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Do Healthy Substitutes Stack Up in Flavor?


You’ve seen the charts making the rounds on Facebook, Pinterest, and Tumblr listing healthy substitutes for fatty — but delicious — ingredients. Some seem pretty obvious, such as using applesauce rather than sugar, but other substitutions, such as using avocado in lieu of butter, not so much.

Avoiding heavy cream and sugar means saving about a bajillion calories and will go a long way toward keeping those arteries unclogged, but does it mean sacrificing taste? I decided to put some of these healthy alternatives to the taste test.

Applesauce for sugar

Cut the sugar you use in some of your favorite baked treats in half, and combine ½ cup with ¾ cup of sugar-free applesauce. I tried this with my chocolate chip banana bread recipe and even left out the vanilla extract, since applesauce is such a wet ingredient. My bread was moist, and I felt significantly less guilty about throwing in those chocolate chips.

Avocado for butter

Avocado instead of butter. Surely you jest, you may say, and I certainly thought my friend was kidding when she told me about it. She recently informed me that she tried chocolate mousse prepared with avocado. After I was done scrunching my face into its finest "Gross!" expression, she assured me she could not detect the avocado and wasn’t told until after she delighted in the rich, chocolaty results.

Yogurt for cream

It certainly feels like everyone is using plain Greek yogurt as a substitute for lots of fattier ingredients, so it’s not surprising that some people are using it in lieu of heavy cream. Heavy cream makes for some very tasty soups, chief among them butternut squash and tomato Cheddar. You don’t have to give up your favorite fall soups anymore. I was skeptical about using Greek yogurt and wondered if it might result in a tart soup that lost its punch. But I tried it out with my tomato Cheddar soup and was pleased with the creamy, flavorful results. What I did lose was that underlying sweetness you get with heavy cream, but I didn’t miss it, nor did I miss the many calories.

Evaporated milk for cream

Want to avoid using heavy cream but don’t have plain Greek yogurt on hand? No problem. A can of fat-free evaporated milk and a couple of tablespoons of flour will do just nicely. I tried it out for my vegetarian Italian sweet sausage pasta dish that calls for a white creamy sauce. The sauce’s texture was not affected in the least, nor did it overwhelm the combination of flavors of the other ingredients, which included garlic, oregano, basil, and onion, along with the vegetarian Italian sweet sausage. (Hey, don’t knock it ’til you’ve tried it!)

— Vivian Gomez, HellaWella

More From HellaWella:


Are Meat Substitutes Healthy?

Cruise down the refrigerated and frozen aisles of the grocery store and you’ll see all kinds of packaged meat alternatives, from standard bean-based veggie burgers to “chicken” nuggets to vegan bacon.

There’s also a new generation of faux meat products that are highly processed to mimic the look, flavor and texture of the real thing (some even “bleed” like a burger or piece of steak would).

For anyone who’s looking to pare back their meat consumption, these products can help ease the transition. But just because a product is vegetarian or vegan doesn’t necessarily mean you should think of it as health food that belongs on your plate every day, says registered dietitian Camille Skoda, RDN, LD.

Here’s her advice for picking the best meat substitutes.

A pitch for more plant-based proteins

While good-quality meat can provide your body with a plethora of different vitamins, minerals and nutrients, plant-based proteins have their own unique set of benefits, Skoda says.

“Having one meatless meal per day, or one meatless day in a weekly, can help you to diversify your diet, add fiber, and include other sources of protein,” she says.

Whole-food sources of plant protein, such as beans, lentils, nuts, seeds and whole soy, provide fiber and prebiotics to help your gut stay health. They also contain sustainable carbohydrates and healthy fats that can help balance blood sugars, Skoda adds.

Studies have also linked plant-based diets with lower risk of cardiovascular disease and other health benefits.

Take a magnifying glass to the ingredients panel

While many packaged meat substitutes are made with healthy, whole-food plant proteins and ingredients, not all of them are. That’s why it’s important to flip over the box and see what’s in one before you buy it.

“Some of these products have added preservatives, sugars, inflammatory oils or other ingredients that we don’t want,” Skoda says.

