Choosing a plant-based diet is a fantastic way to improve your health and support the environment. However, not all foods are created equal, including plant-based specific foods. While the concept of plant-based eating is straightforward, the nutritional value of different plant foods can vary widely. These recommendations for healthy alternatives to common foods is inspired by the mission of “EAT THIS, NOT THAT,” which highlights healthier alternatives to common foods, guiding you toward better overall health. To help you make the best nutritional choices, we’ve compiled a list of common plant-based foods with both healthier and less healthy alternatives. Through our exploration, we not only compare a basic nutritional profile of different options but also delve into the practicality of weighing which option to choose.

Understanding the factors that contribute to the healthfulness of various plant-based foods can empower you to make informed decisions about your diet. Additionally, while our focus is on plant-based alternatives, many of the foods listed apply to traditional eaters as well. Whether you’re exploring plant-based options for health, ethical, or environmental reasons, our guide offers valuable insights into choosing the most practical and nutritious options for everyday life. So, read on to discover which healthy alternatives to common foods are best suited for you and your family’s needs and lifestyle.

Let’s Explore Healthy Alternatives To Common Foods

Sweeteners and Oils

This section explores healthy alternatives to common foods with choices in the sweeteners and oils category, comparing their health benefits and potential drawbacks. We’ll look at natural vs. refined sugars and healthy vs. less healthy oils to help you make more informed choices in your plant-based diet.


  • Healthier Option: Natural sweeteners like dates, maple syrup, or stevia. These plant-based sweeteners provide some additional nutrients and are less processed.
  • Less Healthy Option: Refined white sugar, brown sugar, and agave syrup. High in fructose and other sugars that can lead to health issues when consumed in excess.
  • Is it worth it?
    • Theory: Natural plant-based sweeteners are less processed and provide some nutrients.
    • Practicality: While natural sweeteners can be more expensive, they are easily used in place of refined sugars in most recipes.


  • Healthier Option: Extra virgin olive oil, avocado oil. These plant-based oils are rich in healthy monounsaturated fats and antioxidants.
  • Less Healthy Option: Coconut oil, vegetable oil. High in saturated fats (coconut oil) or omega-6 fatty acids (vegetable oil), which can be less beneficial in excess.
  • Is it worth it?
    • Theory: Extra virgin olive oil and avocado oil are better for heart health.
    • Practicality: These plant-based oils are widely available and can be used in most cooking applications, though they can be more expensive.


  • Healthier Option: Avocado mayonnaise or homemade mayo with healthier oils. Made with plant-based healthier fats and fewer preservatives, these options can be a better choice.
  • Less Healthy Option: Traditional plant-based mayonnaise. Often made with refined oils and can contain added sugars and preservatives.
  • Is it worth it?
    • Theory: Avocado mayo or homemade versions provide healthier plant-based fats and fewer additives.
    • Practicality: Healthier plant-based mayo options are increasingly available in stores, but making your own at home can ensure the best quality and taste.

Dairy Alternatives and Spreads

Finding healthy alternatives to common foods in the non-dairy and spreads category is fairly easy with PLANT-BASED SWAPS for traditional dairy foods. This section covers milk, yogurt, and butter, options highlighting healthier plant-based choices and their benefits over more processed counterparts.

  • Healthier Option: Unsweetened almond, soy, or oat milk. Free from added sugars, these plant-based options are fortified with essential vitamins and minerals.
  • Less Healthy Option: Sweetened almond, soy, or oat milk. Contains added sugars, which can contribute to weight gain and other health issues.
  • Is it worth it?
    • Theory: Unsweetened plant-based milk alternatives avoid added sugars and unnecessary calories.
    • Practicality: Unsweetened plant-based milk options are easily available and can be used just like their sweetened counterparts in recipes and beverages.

Plant-Based Yogurt

  • Healthier Option: Unsweetened plant-based yogurt (e.g., coconut, almond, or soy). Low in added sugars and often fortified with probiotics.
  • Less Healthy Option: Sweetened plant-based yogurt. High in added sugars, which can negate some of the health benefits of yogurt.
  • Is it worth it?
    • Theory: Unsweetened plant-based yogurt avoids the pitfalls of added sugars.
    • Practicality: Unsweetened plant-based yogurt varieties are commonly available, though you might need to adjust to the taste or add your own natural sweeteners like fruits.


