Real Food Substitutions for People with Food Sensitivities

September 23, 2016

article_healthyeating_avocado.jpgBy Madeline Bader, NWW client

Have you recently changed your eating plan? Whether the change is due to food sensitivities or you just want to be healthier, there is absolutely no reason to feel deprived! With a little ingenuity, you can not only eat healthy, but replace some of the much-loved foods you may be missing (rice, mashed potatoes and gravy) with healthier alternatives. There were many foods I didn’t want to give up when I discovered that my body doesn’t do well with eggs, dairy, soy products and all grains. I’ve found there are satisfying ways to prepare the meals you once loved, but that now cause health issues for you. Trust me; you will be impressed with how tasty these meals turn out!

Easy rice replacement

The last time I made stir fry, I used an excellent rice substitute. Drum-roll please…cauliflower! I must say it was fantastic. Even my husband, who doesn’t like cooked cauliflower, couldn’t tell the difference. 

How to prepare it:

  1. Simply grate a head of cauliflower. I used a food processor for this, but you can use a grater (just watch your fingers).  
  2. Add about two tablespoons of butter* to a frying pan and melt it over medium heat.  
  3. Add the grated cauliflower and a pinch of salt and stir. You’ll know it is done when it gets a little sticky, just like rice does. This process goes quickly and before you know it, you’ll have a delicious rice substitute that won’t spike your blood sugar. 

Ideas to try:


Serve it as a side dish. Add spices to jazz it up.

Pour a stir fry over it and the cauliflower mix magically transforms and tastes just like rice. The stir fry I enjoy is made simply with a little sesame seed oil (I like hot chili sesame oil for a little heat), meat, vegetables, Bragg’s Liquid Aminos, healthy chicken stock, spices and some potato starch as a thickener. (NOTE: There is a difference between potato flour and potato starch. I recommend using potato starch. A little potato starch thickens much more than corn starch or regular flour and makes a clearer looking sauce instead of a cloudy look that potato flour gives it.)  

Dairy-free, but delicious, mashed potatoes with a yummy gravy

I don’t eat mashed potatoes and gravy often—usually only around the holidays. But I didn’t want to give them up just because I am dairy-free. I knew I could find a healthy alternative and I did! Now I bring the mashed potatoes and gravy to holiday gatherings because I know they are safe for me. Even better, no one has complained about the taste or even noticed the lack of dairy. So when family members say, “Hey, I thought you couldn’t eat dairy!” I simply reply, “I can’t! These potatoes are dairy-free!”

How to prepare my mashed potatoes and gravy:

  • For the mashed potatoes, in place of cow’s milk, I use almond milk, butter*, and my secret ingredient—chicken stock.    
  • For the gravy, I start with meat drippings, add some healthy beef broth and then thicken it with potato starch.

Idea to try:article_healthyeating_burger-mushroomgravy.jpg

Make a delicious onion and mushroom gravy and serve it over hamburgers. In a frying pan, heat 3 tablespoons of olive oil on medium. Add mushrooms and cook about 15 minutes. Add sliced onions and cook until they are transparent (8-10 minutes). Add half a cup organic chicken stock and a splash of red wine. Let that mixture heat for about a minute, then add 2 tablespoons of butter and stir until it has a silky texture. Then pour mixture over hamburgers.

Dairy-free dessert

Avocados are a great substitute as well. I made some chocolate pudding that no one could tell was dairy-free, and loaded with healthy avocados!  

How to prepare it:

  1. Put the flesh of two ripe avocados in a food processor.
  2. Add 1/8 cup of sweetener such as maple syrup, ½ cup cocoa powder, 1 teaspoon  vanilla extract, 2 tablespoons organic coconut oil (melted, but not hot) and a pinch of salt.
  3. Turn on the food processor. It will take about 5-10 minutes until it becomes a smooth and creamy chocolate pudding.

Grain-free snack bar

In the past, I enjoyed the convenience of granola bars. They made great snacks because they travel well. When I learned that granola bars are full of sugar and preservatives and likely contributed to my back pain, I cut them out—the processed ones anyway. I’ve come up with my own version of what I call a “fake granola bar” made out of nuts. I found a recipe for this on the Internet and changed it slightly to suit my taste. Sometimes the end product comes out a little crumbly, but it still tastes great!

How to prepare it:

  1. Start with 2½-3 cups of nuts. My favorites to use are walnuts, almonds and pecans.
  2. Take half of the nuts and chop them roughly. Put the other half in the food processor and process into finer pieces.
  3. In a large bowl, combine the roughly chopped nuts, finely processed nuts, sesame seeds, raw pumpkin seeds and/or sunflower seeds. Add in ½-1 cup of dried cranberries (or any dried fruit) and 1½-2 cups shredded coconut.
  4. In a saucepan, heat up ¼ cup coconut oil and ½ cup honey on medium heat. Add in 1 tablespoon vanilla extract, 1 tablespoon almond extract, a pinch of salt and 1 tablespoon of cinnamon. Stir constantly until it bubbles.
  5. Pour saucepan mixture over dry ingredients and mix it all together. Pour mixture onto a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. Put another piece of parchment paper on top and press down until it’s about a half-inch thick.
  6. Let cool for four hours and cut into bars.

Popcorn replacement

Popcorn is another food that is no longer part of my eating plan. To satisfy my desire for it, I eat kale chips. Kale chips are delicious and very snackable. They are the perfect replacement for popcorn.

How to prepare them:

  1. Tear kale into bite-sized pieces and place it on a baking sheet in a single layer.
  2. Drizzle it all with olive oil and salt (very little) and pop it in the oven at 225 degrees to dehydrate it. You want them dry, but not burned. When I check them, I toss them again because some kale leaves get done quicker than others.
  3. It has taken as long as 3½ hours and as little as 90 minutes (depending on the size of the kale pieces). 

Idea to try:article_healthyeating_almonds-chocolate.jpg

Going to the movies? Skip the popcorn and snacks at the theatre and instead bring almonds and some dark chocolate.

These are just some of the things that I’ve found that work for me. I love to cook, I love to feed people and I love to eat. Changing what I eat to be healthy hasn’t changed my love for any of it. I enjoy the challenge of knowing I can make something healthier and not feel deprived. You can enjoy it too. Try these ideas for yourself and see how delicious they are. And notice how good you feel after eating them compared to the original versions. Happy cooking! Happy health!

*A note about butter: Butter is technically considered dairy. However, most people are able to tolerate it since it’s composed of milk fat and has very little casein and lactose. Casein and lactose are what people typically have a sensitivity or allergy to. If you are following a dairy-free eating plan, gauge how you feel when you consume butter to determine if it’s OK for you.

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