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If you follow my blog on Facebook, you may have participated in the thread I posted the other day asking for the TOP ingredient you have a hard time replacing when you’re trying to make a recipe fit the Trim Healthy Mama plan. I was blown away by the overwhelming response on that post! I sure don’t have personal experience for everything you asked for, but I’ve compiled a huge list of basic ingredient substitutions with the help of my blogging buddies. If I haven’t tried something, chances are that someone else has! Even if you don’t find a cut-and-dried answer to your question, hopefully the information you find here will at least point you in the right direction so you can find some answers for yourself with some further experimentation. Experimentation is really where it’s at, folks. I know it sounds intimidating to some of you with little prior cooking experience, but trust me when I say that that was me 4 years ago when I was just starting this blog! Even now, I’m only 21 years old and don’t have nearly as much experience as many of you, but anyone can experiment, and the more you practice, the more you learn. If I can do it, anyone can!
One very important thing I’d like to clarify right off the bat is that when you change to a new way of eating, you have to keep an open mind…and open taste buds. I’ve never been a fan of pretending that something tastes like the real thing when it doesn’t. Some (or maybe more honestly, most) healthy substitutions will never fool you into thinking that they are what they aren’t. The key is to learn to appreciate them for what they are. After 4 years of a healthier eating lifestyle, I have come to prefer many of these substitutions to their “real” counterparts, because the “fake” stuff actually tastes more real than the “real” stuff! Quality trumps normal if you have an open mind. Create a new normal and you will be far more content with what you’re eating. I guarantee that you’ll like the results.
I plan to post a few follow-up lists to this one dealing with more specific niches like “family favorite entrees made healthy” and maybe a more generic “favorite recipe made healthy,” so follow along on Facebook if you want to have a chance to suggest foods for next time! To make sure you never miss a blog post (since Facebook doesn’t show my posts to nearly everyone that follows the page!), you can subscribe to my blog via email using the header at the top of the page.
I’m not going to fill this post with Amazon ads to all my favorite products, but if you would like comprehensive lists of ingredients from various companies that I shop from, head over to my Starting THM page. There you’ll find:
- A quick summary of Trim Healthy Mama and its various books.
- My 5 top tips for getting started.
- Helpful links to posts that answer all your questions.
- Roundups of easy, beginner-level recipes.
- Explanations of all the new-to-you ingredients and where to find them.
- Click here to check it out!
- I personally use a high-quality bouillon such as “Better than Bouillon” to add extra flavor or quickly make broth for use in recipes when I don’t have real broth on hand. Most bouillons do have a small amount of sugar in the ingredients, but I view it as part of the “1g added sugar per serving or less” rule for condiments in the THM plan book.
- If you want to make your own bouillon without added sugar, click here for a homemade chicken bouillon recipe from Sheri Graham. There is also a bouillon recipe in the original THM cookbook.
- For bread to be acceptable on the Trim Healthy Mama plan, it has to be made with whole grains that have been either sprouted or fermented to break them down to a state that is kinder to the blood sugar. Sourdough bread is acceptable but needs to be a true sourdough that has been fermented for at least 7 hours. Examples of on-plan bread that you can purchase at the store are Ezekiel bread and Aldi’s Simply Nature sprouted bread. When purchasing sprouted bread, make sure that the flours listed in the ingredients have all been sprouted and that no (or at least very, very little) sugar has been added. When looking at sourdough bread, make sure the flour used is all wholegrain flour (no plain ol’ white flour) and see if it has yeast in the ingredients. Yeast isn’t off plan for Trim Healthy Mama, but a true sourdough bread does not use yeast as a rising agent. Breads made with grains and minimal fats fit into a THM:E category.
- You can buy some low-carb breads as well, such as Smart Buns. One of these would actually fit into THM Fuel Pull territory because it has minimal carbs and fats. Remember that you can subtract dietary fiber and sugar alcohols from the carb count to find net carbs.
