a woman looking at her pantry

It’s common knowledge that healthy eating benefits your overall health. Maintaining or losing weight through diet; getting enough fruits, vegetables and whole grains; and avoiding unhealthy fats and sugary foods are examples of how food can positively affect health. By replacing less-than-healthy foods in our diet, we can maximize the health benefits.

Adding healthy food substitutes into your everyday cooking routine doesn’t have to be hard or feel overwhelming. It actually may be easier than you think, all while you reap the rewards without losing taste quality. Some items could already be in your pantry, or can be a cheap and easy addition to your grocery list for next week.

Below are some easy substitutions[1] to begin with that may help your overall health, and get you started to eating a little healthier. Remember these key health points when substituting food:

  • Too much red and/or processed meat can increase your risk of some cancers, including colon cancer. Look for healthy protein from other sources: skinless chicken breasts, fish, nuts or legumes, such as black beans, soybeans and chickpeas.
  • Adding whole grains and high-fiber foods such as whole-wheat products or green vegetables can help you feel full. They also help with healthy digestion and lower the risk of heart disease and some cancers.
  • Diets high in unhealthy fat and sugar may increase the risk of chronic diseases such as diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease.
  • Choose items that are low-sodium and rich in healthy fats to help reduce your risk of heart disease. Good sources of healthy fats include: olive oil, vegetable oil, nuts, and fatty fish.

Original ingredient

Substitution ingredient


Canadian or turkey bacon or prosciutto

White bread

Whole-grain bread

Butter, lard, margarine, shortening products

Applesauce (1/2 of the amount of butter the recipe calls for). Olive oil, vegetable oil work in some recipes


Skim milk

Cream cheese

Low-fat or fat-free cheese

Ground beef

Ground chicken or turkey or extra-lean ground beef


Skim or 1% milk

Pasta or white rice

Whole-wheat pasta, wild rice, brown rice, bulgur or whole-grain barley


Low-sodium versions


Try adding half the sugar; add other sweeteners or spices if needed


Low-fat plain or low-sugar yogurt with fresh fruit added

Sour cream, mayonnaise

Plain yogurt


For more tips on a healthy lifestyle, visit Siteman Cancer CenterYour Disease Risk also offers a free, personalized assessment of your risk of 12 common cancers and six chronic diseases.

Written by: Yikyung Park, ScD, is an associate professor of surgery. Dr. Park's work focuses on the role of diet, obesity, physical activity, and other lifestyle factors in cancer development and survival.


[1] Nutrition and Healthy Eating. Mayo Clinic. Retrieved at https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/healthy-recipes/art-20047195.

Category: Healthy Living