  • Healthier Option: Nut-based cheese or nutritional yeast. These options are lower in saturated fats and often fortified with B vitamins.
  • Less Healthy Option: Processed vegan cheese. Can be high in saturated fats and additives.
  • Is it worth it?
    • Theory: Nut-based cheese and nutritional yeast offer better nutritional profiles.
    • Practicality: These alternatives can be more expensive and may require an adjustment in taste, but they are increasingly available in stores.

Plant-Based Butter

  • Healthier Option: Olive oil spread. Made from olive oil, this plant-based alternative is rich in monounsaturated fats, antioxidants, and vitamins. Additional options available, just use olive oil when you can or go with the “whole food plant based diet” recommendation to substitute butter and oils with low-sodium vegetable broth or simply water.
  • Less Healthy Option: Plant-based butter spread or other dairy-free margarine. Many processed vegan butter substitutes contain unhealthy trans fats, which can increase LDL cholesterol levels and contribute to heart disease risk.
  • Is it worth it?
    • Theory: From a health perspective, yes, option for healther versions of plant-based butter do add up.
    • Practicality: You do have some options here. When you can opt for healthier versions, without sacrificing taste or flavor, then do it.  But if you are baking or making a dish that will be significantly altered, then choose the plant-based butter option that you find best.

Salad Dressings

  • Healthier Option: Homemade vinaigrette or dressings made with healthy oils and minimal added sugar. These dressings can be customized to your taste and nutritional needs.
  • Less Healthy Option: Store-bought dressings high in sugar and unhealthy fats. Often contain added sugars, unhealthy fats, and preservatives.
  • Is it worth it?
    • Theory: Homemade dressings provide better control over ingredients.
    • Practicality: Making your own dressings can be surprisingly simple and quick, so when you can – try it. But it is also practical to keep a few healthier store-bought options in stock for a busy weeknight throw together meal.

Grains and Staples

Grains and staple foods are the foundation of many plant-based diets and here we do find ways to incorporate healthy alternatives to common foods. In this section, we compare common staples like bread, pasta, rice, and oats, discussing their healthier alternatives and the impact these choices can have on your overall health.


  • Healthier Option: Whole grain or whole wheat bread. Packed with fiber and nutrients, these plant-based bread options are a great choice for maintaining energy levels and supporting digestive health.
  • Less Healthy Option: White bread. Made from refined flour, white bread lacks essential nutrients and can cause blood sugar spikes.
  • Is it worth it?
    • Theory: Whole grain plant-based bread provides more nutrients, fiber, and a slower energy release.
    • Practicality: Whole grain bread is widely available and can easily replace white bread in most situations without any extra effort.


  • Healthier Option: Whole wheat or legume-based pasta (like chickpea or lentil pasta). These plant-based options are higher in protein and fiber, which can keep you fuller for longer.
  • Less Healthy Option: Regular white pasta. White pasta is made from refined grains and has lower nutritional value.
  • Is it worth it?
  • Theory: Whole wheat or legume-based pasta offers better plant-based nutritional benefits.
  • Practicality: These plant-based pastas are becoming more common in stores and can be used in the same recipes as white pasta with minimal adjustment to cooking times. It is worth noting that there is a taste difference in these pasta choices.  Most of us are most familiar with the taste of regular white pasta. Our take is that if you eat pasta infrequently, then go with the regular white (if you don’t care for the chickpea or lentil versions.  However, if you eat it often, try to choose the healthier version and your taste buds might just catch up. 


  • Healthier Option: Brown rice, wild rice, or quinoa. Higher in fiber and nutrients, these plant-based grains support digestive health and provide sustained energy.
  • Less Healthy Option: White rice. Lacks fiber and essential nutrients due to the refining process.
  • Is it worth it?
  • Theory: Brown rice and other plant-based alternatives offer more nutrients and fiber.
  • Practicality: These plant-based options can take longer to cook and might require a taste adjustment, but they are becoming more available and affordable. Similar to our take on pasta, if you eat it infrequently, then opt for the tastier white rice, but if you eat it frequently, then try to swap in brown when you have the extra time to prepare it.


