10 Simple Substitutions to Make Your Meal More Healthy

Some of Vancouver’s most knowledgeable foodies share their favourite substitutions to make your meal more healthy

Credit: iStock

Boost your next meal’s flavour and nutrient-density with these delicious substitutions

Want to add a little more nutritional oomph to your diet? You can have your cake (or fries) and eat it too by making some simple switches.

Click over as some of Vancouver’s most knowledgeable foodies – chefs, restauranteurs, mixologists, journalists and nutritionists – share some their favourite healthy substitutions.

Credit: Catherine Roscoe Barr

Green Beans

“Anytime you can substitute something white with something green you are on the right track,” says Spencer Watts, executive chef at Left Bank and Bistro Pastis.

“These green bean ‘fries’ can be made gluten-free with rice flour, which produces a light and crispy batter. They are every bit as delicious and addictive as French fries,” he says of the popular appetizer, called tempura haricot vert, on Left Bank’s menu. “Bonus points for serving them with a spicy yogurt dip kicked up with some cayenne.”

Credit: Catherine Roscoe Barr

Coconut Oil

“Coconut oil has completely stolen the show from butter in my kitchen – it’s a healthy, plant-based, dairy-free, ridiculously delicious substitute,” says journalist, contributing food reporter for 102.7 The PEAK, The Rush TV, BCLiving and CTV Morning Live, and owner of To Die For Fine Foods, Erin Ireland.

“To this day, there remains a half block of old butter sitting deep in my fridge’s drawer. It hasn’t seen the light of day since my discovery of coconut oil. I use it everywhere I would’ve used butter, but I find its flavours shine the most when used in raw baking.”

“I use the brand Naked Coconuts, a Vancouver-based company. It smells so good, you could stick your nose in the jar and enjoy for hours!”

Credit: Campagnolo


Start your meal with a flavourful, satisfying and crunchy dish that’s not full of empty carbs like garlic bread or nachos.

“Crispy chickpeas are a classic Italian ingredient,” says Campagnolo co-owner and executive chef Robert Belcham. “When cooked correctly, they offer an incredible crunch.”

“The Crispy Ceci has been on our menu at Campagnolo since opening day, five and a half years ago. We have sold enough ceci to stretch over 45-kilometres – that will take you around Vancouver’s Seawall twice! The chickpeas are served crispy and tossed with lemon zest, scallions, and fresh seasonal greens including mint, arugula and spinach.” 

“Chick peas are high in fiber and terrific for digestive support. I like to snack on them while watching a movie. It’s a tastier and healthier option to potato chips,” he says.

Credit: flickr.com/thedelicious

Green Sauce

“Substitute rich heavy sauces and dressings for light flavourful vinaigrettes,” says Quang Dang, executive chef at West Restaurant.

A few of his favourites are chimichurri, an Argentinian green sauce with parsley, garlic and olive oil; pistou, a French sauce with basil, garlic and olives oil; and salsa verde, an Italian sauce with parsley, capers, garlic and olive oil.

Credit: isshamarie.com


Ditch the sugary soda and reach for a fun, healthy alternative: sparkling water flavoured with bitters.

“If 95 per cent of taste comes from our sense of smell, then it makes sense that the aromatic compounds of adding bitters to your sparkling water will make your palate sing,” says Lauren Mote, co-proprietor of Bittered Sling Extracts and bar manager at UVA Wine & Cocktail Bar.

“Our favourites? This time of year, we’d recommend adding a dash of Bittered Sling Clingstone Peach [pictured above] or Zingiber Crabapple made from local, seasonal fruit in the Okanagan Valley,” she says.

“Both bitters are based of quinine, an age-old bark used to ward off malaria and contained in natural tonic water. Match that with the obvious health benefits of ginger, tumeric and cardamom, no additional preservatives or sugar, and Houston, we have a winner!”

Credit: flickr.com/vic15

Brussels Sprouts

“A great way to add a nutritious boost to your salad is to add raw Brussels sprouts leaves,” says Faizal Kassam, executive chef at Cibo Trattoria.  

“They are loaded with vitamins A, C, folic acid and dietary fibre and are even believed to contain a chemical which has anti-cancer properties,” he says.

“To prepare the sprouts, cut off any excess stem and peel back and discard the loose surface leaves. After washing the sprouts, peel back each leaf one by one. Add the leaves and the remaining sprout bud to your salad greens. Dress with a good quality balsamic vinegar, extra virgin olive oil, grainy mustard and a touch of honey. Top with toasted pine nuts, Parmesan cheese and pancetta. Enjoy!”

Credit: flickr.com/restlessglobetrotter and flickr.com/healthaliciousness

Hemp or Almond Milk

Swap hemp or almond milk for cow or goat milk, says Alyssa Bauman, nutritionist, health consultant and founder of Nourished.

“A staple in my clean Nourished cooking, hemp and almond milk are loaded with protein, and are something to always keep on hand to cream up soups, thicken dressings, sauces, desserts, and are the base of my smoothies,” she says.

“Buy them organic and unsweetened and use them in everything that calls for dairy. Or make your own, it’s super easy!”

Nourished hemp milk recipe:

  • Blend 1/4 cup hemp seeds and 3 cups water. Keep in glass jar in fridge for up to 3 days.

Nourished almond milk recipe:

  • Soak raw organic almonds in water overnight. Add 1 cup of soaked almonds to blender. Add 3 cups water. Blend till smooth. Pour through nut bag and squeeze milk. Keep nuts and freeze for gluten free flour. Pour milk in glass jar and keep for 3 days in fridge.

Credit: flickr.com/karenandbrademerson 

Green Garbanzo Beans

“Nutrient-dense green garbanzo beans, which are young chick peas, are a great substitute for corn, peas, beans or edamame – or as an addition!” says Ned Bell, YEW seafood + bar executive chef and Chefs for Oceans founder. 

“I love them in smoothies, green goddess dressing, hummus, salads, pastas, and even roasted as a snack. They rock!” he says.

Credit: flickr.com/healthaliciousness


“My favourite superfood is watercress,” says Chris Whittaker, executive chef at Forage. “It is absolutely packed with nutrition and so versatile. One of my favourite leafy vegetables by far!” 

“I love using it in salads, soups, sauces, simply grilled or sauteed. We use it a lot at Forage – it can be found topping our turkey sausage hash at brunch in pesto form,” he says.

“The watercress we get is from Hannah Brook Farm. It’s even more nutrient rich from here because it grows in fresh water springs that emerge from Iron Mountain in Maple Ridge.”

Credit: flickr.com/photofarmer


“When we opened Rainier Provisions in February 2013, kale was becoming increasingly popular as one of the healthiest vegetables on the planet,” says Sean Heather, owner of the Heather Hospitality Group.

“Caesar is a salad that almost everybody loves, and we had seen popular restaurants in cities like San Francisco and New York using kale in Caesars and a variety of salads, and we were inspired to try it and see how our customers responded,” he says.

“The kale Caesar salad was instantly popular and a favourite dish when we launched the Rainier menu, and we now have this salad on the menu at our other restaurants, including the Irish Heather, Salt Tasting Room and Bitter Tasting Room.

“We serve it with our house Caesar dressing, rosemary croutons, parmesan cheese – it’s definitely a customer favourite. The flavour of the kale is what really sells this dish. The taste and texture works extremely well with Caesar dressing  it stays fresh and crisp for a healthy and delicious combination.”