Q: What are some healthy swaps for times when I’m really missing animal products on a plant-based diet?

A: If you’re new to plant-based eating, chances are that the first week or two might be a little rough. You’ll likely yearn for animal products at some point or another, but the good news is that there are plenty of plant-based alternatives to satisfy these cravings. Of course, there are easy swaps, like the Impossible Burger instead of a burger or plant-based milk instead of dairy, but what about when you’re craving bacon or really want butter on your popcorn? Rather than giving up on the challenge, try these six healthy swaps to stick to plant-based eating.

  1. Eggplant bacon for bacon

Don’t be thrown off by the soft texture of eggplant. When you fry it in a pan with the proper seasoning, it becomes slightly chewy and crispy, just like bacon. Not to mention that eggplant has an umami (or savory) flavor, making it the perfect substitute for meat.

To make eggplant bacon, peel a whole eggplant and cut it into thin bacon-like slices. Combine 1 teaspoon of liquid smoke, 1 tablespoon of soy sauce and 1 teaspoon of paprika and then pour it on eggplant strips. Heat a frying pan over medium-high heat, coat the pan in 2 tablespoons of oil and add the marinated eggplant. Sautee on each side for 2-3 minutes or until the sides start to brown. Remove from the pan and put the strips on a paper towel. Enjoy while hot!

  1. Avocado oil for butter

You’re probably using different types of oil in your cooking, but avocado oil is the one that mimics the taste of butter the most. Avocados are rich in nutrients, including 20 vitamins and minerals and other beneficial plant compounds. You won’t get all the same nutrients from the oil, but avocado oil is rich in monounsaturated fats, specifically oleic acid or omega-9. Therefore it’s considered a heart-healthy oil with the potential to lower LDL (“bad”) cholesterol.

Plus, avocado oil has a smoke point (the point at which oil burns) of 520° Fahrenheit (F), so it’s ideal for all-purpose cooking. Personally, I love a drizzle of avocado oil on popcorn for a healthy whole grain snack with filling “good fats”.

  1. Tofu scramble instead of eggs

There’s no need to miss the taste of Sunday brunch when you can whip up a tofu scramble in place of scrambled eggs. Tofu is a versatile, plant-based protein that resembles the texture of scrambled eggs when crumbled. Making it is simple--use a fork to break apart a block of firm tofu and season with some salt, pepper, and turmeric (for the egg-y yellow color). Saute it in a pan with your favorite scramble accompaniments, like peppers, onions, and roasted potatoes. For a full recipe, click here. For a Mexican-inspired take on the dish click here.

  1. Lentils for ground beef

This legume serves as the perfect stand-in for ground beef in a variety of recipes. Craving tacos or bolognese sauce? You can have both with lentils as a substitute for ground beef. Brown lentils have a meaty taste and texture that is a filling base for vegan dishes. And with 13 grams in ½ cup of cooked lentils, they offer plenty of plant-based protein. To make lentil tacos or bolognese, swap in lentils for ground beef in any recipe in a 1:1 ratio.

  1. Mushrooms for any meat

There’s a new trend among burgers called the “blenditarian”-- many chefs are blending mushrooms into ground beef to cut back on meat consumption and up the veggies. Why not take it a step further and blend mushrooms with beans to make a savory plant-based burger? Mushrooms have an earthy taste and a naturally rich and meaty texture. Plus, mushrooms are one of the only plant-based sources of bone boosting Vitamin D, and they come in so many delectable varieties.

  1. Cashew cream for cream

If you love a good creamy sauce, soup or dressing, then you need a cashew cream recipe in your plant-based arsenal. Cashew cream is a delicious replacement for butter on toast, mayo on a sandwich, butter in mashed potatoes or even yogurt in a smoothie. The cashews need to soak in water before you can make the cream sauce, so make sure you plan ahead to have this recipe ready when you’re doing your cooking.

To make a cashew cream, soak 1 cup of raw cashews in 2-3 cups of water for 12 hours. Drain the water and add the soaked cashews to a food processor with a dash of salt. Puree until smooth-- you may have to stop the processor and scrape down the sides a few times. Use the cashew cream immediately or refrigerate in an airtight container for 5-7 days.

These simple swaps should get you through your first few weeks or plant-based eating and meat cravings. Once you realize how tasty and easy these ingredients are, you’ll never go back to the real thing!

Do you have any tips for healthy plant-based swaps? Let us know in the comments down below. 

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