SubstituesForPastaThe primary crux of my practice as a nutritionist is transitioning people away from processed foods. Like most people, I grew up on a staple of casseroles, spaghetti, macaroni and cheese, and the like. Pasta is by far one of the more processed foods, predominantly made from the starch of a grain. Even when you buy‘whole wheat’ pasta, it wouldn’t hold together without a significant ratio of that fine, white starch.

Nobody wants to give up flavor … and old habits are hard to break, but here are five delicious alternatives that will not only increase the nutritional value of your meal, but help make eating gluten-free cheaper!


One of my favorite recipes using cauliflower as a substitute for pasta is my Smoked Mac-n-Cheese. Using chopped cauliflower (steamed and well drained) and about half as much white rice for ‘mouth feel’, I create a base for an American favorite that even the kid’s love. I happen to love smoked cheeses, but you can get creative here (– just try to refrain from the Velveeta please!). Mix up a batch of cheese sauce and pour it over your cauliflower mixture. Place it all in a casserole dish and garnish. (I use green onions and bacon for my garnish) Heat at 350 until it bubbles. Don’t worry, there won’t be any leftovers.

Mung Bean Sprouts

In my house, soup is a huge staple and we occasionally fall back on some old standards like “Chicken and Noodle” and the likes. In this case, I use mung bean sprouts as a replacement for the egg noodles. It never fails and I am always so thrilled with how amazingly the sprouts complement my soup. This one is just way too easy.

Spaghetti Squash

Spaghetti squash is like the string cheese of squash. When it is cooked, you can pull it out of its shell in strands that look a little like orange angel-hair pasta. The biggest difference between squash and pasta – aside from the nutritional value – is how light and fresh it feels in your dish. You can even crisp it back up if you place the strands in a bowl of cold water directly after removing the strands from the skin.

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Food Substitutions Can Add Nutrients

When we think about food substitutions, it is almost about eliminating something. Low-fat cooking, sugar-free products: these are just a few of the more common examples. Being true to my philosophy on a healthy diet, I believe that substitutions have a greater purpose: ADDING nutrients!


Below I have listed some of my favorite, and sometimes unusual substitutions that help turn the most common dishes into superfoods.

Rolled Oats
I was watching a cooking show about meatloaf. The chef was using saltine crackers soaked in milk, which is a very traditional way to do meatloaf – right up there with breadcrumbs. What I have found is that you get wonderful results using rolled oats in place of the crackers or breadcrumbs. Although oats are also processed, they are less processed and still resemble the whole grain.

Spaghetti Squash
I didn’t believe this when I first heard about it, but it is true! Spaghetti squash is a wonderful substitute for traditional spaghetti and rice in some of your favorite recipes. Just bake the spaghetti squash, allow to cool slightly, and scrape out the strands with a fork. Rinse with cold water to maintain crispness if the recipe allows, or just serve immediately when it needs to be warm. You will be amazed at how flavorful your recipes are with this substitution

This one is a little geeky but it is hard not to be fascinated. We all know that protein is critical to a healthy diet. Proteins are configurations of amino acids, but so are enzymes. Enzymes are present in raw foods (meat and vegetables) and assist in the digestion of that food. The extra cool thing about getting your protein through enzymes is that your body has to do a lot less work. Where we have to break down proteins into the individual amino acids in order to rebuild proteins, we can also build proteins from a supply of enzymes. This can be handy when balancing the grocery budget.

Coconut Milk
Dairy products are such a huge staple in our culture, but in truth, roughly 80% of the world population does not digest it well. Cow’s milk is by far the most difficult. Fortunately, coconut milk offers a tasty alternative. Check out my website for coconut whipped cream, creamy ranch dressing, and cream of mushroom soup (which makes wonderful gravy and scrumptious green bean casserole).

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