How To Make Almost Any Recipe Clean

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Ever wonder how to make a not-so-clean recipe, clean?

No, you don’t scrub it with a brush. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard that (really bad) joke!

I firmly believe that most recipes can be converted to a clean eating plan with a little experimentation and some elbow grease. So if you’d like to take a crack at it with one of your favorite recipes, here are some basic guidelines for making those healthy and clean substitutions.

If you would like any help with substituting a particular ingredient, please leave a comment and I’ll see if I can help. And here’s how to make (almost) any recipe clean.

How To Make Almost Any Recipe Clean

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THAT AWFUL WHITE STUFF

Sugar is pretty easy to substitute if you have a kitchen scale. Simply weigh the amount of sugar called for in a recipe, and then use that same weight in any natural liquid sweetener like honey or maple syrup. (Don’t try to substitute by volume. 1 cup of sugar does NOT equal 1 cup of honey.) Check out my Sugar Substitution Chart for substituting different types of sugars. Coconut sugar and sucanat are also good substitutes, though I rarely cook with them.

THINK BROWN SUGAR IS A HEALTHIER OPTION? THINK AGAIN!

Brown sugar is simply white sugar with molasses added. Need to find a substitute? Follow the directions above for weighing. Once you have the weight, use 3/4 honey and approximately 1/16 molasses to get a flavor that is close to the real stuff. If you want a dry version, try sucanat. It has a mild, brown sugar flavor.

WHAT ABOUT OIL?
  • In cooking or “frying” – if your recipe calls for more oil than you’d like to use, start with 1 tbsp. olive or safflower oil and replace the rest with plenty of chicken broth and a non-stick pot or pan.
  • In baking – use 3/4 cup apple sauce (no sugar added), and 1/4 cup fruit purée (like pumpkin or banana) for each cup of oil. But be sure to add extra spices and extracts, as there is then little or no fat to enhance the flavor of what you are baking. Typically, 1 extra tsp. of extract or spices will do nicely. Watch your baking times closely as low-fat/non fat items turn from raw to dry very quickly when in the oven.
THE OTHER WHITE STUFF

White flour is not only used for baking, but also for thickening sauces and other culinary uses. If the texture of your recipe depends on the flour (like in baking), then stick to whole wheat pastry flour. If not, experiment with the myriad of whole grain flours found in your local health food store. It’ll be a very tasty adventure!

LITTLE GLOBES OF PROTEIN

As much as I love eggs, I know lots of folks can’t eat them. I found a fabulous source for all kinds of ways to replace eggs, either the whole egg or just the whites or yolks. Check it out here.

WHAT ABOUT GLUTEN?

This is such an involved subject that it would take me a whole other blog to cover it. So instead, I’ll send you to the expert: Elana’s Pantry. Her tips are excellent.

OTHER SUBSTITUTIONS?

If you are wondering about something not listed here, leave a comment below. I’d also love to know what substitutions you use to keep YOUR cooking and baking clean!

Article is an original work and is © Tiffany McCauley. It may not be reproduced for any reason without written permission by the author.

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330 Comments

  1. Do you think its possible to substitute plain greek yogurt for vegetable oil in a zucchini bread?

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      Hope – It’s possible, but I haven’t tried, so it’s hard to say. I know apple sauce works, so I would imagine yogurt would work as well. Just a guess though.

  2. Hi! I am allergic to nuts and I am lactose intolerant. Do you have any ideas for snacks during the day? Most of the clean eating sites I have visited mention snacking on nuts.

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      Jacqui – How about: hard boiled eggs, chopped veggies with non-dairy dip, roasted chickpeas, guacamole with homemade chips made from clean tortillas, chopped fruits or even deviled eggs. Would those work?

  3. Gretchen Butler says:

    Absolutely love this! Super helpful!!! Thanks so much! I feel empowered!

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      Gretchen – Great! I’m happy you found it helpful! 🙂

  4. Christina Grubbs says:

    Hi! Thank you so much for this information! I just started adopting a clean eating lifestyle and I stumbled upon your blog. So thankful for you and your blog! I have a question too. Any idea what I can substitute for vegetable shortening in my pie crust recipe? Thanks again!

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      Christina – Welcome! I do have several pie crust recipes on my blog here, but if you are simply looking to clean your own recipe up, then I recommend a good quality coconut oil for that. You can also use butter if you prefer to avoid any coconut flavor. I hope that helps!