- Joseph’s Reduced Carb/Flax, Oat Bran & Whole Wheat Pita Bread and Joseph’s Reduced Carb/Flax, Oat Bran & Whole Wheat Lavash Bread are two great products that can be found at Walmart and Publix, among other stores, and we love these for sandwiches. Since you can have up to 6g net carbs of bread “frankenfoods” in a THM:S or FP meal, one pita or half a lavash bread makes a great sandwich! The lavash breads make great quickie flatbread pizza crusts too. Just top with a thin layer of tomato paste (tomato sauce makes them soggy) and your favorite pizza toppings and bake at 400* until crispy.
- I started with the store-bought options, but there are plenty of breads that you can make at home! My personal favorite bread recipe is my Homemade Bread. It uses a “cheater sourdough” fridge fermentation to break down the carbs in the wheat flour. So easy! This recipe can also be found on pg. 160 of Necessary Food. I’m looking forward to experimenting with some other bread recipes as I have time, so hopefully there will be a few of those in my next cookbook.
- If you need a THM FP bread recipe, check out Briana’s Basic Bread here on my website or on pg. 158 of Necessary Food.
- OTHER RECIPES YOU MAY WANT TO TRY:
- Wonderful White Blender Bread from Trim Healthy Table
- Easy Bread Recipe from Gwen’s Nest
- Easy Sprouted Whole Grain and Honey Bread Machine Bread from Joyful Jane
- Basic Low-Carb Yeast Bread from Wonderfully Made & Dearly Loved
- Simple Soda Bread from Wonderfully Made & Dearly Loved
Bread crumb substitutions
- Here I am referring to substitutions for bread crumbs in things like meatloaf and meatballs. My mom’s meatloaf recipe (pg. 42, Necessary Food) always used dry oatmeal, not bread crumbs, so that wasn’t a problem as long as we kept the amount fairly low in a THM:S setting. Sometimes I use a combination of oats and Parmesan cheese (the green can kind) such as in this Italian Meatball Casserole. Other options include crushed pork rinds and Joseph’s pitas ground to crumbs in a blender.
- Almond flour, parmesan cheese, crushed pork rinds, low-carb baking mixes, and seasonings combine to make great breadings for meats and even things like fried okra!
- Briana’s Basic Breading from pg. 424 of Necessary Food (I like the crunch that a bit of flaxmeal adds. This breading is used in the Fried Okra and Fried Mushroom recipes on pages 126 and 127.)
- Mama’s Bake & Fry Mix from Wonderfully Made & Dearly Loved. Judy says, “I’ve also dried the low-carb bread and ground it into bread crumbs with seasoning for seasoned bread crumbs.” Judy has a Low-Carb Yeast Bread recipe right here, and you could probably use several of the recipes linked under the “Bread” heading above as well.
- Low-Carb “Breading” from Nana’s Little Kitchen
- I’ve found that a combination of oat fiber and xanthan gum makes for the best non-slimy gravy. You can see my basic Easy Gravy recipe on pg. 422 of Necessary Food.
- Make this Sugar-Free Brown Sugar from Gwen’s Nest or just use the sweetener you normally use and add a bit of maple extract or molasses.
- Caramel Sauce from pg. 413 of Necessary Food
- Brooke’s 5 Minute Caramel Sauce from Nana’s Little Kitchen
- Low Carb Caramel Sauce from All Day I Dream About Food
- I thought that this would be a good place to insert a note about corn and where it stands in the Trim Healthy Mama plan. Corn is not recommended for those who are trying to lose weight, but it’s not completely outlawed in small amounts in an E setting. Just keep it to small amounts on occasion (in soups and stir-fries, etc.) and you should be fine (or cut it out completely if it’s a temptation for you).
- While cornmeal is not on plan due to its high-glycemic nature, masa flour is acceptable because it has been “fermented” and broken down by the nixtamalization process (Google it). I don’t think that consuming mass quantities of this on a regular basis would be ideal (corn is used to fatten animals, after all), but it comes in handy in moderate amounts to give that real corn flavor in cornbread and breadings. I use it in a few cornbread recipes.