  • Healthier Option: Steel-cut oats. Less processed and higher in fiber, these plant-based oats have a lower glycemic index.
  • Less Healthy Option: Instant oatmeal. Often contains added sugars and is more processed, leading to a higher glycemic index.
  • Is it worth it?
    • Theory: Steel-cut oats offer more plant-based nutrition and a lower glycemic index.
    • Practicality: They take longer to cook but can be prepared in advance and stored for quick plant-based breakfasts. You can also look for quick-cook steel cut oats for the best of all worlds.


  • Healthier Option: Whole grain or corn tortillas. Higher in fiber and nutrients, these tortillas support better digestive health.
  • Less Healthy Option: Flour tortillas. Made from refined flour and often contain added fats and preservatives.
  • Is it worth it?
    • Theory: Whole grain or corn tortillas provide more nutrients and fiber.
    • Practicality: These tortillas are widely available and can easily replace flour tortillas in most recipes.


  • Healthier Option: Whole grain cereals with low sugar content (e.g., oatmeal, bran flakes). These cereals are high in fiber and essential nutrients, providing a healthy start to your day.
  • Less Healthy Option: Sugary breakfast cereals. High in added sugars and often low in nutritional value.
  • Is it worth it?
    • Theory: Whole grain cereals support better long-term health.
    • Practicality: Whole grain options are readily available, though they may require a taste adjustment for those used to sugary cereals.

Snacks & Sides

Snacks and sides can make or break your healthy eating habits. In this healthy alternatives to common foods snacks & sides section, we explore options for cereal, chips, crackers, and beans, providing insights on healthier alternatives that can fit into your daily routine.

Snack Bars

  • Healthier Option: Homemade energy bars or bars made with whole foods and minimal added sugar. These options provide better control over ingredients and nutrient quality.
  • Less Healthy Option: Commercially available snack bars with added sugars and preservatives
  • Often high in sugars and contain many processed ingredients.
  • Is it worth it?
    • Theory: Homemade or whole-food bars are healthier and more nutrient-dense.
    • Practicality: Making bars at home can be time-consuming, but many healthy commercial options are becoming available.


  • Healthier Option: Baked vegetable chips (e.g., kale, sweet potato). Lower in fat and calories, these chips offer the added benefits of vitamins and minerals from vegetables.
  • Less Healthy Option: Regular store-bought potato chips. High in unhealthy fats and calories, regular chips can contribute to weight gain and other health issues.
  • Is it worth it?
    • Theory: Baked vegetable chips provide a healthier snacking alternative.
    • Practicality: They are often more expensive and less readily available, but making them at home can be a fun and rewarding process, if you have the time. Practically speaking, compare labels of your top choices of store-bought chips to find the “healthiest” version to choose from.  While all unhealthy, you may find that there is little difference in the nutrition label, so you may opt to choose “chips” less often while just sticking with standard chip.


  • Healthier Option: Whole grain or seed-based crackers. Rich in fiber and healthy fats, these crackers make a nutritious snack.
  • Less Healthy Option: Processed, refined flour crackers. Often high in sodium and lacking in nutritional value.
  • Is it worth it?
    • Theory: Whole grain or seed-based crackers offer better nutrition. 
    • Practicality: They are slightly more expensive but widely available and just as convenient to use. Keep in mind that most crackers are not the healthiest regardless of grain status. Opt for consuming less and enjoying what you consume.


  • Healthier Option: Dried beans (e.g., lentils, black beans, chickpeas). High in protein, fiber, and nutrients, dried beans are minimally processed and free from added sodium.
  • Less Healthy Option: Canned beans (unless low sodium) and baked beans. Canned beans can be high in sodium, and baked beans often contain added sugars and preservatives. Opt for low-sodium canned beans if convenience is a priority.
  • Is it worth it?
    • Theory: Dried beans are more economical and free from additives.
    • Practicality: Dried beans require soaking and longer cooking times, which can be impractical for busy schedules. Low-sodium canned beans are a good compromise for convenience and health.

We’ve explored a range of traditional and plant-based healthy alternatives to common foods, from the healthiest options to those less healthy. Each choice comes with its own set of pros and cons, offering you the opportunity to tailor your diet to fit your unique health and dietary aspirations. Whether you opt for nutrient-rich whole foods or more convenient but less nutritious alternatives, remember that the journey to a plant-based lifestyle is about finding what works best for you. Every decision you make contributes to your overall health and the well-being of the planet. So, as you navigate your dietary choices, embrace the variety and abundance of plant-based foods available to you, and enjoy the journey towards a healthier, happier, and more sustainable way of eating.