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. Leonie Nicholas says:

    Hello,

    With your ‘frying oil’ substitute, just wondering what you could use if you are a vegetarian and chicken broth is out of the question?

    Cheers

    Leonie

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      Leonie – Veggie broth. 🙂

  2. Thanks so much…I wasn’t too sure if it would work the same 🙂 🙂

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      Leonie – No problem. 🙂

  3. How do you feel about Creme Fraiche? I am not a huge fan of greek yogurt and I have found that creme fraiche seems to be a happy medium between natural, unflavoured yogurt and cream cheese or sour cream. It works well in most recipes as a substitute for anything from yogurt, to cream cheese, to regular cheese, and what’s best is that it can compliment either sweet or savoury flavors! I could eat it on its own, over fruit, as a binder in certain recipes, or as a base for a sauce. I think it could work well for this “cream of” conflict being discussed above. Would you consider it clean, or am I going to have to learn to like greek yogurt a little bit more?

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      Ev E. – You know, that’s an excellent question. I’ve never had it!! I’ll have to take a look next time I’m at the store. I will report back when I do.

  4. Hello! I am new to the blog, but very excited to live a clean eating lifestyle! I am trying to learn all the rules for what to purchase and what not to purchase. I use a lot of extra virgin olive oil with cooking and sauteeing and was wondering if I should be using something else? There is only one ingredient listed on the back of the bottle if that helps.

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      Nicole – Welcome! It should be just fine. Enjoy!

  5. Have you ever heard of/used the sweetener ZSweet? It’s been a huge save for making my husband’s favorite recipes. It sweetens just like sugar, doesn’t have any funny taste to it, and won’t raise your blood sugar!

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      Michelle – How is it made? What’s it made of? Who makes it? (No, I haven’t heard of it.)

  6. Any updates on the Creme Fraiche? I have started using greek yoghurt a bit more, but it’d still be good to know I could use multiple different yoghurt substitutes in my recipes.

    Cheers!

  7. Wow, this is a lot to take in!

    I’m brand new to the eating clean world. My family and I really want to start eating clean and I think your website is just what we’re looking for.
    I’m sure I’ll have questions, so I’m glad to know that you are hear to help.

    Thank you!

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      Kendra – Welcome! Just take it one step at a time. Every week when you shop, replace not-clean foods with clean ones. In a few short weeks, you’ll have your kitchen converted for clean eating without any stress on you or your wallet. You’ll do great!

  8. Hi, I started reading your blog several weeks ago after deciding that I was addicted to sugar and needed to cut it out of my diet.
    I ate nothing that even tasted sweet for four weeks starting in April to kill my sweet tooth. I found your blog because I looked up dessert recipes with no sugar and found I was following clean eating practices. I had no idea that so many people were doing the same thing I was doing. I was so excited to find I wasn’t crazy!

    I have recently begun to add in sweet tasting foods in moderation. I wanted to ask about using pure cane syrup. I was reading about it , it seems to be cleaner than molasses, but wanted to check on your thoughts.

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      Beke – To the best of my knowledge, it’s not clean. But I haven’t really researched it either. I hope to do an in depth article on sugar, so I’ll know more then. Sorry, wish I could be more help on that. Welcome to my blog though! 😀

  9. Anne Hachey says:

    Hi again,
    Wondering this time about substituting cream cheese. I knew about plain low fat Greek Yogourt for sour cream(great on a baked potato, never know the difference). but have a low fat fettucine alfredo recipe and am trying to convert it and it calls for low fat cream cheese. Any tips you could provide would be helpful(also have baking recipes that call for the cream cheese but if I can substitute, then hey why not ya know?) Thanks again, I love your site and am learning so much! Knowledge is power! Keep up the great work! Anne Hachey Toronto, Canada!

  10. My family’s favorite zucchini bread calls for chocolate pudding mix. Any idea what to substitute?

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      Andrea – Not for that specifically. But I do have a zucchini bread recipe here on my blog if that helps.

  11. Wondering how you feel about baking with Xylitol? I find it works as a great substitute for white sugar…wondering if it is considered “clean” or not.

    Thanks.

