEY, or MAPLE SYRUP… substitute monkfruit, stevia, or erythritol. You can usually find all of these in a variety of different forms (liquid, powdered, or granulated).
Remember, a micro-dose of a real sweetener may taste better than a major load of erythritol - especially once you’re keto adapted. If your recipe calls for a small amount of honey and provides quite a few servings, you may be better off just using the honey and adding a few net carbs to your day.
To sweeten dishes like a keto cake, or for consistent daily intake (say, sweetener in your coffee), we’d suggest sticking with the monkfruit, stevia, or erythritol options. You can even mix monkfruit-based syrups like this one with heavy whipping cream or coconut cream to make your own low-carb creamer.
Instead of SODA & JUICE… try low-carb beverages such as sparkling or seltzer water, tea, coffee, lemon water, or Bai and Zevia brand beverages, made with erythritol.
How to avoid food swap traps
Savvy marketers know a lot of people are looking for keto alternatives. Remember that not all ingredients are created equal, and do not trust the advertising claims on packages. Read labels carefully and try not to add maltitol, sucralose, aspartame, mannitol, sorbitol, xylitol, or acesulfame k in the process of lowering your carb intake.
You’ll also want to steer clear of industrial seed oils including soybean, canola, corn, sunflower, safflower, grapeseed, and any hydrogenated oils. These oils are a main source of inflammation in the body, and they can interfere with the benefits of keto.
When looking for grain-free options, watch out for a few more traps:
- Don’t add loads of fiber to drop the net carb total. Carb-friendly tortillas are a common offender here. Opt for swaps made of almond flour or coconut flour instead.
- Keep the additives in check. Read nutrition labels carefully when choosing new brands and don’t just go by the advertising claims. Avoid or limit emulsifiers, such as gellan gum, xanthan gum, guar gum, polysorbate 80, and carrageenan.
- Nutrient density matters. Try to prioritize a variety of whole foods over processed/packaged items. Convenience foods can be especially helpful for the initial transition to keto, but keep an eye out for problematic ingredients and avoid making these foods a foundation of your daily nutrition.
Final thoughts on smart food swaps
Swapping out your staples can be a bit intimidating, and it can feel like a lot of change. Don’t be afraid to experiment! Start with something easy, like cauliflower rice, and then expand from there. Learning what substitutes work, how they work, and even learning what doesn’t work - all help you to get more comfortable in the kitchen. As many of our users can attest, you’ll have these skills for life - they’re worth the effort!
Contact us for help setting up your Keto Pantry.
Read more about making wise keto food choices
Browse our Keto Taste Test kits on Planet Keto