- I have not experimented with this myself because I don’t really feel like taking an extra step to make corn syrup to use in a recipe, but if you want to give it a try, there is a sugar-free corn syrup recipe down toward the bottom of this blog post.
- If you’re looking for a cream-based gravy, check out my Sausage Gravy recipe here on my website (or on pg. 76 of Necessary Food) or head over to Nana’s Little Kitchen for a Country Gravy recipe.
Cream of (chicken, mushroom, celery, etc.) soups
- Since I typically just make up recipes from scratch, I’ve never worked with trying to find a straight substitute for canned “cream of” soups and just make a creamy gravy right along with the recipe in question, but here are some recipes from my blogging buddies that might come in handy:
- Cream of Something Soup from TJ’s Taste (she includes several variations)
- Cream of Mushroom Soup from Gwen’s Nest
- Cream of Mushroom Soup from Working at Homeschool
- Cream of Chicken Soup from Working at Homeschool
- Cream of Chicken Soup from Northern Nester
- Judy from Wonderfully Made & Dearly Loved says that she has good success substituting heavy whipping cream for evaporated milk in recipes.
- Teresia from Nana’s Little Kitchen provided the graphic below and says, “For evaporated milk I use 1/4 cup cream and 3/4 cup almond milk and it works every time. I also use a tablespoon of half and half added to almond milk to perk up E and FP’s sometimes, depending on the other ingredients.”
- Wheat, spelt, kamut, buckwheat, bulgur, brown rice, teff, millet, amaranth, barley, sorgham, freekeh, and einkorn flours are acceptable for use on plan but must be sprouted or fermented/soured. Rye, garbanzo (aka chickpea), quinoa, and oat flour do not have to be sprouted or soured. This information is per some research in the THM Facebook group. There’s a handy search bar there that you can use if you need to find the answer to a question! All the flours I just mentioned belong in a THM:E setting.
- Some flours acceptable for use in a THM:S setting include coconut flour, almond flour, sunflower flour, flaxmeal, and ground chia. Oat fiber can be used in any THM fuel type since it has no net carbs or fats. None of these flours need to be sprouted or soured.
- When I bake in a THM:S or FP setting, I like to use a blend of low-carb flours for best texture. You can see my baking mix recipe and get more details about baking with alternative flours right here (you can also find my baking mix recipe on pg. 157 of Necessary Food). THM Baking Blend is a good low-carb flour blend choice that you can purchase. Check out my baking mix post for info on how to switch between the two.
- Flour substitutions for off-plan recipes can be tricky because most alternative flours do not act like white flour! They have different textures, soak up different amounts of moisture, and if they’re gluten free, lack the structure of a glutinous flour! Sprouted wheat flour will measure similarly to its non-sprouted counterpart, but if you’re substituting a low-carb baking mix for white flour in a recipe, you’ll need less baking mix than the flour called for (since the baking mix contains flours that soak up more moisture than white flour does) and you’ll probably also need to add some extra structure to the recipe to make up for the lack of gluten. Gluten is a protein, so adding extra protein such as eggs or protein powder can help. (Melted mozzarella cheese is the new wonder child in low-carb baking for this reason.) Xanthan gum and glucomannan can also help with the texture of alternative baked goods. It’s an experimental science, so if you’re nervous to strike out on your own, I recommend checking Pinterest for already-tweaked versions of your family’s favorites to help you get a handle on alternative baking before experimenting for yourself. Don’t be discouraged if your first baking results are less than stellar. Try some recipes that you know have gotten good reviews and get your feet wet slowly!
- In my Substitution FAQs and Baking Tips page, I explain some of the flours I use.
Flour as a thickener
- When thickening soups and gravies, I like to use a combination of oat fiber and xanthan gum for a non-slimy flour replacement. I use oat fiber in tablespoon increments and xanthan gum in 1/4 or 1/2 teaspoon increments until I get my desired result.
