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I realized recently that there really isn’t one place to find all of this information, so I hope the pin and guidelines below are helpful. You can PIN IT HERE 🙂 for future reference!
Basically I take 5 groups of foods, (flour, sugar, fat, eggs and leavening), and “Paleofy,” or give you some Paleo equivalents. This doesn’t mean you can achieve instant success converting your favorite brownie recipe into the perfect Paleo brownie recipe everytime, but the guidelines in the pin image below and in this article give you a good jumping off place. Some recipes will convert easily; others will need a little tweaking or a couple of tries.
For newbies to Paleo, this post and pin will introduce you and give you a sense of how to use Paleo ingredients. And some standard recipes do convert really well! I don’t want to downplay that. For example, I took a basic muffin recipe from online (flour, milk, sugar, vegetable oil and baking powder) and applied a few of the substitution formulas below, and I got the gorgeous blueberry muffins you’ll see here, first try. They’re egg-free, grain-free, nut-free, dairy-free, refined sugar-free. Pretty cool, huh?
The most difficult ingredient to change/substitute in recipes is flour.
Blanched almond flour can be subbed 1:1 for refined flour. But texture-wise, it’s even better if you can pull about 1 tablespoon of it out and add in 1 tablespoon of coconut flour. Coconut flour adds a cakiness, (but a little goes a long way). Another more dramatic substitution is to do 1/4 cup blanched almond flour, 1/4 cup cassava flour (find it here) and 1/4 cup coconut flour in place of the 1 cup refined flour. (That’s what I did in a different blueberry muffin recipe you’ll find here. It contains eggs, but no grains or refined sugars.)
Coconut flour is the most unusual grain-free flour to work with, because you only need a little, it absorbs liquid, and it does best with extra eggs. When just using coconut flour in place of refined flour, it’s usually best to use 1/4 cup-1/3 cup coconut flour + 1 or more eggs, for the one cup refined flour.
Cassava flour is my personal favorite. (Find it here.) Although it’s possible to sub it 1:1 for refined flour, I find it to be a thirsty flour. I like to add either liquid (water/milk) or a pureed fruit or veggie (canned pumpkin, smashed banana), and to reduce the cassava to 3/4 cup. With cassava it’s harder to give an exact rule. It’s best to experiment. Cassava also does really well combined with collagen, also great for gut, bone, skin and hair health! (Find it here). Cassava is very stretchy; whereas collagen adds a cakiness, a moistness, a muffin-like texture. Together they often create the right texture. Stick to recipes (cake, muffins, pancakes) that use cassava, unless you enjoy experimenting, in which case these guidelines (in the substitutions chart below) will get you started!
What about leavening? (Leavening is what makes baked goods rise.) To begin with, what makes baking powder and baking soda different from one another? Baking powder contains… cornstarch! Cornstarch is usually GMO and not Paleo.
All baking soda needs to leaven it is an acidic food, to which it reacts. I like to use apple cider vinegar for a liquid source; and I like to use cocoa powder (or cacao) when I need a powder source. But I give a few other options below too: lemon juice and cream of tartar. Baking soda is a terrific and easy substitution for baking powder in Paleo recipes.
The other categories below are really straightforward.
If you want to replace sugar (good for you!!!), there are so many nice options, including bananas, dates, coconut sugar, honey and maple syrup. Maple syrup isn’t listed below, but it follows most of the same rules as honey. (See this post for a lot of details about how to use honey in baked goods as a replacement for sugar. It’s my most-read post!)
I also like to use stevia (I use this one); but keep in mind if you do, that the absence of a bulk sweetener will change the texture of your baked good. Sugars, even healthy sugars, give a good crumb to baked goods. I recommend my cookbook for stevia-sweetened baked goods. There are lots of great options in it, recipes designed to be moist and just right, that use stevia OR stevia + an unrefined sweetener like honey, maple syrup or coconut sugar. This is a great strategy: use stevia in a recipe in order to use less of the main sweetener, which is better for everyday healthy baking and blood sugar levels.
Bonus Tip: Stevia allows you to reduce other sweeteners when used in conjunction with them.
Eggs are awesome health food, but if you can’t have them I give a few alternatives. The two most popular replacements are gelatin and flax. Chia seeds and plantains also work well. None of these options perform exactly as eggs do, especially if a recipe calls for more than 3 eggs. But these ingredients and methods are a good starting place, and especially work well in recipes for pancakes and muffins.
Personally I like the gelatin option the best. That’s because it’s health food for most people (although some folks are sensitive), and it creates a great outcome. Most cooks make a “gelatin egg” by whisking the gelatin with water. I don’t find this step necessary. I just add gelatin to my recipes, and it works great. Here are several egg-free baked goods (that use this method), each of them fantastic: coffeecake, breakfast cookies, pumpkin cake, blueberry muffins.
I like flax, but not as much as gelatin, because it’s estrogenic, so not ideal to use often (being hormone altering). However, flax is great in baking, so it’s a good one to have amidst your choices. Stir together one tablespoon ground flax with 3-4 tablespoons water. Allow to gel for 5 minutes. This replaces one egg in a recipe.
To make a chia egg (I didn’t include this option in the chart below), simply combine 1 tablespoon chia seeds + 2-1/2 tablespoons water. Stir and allow to gel for 5 minutes. This combination replaces one egg in a recipe.
I give plantain instructions in the guide below.
Lastly fats, they’re the easiest to replace, 1:1 every time! Yay for saying goodbye to canola oil and other highly processed fats! (Be careful at restaurants, too. They’re notorious for using vegetable oils because they’re cheaper. But they cost us our health in the long run.)
Traditional, Paleo fats are nutritious (actually good for us), despite what we’ve been told by mainstream sources. I love animal fats, for example, like butter, bacon fat and lard. BUT DO BE CAREFUL with sourcing. We can’t just buy any lard. It does need to come from a farm that cares about what pigs are supposed to eat. If the pigs’ diet is “sustainable” then the pigs’ fat will be healthy for us to consume too! (When animal fat and meat aren’t healthy it’s because they’ve been eating grains and junk foods, often in confined animal feed operations. Stay away from conventional meats and fats. Choose organic and sustainable options instead.) Here’s one source I refer my clients to, on Etsy! 🙂 The idea is to get it from a farm where they pasture-raise their pigs.
Butter. Butter should ideally be Kerrygold brand. It’s even better, in my opinion, that Organic Valley, coming largely from A2 cows that are exclusively grass-fed.
Regarding oils, as the guide below mentions, the Paleo oils that are healthy are avocado oil, extra-virgin olive oil, coconut oil and sustainably sourced palm oil (like this one). It’s okay to use nut and seed oils, too, in moderation, as long as they’re expeller- pressed (meaning no or very low heat is used in their processing to protect the sensitive fats from going rancid).
None of us changed our diets overnight. One ingredient at a time we learned and created a healthier lifestyle! May these substitutions help in your process of eating healthier foods, learning to bake with Paleo ingredients… and enjoying them!
Pin the substitutions chart below for future reference! 🙂
Have a favorite recipe you want to turn into a Paleo recipe? What Paleo baking substitutions will you be making?