  5. Debbie Christian says:

    Hi, I’ve had a severe back injury and surgeries for 7 years. I just turned 60 and my meds don’t allow for much weight loss. HOWEVER, I’m old school, grew up on scratch recipes. No one in my family measured anything! Lol. I love pies, but have a terrible time with crust. I also would like to find a easy white cake to put fruit on. My problem I always want to bake but don’t have a single low fat, sugar free substitutes I need to replace the sugar or at least cut back on it. You would think by now I would know how to do this but old habits are hard to break. I like the substitute TRIVIA.. the amount of dry measurement as sugar, easy…. BUT I kind of find it to sweet and the texture in my white cake is a little rubbery. I use it for fruit and such, but there’s nothing like a white cake made with fresh eggs, real butter, and white sugar… doesn’t get any better.
    What could a substitute besides applesauce, sub sugar, no egg, no fat, honey, syrup??? Lol…. might as well not bake!!! I always thought that a real good cake, doesn’t really need icing. It’s good by itself. Add some peaches or blackberries and it’s a good dessert.
    Like all others we get it in our heads, NOW I CAN EAT MORE BECAUSE I LEFT THE ICING OFF! Haaaa….
    Can you find me a good white cake recipe where I can sit down and actually enjoy a piece of cake? And not that 1×1 small square!! Lol
    My piece of cake or pie is different than the new APPROPRIATE SIZE for today!!!! If I want some pie or cake I want to be able to go through 2 cups of coffee before it’s gone!!! Haaaaa

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      Debbie – I’m not sure I can help. It sounds like clean eating may not be your focus. This is the closest thing I have to that sort of recipe. It’s different from what you are looking for however. Heartier for sure. Truvia wouldn’t be considered clean eating either. https://www.thegraciouspantry.com/clean-eating-birthday-cake/ . Sorry, wish I could be more help.

  6. Sandra Connolly says:

    Is there a ckean substitute for creme fraiche?

    Thanks

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      Sandra – Creme fraiche is clean. 🙂 At least the ones I’ve seen so far…

  7. How does cane sugar stack as far as clean eating. I have always been told it is a good option.

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      Vicki – Sucanat is a clean cane sugar. It’s really about how much a natural food is processed. Cane sugar gets pretty heavily processed. So you want to look for raw sugar such as Sucanat (it’s a brand name I’ve seen at most stores in my area).

  8. I read a lot about using stevia instead of sugar. It says to use bulk and one of those bulk items is yogurt. Does it mean unsweetened? Or any yogurt? Will regular sweetened yogurt defeat the purpose?

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      Eli – Not sure what you mean by bulk yogurt. When you purchase yogurt, buy the plain variety and add your own sweetener. Buying regularly sweetened yogurt is not clean because the sugar they add is highly processed. Hope that helps!

  9. Thanks for this post! I am making a vegan pumpkin corn chowder that calls for two cups of brown sugar. I removed added sugar from my diet and would like to replace it with a healthy alternative instead is another kind of sugar, agave, syrup, etc. Do you think that unsweetened applesauce or apple butter would work? Do you have any other suggestions? Thanks so much!

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      Christen – Brown sugar is a relatively strong flavor. We don’t think of it that way, but it is. In this case, I would use 1 tbsp. molasses to get a flavor closer to brown sugar (brown sugar is white sugar with molasses added). I would also opt for maple syrup in a recipe like this. If you want to do away with sweeteners completely, you can absolutely use applesauce, but you won’t taste that sweetness when the dish is finished cooking. Hope that helps!

  10. Linda Swartz says:

    I am making a Cinnamon Butter Baked Carrot receipe that calls for 1/2 cup sugar and 1 Tbs. of Orange Juice. I want to cut down the 1/2 cup of Sugar and put in more Orange Juice. While Orange Juice has sugar in it, it has natural sugar (fresh squeezed Orange Juice not concentrated), should I just put in 1/2 cup of freshly squeezed Orange Juice and no sugar or 1/4 cup of Sugar and 1/4 cup of Orange Juice? Thanks.

    1. Linda – Is this just carrots or a carrot cake? If it’s carrots, then you can get away with that just fine. It’ll be more liquidy, but you should be able to cook it down okay. Orange juice, however, is not all that sweet when cooked or baked. So this may turn out slightly less sweet than you are thinking if you remove the sugar all together. If you want that sweetness, I would do the 1/4-1/4 ratio. And if you want it to be “clean”, replace the sugar with either coconut sugar or Sucanat (unprocessed sugar).

      If it’s a cake or other baked item, then I do not recommend this because it will throw off the wet to dry ratio. Hope that helps!

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