- I’ve gotta tell you guys, pureed beans or cauliflower make great thickeners too, and you’d never know they’re in there! This Hearty Barbecue Soup is an example of using beans as a thickener, and this Loaded Baked “Potato” Soup (pg. 96, Necessary Food) is a family favorite that uses cauliflower for a thick and creamy base.
- My mom’s old cream pie filling recipe used flour as a thickener, and when I healthified it in this Peanut Butter Cream Pie recipe (pg. 344, Necessary Food), I used a combination of egg yolks, oat fiber, gelatin, and glucomannan for a very authentic pudding! I very rarely use just glucomannan for thickening things because it can be slimy on its own.
Flour or cornstarch to thicken Asian-style breaded meats/sauces
- I played with an oat fiber/flaxmeal breading and a xanthan gum-thickened sauce in this Japanese Chicken recipe, and I was really happy with the results!
Ginger juice concentrate
- This isn’t necessarily an ingredient substitution, but Trim Healthy Mamas have this thing with GGMS (Good Girl Moonshine), and GGMS takes ginger. Kristen from Joyful Jane has discovered that she prefers fresh ginger juice to powdered ginger in her sippers, so in this post she shows you how to make your own ginger juice.
Graham cracker crumbs
- If a graham cracker crumb crust is what you’re looking for, the crust in this Strawberry Delight recipe (pg. 367, Necessary Food) is one of my favorite replacements. The coconut flour adds a bit of the same texture, to my taste buds at least!
- An almond flour crust, such as the crust from the No-Bake Cheesecake on pg. 360 of Necessary Food, is probably a little closer in taste to a graham cracker crumb crust.
- If you’re feeling ambitious, you could always make your own graham crackers, then crush them and mix with some butter and sweetener to make a crust.
- I’m not quite sure what to tell you on this one, folks. In my mind, there is no proper replacement for real, from-the-tree maple syrup. There are plenty of sugar-free pancake syrup recipes out there (and I happen to believe that the one on page 416 of my cookbook has a better texture and flavor than most), but they.are.not.maple.syrup. The end. I usually just purchase a Splenda-sweetened store brand syrup for occasional use on pancakes and waffles (Pearl said this won’t do too much damage once in awhile), and occasionally I use just a smidgen of real maple syrup in a THM:E setting (personal choice).
- There are homemade sugar-free marshmallow recipes out there, like this one. They look fun, they look yummy, but I have personal doubts believing that they are actually a good replica of a marshmallow. If you have tried something like this and loved it, please comment below and tell me about it! Unfortunately, most low-glycemic sweeteners just don’t have the gooey, sticky properties of sugar, and therefore, marshmallows. I tend to just bypass recipes that need marshmallows as an essential binding ingredient and make something else instead. Pick your battles. There are other recipes in this world. I’m sorry!
- The cheese sauce from my Mac and Cheese recipe (pg. 123, Necessary Food) is amazing!
- I’ve heard good things about this Low Carb Velveeta Cheese Sauce from Nana’s Little Kitchen.
Nut-free baking mix
- THM Baking Blend includes almond flour, but if you need a nut-free version, check out my baking mix recipe. My recipe does include coconut flour, which most people with nut allergies can handle, but definitely check with your doctor first to make sure it’s OK for you. (Check out the baking mix post for more info on this.)
- If you can’t have coconut or another ingredient in the many homemade baking mix recipes floating around cyberspace, I recommend that you just make your own mixture of the low-carb flours you can have, then do a little experimentation to see how it acts in recipes. Before long, you’ll know how much liquid your mix soaks up in comparison to other mixes and you’ll be well on your way to making tasty treats!
