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. I have a nut allergy and would like to know what I can use/substitute to get the benefit of nuts and their healthy oils.

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      Tawanna – If you have a nut allergy, then using anything nut related is not a good idea. I would ask around at a local health food store. Perhaps something like omega 3 oils? I’m not positive….

  2. Jenna Judy says:

    Hello, I’m a beginner and I want to be fully prepared with the right information before I begin. What about truvia or Stevie, are they acceptable as clean eating? And caffeine, is it considered clean eating? Thanks you so much you are truly an inspiration and your website is just amazing. I can’t wait until your new book comes out!

    Jenna

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      Jenna – Stevia is a plant (you can grow it yourself). Truvia is made IN a plant (the coca cola manufacturing plant). So as long as you have a pure form of stevia, that’s the clean choice. Personally, I haven’t found one that is truly clean (the liquid drops are the closest you can get), so I’m growing my own stevia plant. We shall see how that turns out! Caffeine is a gray area. I would limit it if you are going to have it. Maybe 1 cup of coffee per day. Totally a personal choice though.

  3. is sugar in the raw and green tea considered a clean product?

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      Brittney – I believe so, yes.

  4. Hi We have been eating clean for 9 days now and I can honestly say that in the last 3 days I have had more energy and have slept better than in ages. I am fdindingf it really easy, there is an abundance of “real” food that you can eat. There is one thing I can’t do without and that is gravy on my Sunday roast. We have been using gravy granules for so long I can’t remember how I used to make gravy before! Also when coming in from work they are so handy and quick. How can I make and thicken gravy the clean way?

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      Jennifer – When you cook the roast, do you end up with any drippings in the bottom of the pan? I make my gravy from drippings. (I usually make mine with chicken drippings from the slow cooker). Just add 1 tbsp. at a time of flour if it’s very watery and some garlic powder, onion powder and any other spices you want. If there isn’t much, try to get as much as you can and maybe add some clean broth. You can make broth gravy the same way, but it tastes better with some of the drippings in it. You don’t need much for flavor.

  5. Thanks when you say flour do you mean white flour, We dont eat white flour only wholemeal, can I use that? Jen x

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      Jennifer – I’m saying that you should avoid white flour and use only whole grain flours.

  6. Val Moore says:

    I replaced Campbell’s soups by making my own. I know organic butter isn’t a part of clean eating, but it’s better than all the chemicals included in the can of Campbell’s. I use wheat flour for the rue. There are many recipes online. Just reduce the sodium and make your own chicken stock. It tastes so much better than the canned stuff.

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      Val – There is nothing wrong or “un-clean” about good quality butter. You just have to use it in moderation. Whole wheat flour can easily replace white flour in this instance as well. And I agree, make stock! Taste’s so much better!

  7. I have a recipe from my mother that I would like to “try” to make clean. It is a candy but I think it could become a healthy snack fairly easily so we could still enjoy it. In the original recipe it calls for powdered sugar and I am trying to figure out if I can leave that out or use something else.

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      Karen – If you run some sucanat through the blender, you’ll have clean powdered sugar. 🙂

  8. This may sound weird, but I had a cornbread mix that had canola oil in the “recipe” and I got a wild hair and substituted coconut oil. Worked like a charm and people complemented me on it all night! May work in other recipes as well, just be aware that it may add sweetness to the flavor.

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      Sandee – Absolutely!! I’ve been using coconut oil for about the past year, and I am absolutely in love with what it does for my food. Yum!!

  9. What the substitute for castor sugar and spelt flour is the clean substitute for plain same with self raising just add baking powder/soda, i use pure cream, mineral water, spelt flour and baking powder and coconut oil is good to replace oil

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      Leeanne – I assume you mean powdered sugar? All you would do is put some coconut sugar or sucanat in a blender to get clean, powdered sugar.

  10. So is it possible to substitute liquid sweetners such as honey and pure maple syrup in baked goods? Do you need to remove some liquid or is it fine as long as you use the same weight when substituting?

  11. Jennifer Sacco says:

    I know white processed sugar isn’t any good but is unrefined cane sugar ok? Also I was looking into alternative pastas and one option my local co-op has in quinoa pasta, the second ingredient is corn flour, is that ok?

    By the way… thank you for such an amazing website!! It’s been so helpful as I start my clean eating journey.

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      Jennifer – You want to look for something called Sucanat. It’s dehydrated cane juice which is clean. Other varieties are not. But still keep it in strict moderation. As for pasta, unless it’s organic corn, I would avoid it as it will then be a GMO.

  12. Betty Lee says:

    I like my coffee. I saw on the internet that coffee isn’t clean eating. Is that the case? I like the flavored creamers too. I don’t have to add extra sugar when I use it. What can I replace my flavored creamer with to get that creamy coffee? Milk doesn’t work. Would coconut milk work?

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      Betty Lee – In my recipe index, I have a coffee drinks section under Beverages. You’ll find several options there, even a couple creamer recipes. If you like it sweet, my condensed milk recipe is great. You can use any type of milk.

  13. This may sound a little odd but, is there anyway in which i can make this recipe clean or at least healthy?

    I am having trouble finding good substitutes.

