Dietary Restrictions and Substitutions

If you are avoiding common food allergens like wheat and dairy, have dietary restrictions such as vegetarianism, or are following a popular eating plan such as the Paleo Diet, customized nutrition isn’t always as easy as just opening the refrigerator or wandering down the aisles of your local grocery store. Sometimes, you need to get creative when searching for food replacements to use in your recipes and cooking. Here are some suggestions to spark ideas on food replacements and substitutions when cooking for someone with a food allergy or a dietary restriction.


For example, with wheat allergies and gluten intolerance becoming more prevalent, pantry staples such as flour can’t always be used when baking traditional breakfast items such as pancakes, bread, or muffins. Almond flour, brown rice flour, and quinoa are excellent replacements for flours and baking grains that still allow you to enjoy your favorite homemade chocolate chip cookies, and possibly incorporate additional health benefits in the process. Allergic to chocolate? Try carob powder as a lower-sugar chocolate substitute!

For those looking to lessen their artificial sweetener intake, many natural sweeteners can satisfy even the strongest sweet tooth. If you’re looking for a sugar substitute with a low glycemic index, try agave nectar or fructose in cooking and baking recipes. These can also add some sweetness to fresh fruits, yogurt, oatmeal, and more. Brown rice syrup, date sugar, lactose, and turbinado sugar have a medium glycemic index. Lactose, or “milk sugar,” is especially helpful in growing beneficial gut bacteria, as long as you’re not allergic to milk. Beet sugar and dextrose (also known as glucose) have a high glycemic index. Both can be used as a substitute for cane sugar and they also offer a quick boost of energy.

Trying to cut down on butter without sacrificing flavor? Oils like olive oil and virgin coconut oil can be used in salad dressings or sauces, and they can also be used as cooking oils for sautéing and roasting meat or vegetables. Macadamia nut oil boasts one of the healthiest unsaturated to saturated fat ratios (provided you’re not allergic to tree nuts), and rice bran oil has a pleasant, nutty aroma and taste that enhances flavors.

Finally, thickening agents such as agar powder, guar gum powder, and xanthan gum powder are low in sugar, fat, and saturated fats and can thicken soups and sauces. To amp up the protein in a vegetarian’s diet, consider substituting buttermilk powder or different types of soy protein (as long as the diner isn’t allergic to soy) for eggs, white flour, and wheat.

No matter what your dietary restrictions, there are many options for food replacements or substitutions that can enhance your meal without sacrificing flavor or nutrition.

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