- My most-used pasta substitute is non-starchy veggies. We serve chicken alfredo or spaghetti sauce over steamed broccoli, spaghetti squash (check out this tutorial by MamaShire!), or spiralized zucchini noodles. I recently made a lasagna that used roasted zucchini as a noodle substitute; you’ll be able to find the recipe in my next cookbook. 😉
- Some people get really creative and make their own lasagna noodles out of cheese. This recipe from Peace, Love, and Low Carb looks scrumptious! To be perfectly honest, I usually leave the noodles completely out of my lasagna these days! The uber-popular Lasagna in a Bowl (pg. 60, Necessary Food) is testimony to that. You can find a full-size Lasagna Bake on page 59 of Necessary Food. So easy, and since I’ve never been a big pasta person anyway, I don’t miss the noodles.
- If you’d like to make your own pasta, Judy from Wonderfully Made & Dearly Loved has a recipe for Homemade Pasta Dough that you should try! (Note: She told me that you should not substitute xanthan gum for the glucomannan in this particular recipe.)
- Dreamfields pasta is approved on the THM plan as an occasional personal choice item. Supposedly Dreamfields has a coating that slows its impact on blood sugar, making it acceptable for use with a low-glycemic diet, but anecdotal evidence suggests that it affects different people differently. I use it once in awhile and it tastes just like regular pasta but doesn’t make me feel bloated like the real thing does. It’s something I’m a little leery of using on a regular basis, but it’s nice for a treat once in awhile. Do your own research and use your own judgement.
- I’ve seen some unique pasta options such as black bean pasta in grocery stores, but I haven’t tried them yet! Black bean pasta would be acceptable in a THM:E setting. One of these days, I’m going to make a delectable dish with those long, black noodles and watch my family’s horrified expressions when I put supper on the table. 😛
- Konjac noodles such as THM’s Not Naughty Noodles are useful in any THM fuel setting. These noodles are clear and probably quite unlike any food you’ve ever eaten, but they’re kind of neat! I wouldn’t call them pasta, but they do add a cool texture to soups and stir-fries.
- It can be a little fragile, but the Pie Crust recipe on pg. 341 of my cookbook, Necessary Food, is my favorite so far. There’s a less fragile crust recipe on pg. 342 called “Foolproof Pie Crust,” and you can find it here on my blog in this Peanut Butter Cream Pie recipe (pg. 344, Necessary Food).
- If you’re OK with eating the pie warm, this Low-Carb Pastry Dough from Nana’s Little Kitchen will probably be about as flaky as you can get with low-carb ingredients. The cheese in the dough makes it tender, but if the pie is cold, you’ll probably get a chewier consistency.
Pillsbury crescent rolls
- Jacinda from Northern Nester uses a cresent-style dough in her Veggie Pizza recipe.
- The Cream Cheese Danish recipe on pg. 380 of Necessary Food uses a similar dough.
- Keri’s Warm Marinated Ham and Cheese Rolls as well as her Taco Ring use this style of dough too.
- The important thing with potato substitutes is to appreciate them for what they are, not for what they are trying to be. Mashed cauliflower makes a great vehicle for gravy, and it tastes great as mashed cauliflower! It does not taste exactly like mashed potatoes, but that’s OK. In my new calendar that was just released for preorder, I’ve included a recipe for mashed cauliflower that can be used in any fuel setting, and on the included recipe card you’ll find my method to make the best mashed cauliflower, or “Classic Mashed Caulitoes.”
- Radishes make a great potato replacement when baked with roast or simmered in soups. In my Loaded Baked “Potato” Soup recipe (pg. 96, Necessary Food), I used pureed cauliflower for a thick and creamy base and added chopped radishes to replace the typical potato chunks. My little sister (who was pickier then than she is now) said, “This soup is too potato-ey.”
- I used jicama to make “hashbrowns” in the Jashbrown Breakfast on pg. 24 of Necessary Food, and grated turnip made an appearance in the Breakfast Casserole on pg. 66.