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      Rebecca – Sure! I’m not sure how the changes will affect it, but here’s what I would do:

      350g dark chocolate, chopped – Unsweetened baking chocolate with honey added to taste.
      40g butter
      2 eggs
      ⅔ cup (150g) caster (superfine) sugar – Sucanat (you can run it through a blender to turn it into powdered sugar.
      1 teaspoon vanilla extract – Get the pure stuff. No added sugars
      ¼ cup (35g) plain (all-purpose) flour, sifted – Whole wheat pastry flour.
      ¼ teaspoon baking powder, sifted
      peanut butter frosting
      1 cup (160g) icing (confectioner’s) sugar mixture – Sucanat in a blender
      1 cup (280g) smooth peanut butter – No sugar added
      80g butter
      1 teaspoon vanilla extract – Pure
      ⅓ cup (80ml) single (pouring) cream

  14. Hello,

    Quick question: What do you think about Agave nectar (the bottles that sell this looks like a dark honey-like syrup). Would you recommend this to substitute instead brown or white sugar?

    Thanks!

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      Araceli – No. Agave is highly processed stuff, similar to corn syrup. If you need a brown sugar flavor you can use honey with a bit of molasses or for a dry sweetener, use Sucanat.

  15. I’m looking for a healthier way to use recipes that call for velveeta. Any recommendations ? Thank you

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      Tina – I’ve been contemplating that myself. It’s not easy. About the only thing I can think of is simply to make your own cheese sauce using cheddar and cream.

  16. just another s-a-h-mother says:

    Hi there!

    I’m quite enjoying the recipes and the information, thank you very much.

    One thing I wanted to mention, a substitution I have been making for years when baking — ground flax seed for the fat/oil in recipes. It’s a 3:1 ratio, so if the recipe calls for 1 cup of oil you need 3 cups of ground flax seeds. It’s good for you and it tastes great. Fantastic, particularly in muffins or quick breads!

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      JASAHM – Sounds interesting! The issue I’ve always had with flax is the sort of oily (almost slick and slimy) texture it gives baked goods. Do you know a way around that or do you just get used to it?

  17. just another s-a-h-mother says:

    The only time I have that “trouble” is if I use it in something like banana muffins that are quite moist to begin with. My family actually finds that it makes things a little drier.

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      JASAHM – Interesting! I’ll have to try that out. Thank you! 🙂

  18. I was wondering if real sorghum molasses for sweetener could be used in clean eating?
    I have spent hours reading your blog and have learned so much already! Thanks for all you have done to help others learn to eat clean!

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      Marquita – I looked it up because I have never heard of it. It appears to be clean, but I don’t know how a larger company would process it. You would have to look at the processes the company uses that you want to buy from. But beyond that, I’d say it’s pretty clean.

  19. How about a substitute for cream cheese. So many of my winter casseroles an soups call for it. I’ve heard Greek yogurt and, while it is a great sub for sour cream, it is a bit too tangy for cream cheese, in my opinion.

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      Desiree – Oh boy. If I could come up with a substitute for that, I’d be a millionaire! LOL! I keep searching, but haven’t found anything yet. I think the only thing you can really do is find a good quality cream cheese at a specialty store. I think that’s the closest you will get. But I’ll keep searching. 🙂

  20. I’ve been experimenting with substitutions, and am wondering, can you replace multiple ingredients in the same recipe? For example replacing butter with banana and sugar with honey in one recipe. Or does one have to remain unchanged. This is all new to me and very confusing but im not giving up yet.

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      Heather – You can. But with baking, you have to keep the wet to dry ratio the same. So if you use honey, you’ll need to up a dry ingredient slightly to get it to come out right.

  21. How about butter? I searched and could not find anything on the web. My daughter (13) recently was started on the AIP. Even though I have been eating clean for almost a year, this is all too new for me. Thanks in advance 🙂

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      Michelle – Good quality butter in moderation is clean. I’m not sure what AIP is though. If it’s a medical issue that would be something else entirely and I couldn’t comment on that.

  22. Hi
    I want to make a cauliflower soup and it calls for parmesean cheese, I cannot do cheese. Help? Thx

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      Alice – You can try it without, but the cheese does add some flavor, so you may have to adjust the spices to your liking.

  23. Shauna McMillen says:

    How would you us a product like NuNaturals Pure Stevia poweder?

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      Shauna – Most of those companies will have conversion charts on their websites. I don’t use them, so I’m not really sure.

  24. Meagan Cunningham says:

    Do you have a substitute for half and half ? Thank you

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      Meagan – Not really. But you can thicken other milks or use coconut milk. Depends on why you want to avoid it. If it’s because of dairy, then coconut is a great choice. But if it’s for avoiding the fat, then I would look at some nut milks. If it’s because of the processing, then pretty much any full-fat milk will work.

  25. So im a baker and i have a customer that only does organic. Can i just get a regular cake recipe and use all organic products instead ?

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      Claudia – Sure. If organic is her only requirement, you can get organic white flour, butter, milk, etc. But if you want something clean, that’s entirely different.

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