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      Danyll – It’s something I’m looking into. I know a lot of clean eaters use it, but I’m not sure if it’s actually clean. I’ll be researching that very soon for an article on sugars, so I’ll have to get back to you on that. Wish I could be more help…

  12. What is your take on White Whole Wheat. I substitute it for anything that calls for white flour because it that such a better texture. From the research I have done, it is the same as whole wheat, just a lighter stalk?? I do use whole wheat pastry flour, but it is a lot more expensive. Just curious about your thoughts on this!

  13. Any subs for velveeta or cream of mushroom soup?

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      Vicki – By Velveeta, I assume you mean the cheese slices? I just use regular cheddar in block form if I need it. I do have a recipe for cream of mushroom soup in my soup section. You can even add chicken if you need a cream of chicken soup. I’m working on a cream of celery soup next…

  14. Hi! New to this, and trying to make it my lifestyle. My family loves my smoked bbq’d ribs and I am trying to figure out how to make my sauce clean. I use ketchup as its base and need a substitute. Help?

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      Kim – You would just have to make your own. I have a ketchup recipe on my site, but it might not be exactly what you’re looking for. You could try it though…

  15. Thanks! I’ll check it out

  16. Hi I would like to know a substitute for condensed milk I have a lot of recipes the kids love but all call for condensed milk (basically liquid sugar to me ) is there anything that tastes similar so the kids won’t know the difference would be really interested to know 🙂 and also NO tofu as a sub thanks heaps btw love your blog 🙂

  17. Hi-

    What’s a good sub for nut allergies such as peanuts, peanut butter, almonds etc.

    Thanks in advance

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      Tiffsny – Most likely sun butter if you can tolerate seeds.

  18. Jill Fulk says:

    Just subscribed as my family is beginning our clean eating journey. Loving the website, but find it a bit amusing that Tastykakes is one of the sponsored ad’s. I understand Blogher is responsible, just a bit ironic. Looking forward to learning more through your website.

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      Jill – It is ironic. But hey, if McDonald’s can sponsor the olympics, Tastykakes can sponsor some clean eating. Right? LOL

  19. Hello, I have a recipe for vanilla and raspberry muffins that I am trying to make clean – it is asking for 80g of light margarine. Would I be better to use coconut oil or applesauce?

    Thanks – P.S love this page – some GREAT info provided

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      Brooke – Honestly, I’d probably do 1/2 and 1/2. That way you cut down on the fat a bit without losing moisture. Let me know how they turn out!

  20. I just recently had my 3rd child, and have become an avid runner to get my “volleyball body” back. I have become somewhat obsessed with the idea of cleaning, however I’m completely a novice. I appreciate your blog a TON and all the comments as well, and while I haven’t heard of 75% of the foods you’re talking about, I’m excited to try them. I appreciate your hard work and investigation!! Thanks so much!

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      Marlaina – My pleasure! And if you have any questions about particular foods, feel free to ask! 🙂

  21. Thanks for the information. Is the organic can sugar I buy at Whole Foods considered clean (it looks a bit brown, like sugar in the raw)? If not, why not? Thanks, again!

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      Dena – I’m still researching all the different sugars. It’s a very large topic to cover and I hope to do a post about it in the near future. As far as I know so far, sucanat or coconut sugar are the only ones that are clean. But again, I have to do more research on that. Wish I could be more help.

  22. Great stuff. I just started clean eating. My wife’s not completely on board, I don’t think she’ll ever give diet Mountain Dew. I find it interesting that all the comments are from women. Where are the clean cooking men?

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      Troy – Haha! That’s what I’d like to know!! 😀

  23. My son has nut allergies and I cannot have any nuts in my house. I am seeing a lot of recipes with nuts. Can I substitute the nuts with seeds or is there something else to substitute?

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      Adrein – In some cases, yes. Depends on the recipe though. I do have a nut free section if that helps. Of course, it’s up to you to ensure that the ingredients you purchase are free of cross contamination…

  24. Is raw sugar OK to use?

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      Audrey – The short answer is, I don’t know. But I am working on a post about different sugars and am doing the research on that. So I should be able to tell you soon.

  25. for Troy…Good for you! My husband cooks and eats Clean with me. He does a lot of the cooking. I show him how to do it Clean. we are a team! He will never go on a site like this tho. GOOD FOR YOU…

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