- I have quite a few more ideas up my sleeve in the area of potato substitutes, and there are a lot of old traditional potato recipes on my ideas list that will hopefully be remade healthy for my next cookbook! (I’m just stashing recipes away as I have time…no deadlines yet.)
- Sarah from My Montana Kitchen has experimented with jicama in the French fry department, so check out her Chili Cheese Fries recipe if you’re interested!
- Puff pastry is going to be very difficult to recreate with non-glutinous flours that are heavier than white flour and lacking its structure, but depending on the type of recipe you’re trying to recreate, this Low-Carb Pastry Dough from Nana’s Little Kitchen may be worth a try!
- White rice is out, but brown and wild rice are in! Instant brown rice is OK on plan, but I personally don’t like it because it stays too hard! Maybe it’s just the way I’m cooking it. I like to make brown rice according to the package directions, then season it up to fit whatever cuisine I’m serving. Check out the Spanish Rice on pg. 132 or the Curry Rice on pg. 79 of Necessary Food for easy side dishes. I plan to include plenty of other rice variations in my next book because I just love to use brown rice as my carb source in a THM:E meal!
- This was by far one of the most popular requests! Not being from the Cajun South, I personally haven’t had a lot of experience with roux, so I’m handing you over to Sarah Criddle from Mrs. Criddle’s Kitchen for this one. She has a recipe for Chicken Sausage Gumbo on her blog, and in that post she explains how she makes a killer roux. Check out the note at the bottom of the recipe for an explanation about how the recipe is classified for Trim Healthy Mamas.
Sweetened condensed milk
- 3 Ingredient Sweetened Condensed Milk recipe from My Montana Kitchen
- Dairy-Free Sweetened Condensed Milk recipe from My Montana Kitchen
- In my Substitution FAQs and Baking Tips page, I talk about the sweeteners I prefer.
- If you’re allergic to most of the low-glycemic sweeteners used on Trim Healthy Mama, monk fruit extract may be worth checking into. Some ladies use coconut sugar as well if all else fails, but it’s higher on the glycemic index so it’s not recommended for weight loss. The Allergen Free Trim Healthy Mama Facebook group has helpful information in its files section.
- Reduced-carb tortillas with 6g net carbs or less per tortilla are fair game. Stick to one tortilla per serving.
- If you can’t have whey protein powder because of a dairy intolerance, collagen can be substituted in most recipes. Collagen isn’t quite as creamy as whey protein in some applications (like my velvety drinks), but you gotta do what you gotta do! Collagen actually has less taste than whey protein powder does, so I prefer it most of the time. One cool thing I found out recently is that Great Lakes sells collagen and gelatin directly from its own site! They offer discounts on bulk orders and even have some free shipping offers! If you’re willing to buy 8 pounds of collagen, you can get it for $14.88/pound! Don’t worry, you don’t have to buy 8 pounds. They have all kinds of other options as well. CLICK HERE to see their store. You can purchase it from Amazon, Swanson, and iHerb as well. I haven’t tried THM Integral Collagen, but if it’s anything like their sweeteners, it’s high quality.
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What is this “Necessary Food”?
“So what is Necessary Food?” you may be asking. That would be my cookbook! It’s spiral bound, contains around 400 recipes (some from here on the blog, some exclusive to the cookbook), and sports lots of pictures! You can CLICK HERE to get more info, take a peek inside, and order!
Have you seen my latest project? Necessary Time 2018 is a calendar that I just released for preorder on Monday, Oct 2! It includes 12 new recipes with a full-page photo of each, plus 12 exclusive recipe cards (already perforated) that you can tear out and keep in your recipe box to make these recipes all year long! I’m running deals on orders of multiple calendars so you can get some of your Christmas shopping out of the way in October! I highly recommend that you order now because we only have a limited supply of these and are offering a special shipping deal during preorder that won’t be available later. You’ll also get a coupon for $2 off my cookbook, Necessary Food, if you order a calendar during preorder! The big release/ship date for the calendars is Oct 23. CLICK HERE to get your order in!