Before snatching up that meatless chorizo, she recommends considering your personal dietary needs and looking at:

  • What’s the protein source? “Some meat substitutes are made with pea protein or beans, which is great,” Skoda says. “Others are made with soy protein isolate (a processed form of soy) or wheat gluten. Those are the ones you want to avoid.”
  • Does it contain simple ingredients? Some of the newer faux meat products contain hard-to-pronounce ingredients like methylcellulose (a thickener) and soy leghemoglobin (a genetically engineered protein). For the healthiest options, look for ingredient labels that contain mostly recognizable whole foods.
  • How much protein does it have? Ideally, you want to eat about 20 grams of protein per meal, Skoda recommends. “If you plan to use this product as a protein substitute, look for one that will provide you with at least 10 to 15 grams of protein, assuming that some of the other foods you’re pairing it with will also help you get to that 20 grams,” she says.
  • What is the saturated fat and sodium content? While meat substitutes are usually free of cholesterol, some are higher in sodium and saturated fats than meat. The Dietary Guidelines recommend that adults consume no more than 2,300 mg/day of sodium and fewer than 10% of their daily calories from saturated fat.

Another option: go with the classics

Packaged plant-based products that imitate beef, chicken and pork may be a convenient 1:1 substitute at your next cookout, but there are plenty of other plant proteins that can be easily incorporated into your everyday diet.

Consider swapping out the meat in a recipe for:

  • Tofu: It’s made from the whole soybean (rather than an extract) and is considered a complete protein. Skoda recommends choosing one that’s non-GMO or organic and tossing it into a stir fry, or crisping it in the oven.
  • Tempeh: If you don’t like the mushy texture of tofu, Skoda recommends trying tempeh. It’s also made from whole soybeans but has the added benefit of being fermented, which may help with digestion and absorption of nutrients. It’s also generally higher in protein than tofu and provides ample amounts of calcium, iron and manganese.
  • Beans and lentils: Beans are a great source of fiber and nutrients. Toss them on top of a salad, or use them in soups and stir fries. You could also make your own bean-based veggie burger at home. “However, if you’re following a lower-carb eating plan, know that beans also contain carbohydrates,” Skoda adds.

Whether you’ve recently cut out meat from your diet or are just trying to eat less of it, plant-based proteins can help fill the void.

Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy


Found next to the chicken and beef stock in the soup aisle of the grocery store, vegetable stock is a great substitute for any recipe. If you are converting a recipe to make it vegetarian and would like to mimic the flavor of chicken or beef stock, add 1 tablespoon of soy sauce or miso paste per cup of broth. The intense flavor of soy sauce or miso paste adds richness to the vegetable stock that you might be missing without using meat to make the stock.

To make your own vegetable stock is really simple. Toss onions, carrots, celery and garlic into a slow cooker. Add herbs like rosemary, thyme, salt and pepper. Cover the mixture with water and set it to cook on low for several hours. If you do not have a slow cooker, make it on the stove top. Cool your stock to room temperature and freeze in quart-sized containers for up to six months. You can also make vegetable stock from vegetable scraps. As you slice vegetables for other dishes, put the peel and ends -- or anything else you might throw away or compost -- into a zip-top bag in your freezer. When the bag is full, put the frozen vegetable scraps into the slow cooker, add the herbs and water and cook.


Fake Meats – How Do Beyond and Impossible Burgers Stack Up From a Health Perspective?

Meat alternatives like the Beyond Burger and Impossible Burger are taking restaurants around the world by storm. Today, it’s not unusual to find these vegan options on the menu at well-known chains like Burger King, Red Robin, Cheesecake Factory, TGI Friday’s and Tim Hortons, [1] and many people see the growing popularity as a positive move away from the consumption of animal foods.

But how do Beyond and Impossible stack up from a health perspective? If your goal is to stick to a whole food, plant-based (WFPB) diet, you might want to take a closer look before sinking your teeth into these beefless patties.

Anatomy of a Plant-Based Burger

When you check out the labels of burgers from Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods, here’s what you’ll find:

Beyond Burger Impossible Burger
Ingredients: Water, Pea Protein Isolate, Expeller-Pressed Canola Oil, Refined Coconut Oil, Contains 2% or less of the following: Cellulose from Bamboo, Methylcellulose, Potato Starch, Natural Flavor, Maltodextrin, Yeast Extract, Salt, Sunflower Oil, Vegetable Glycerin, Dried Yeast, Gum Arabic, Citrus Extract (to protect quality), Ascorbic Acid (to maintain color), Beet Juice Extract (for color), Acetic Acid, Succinic Acid, Modified Food Starch, Annatto (for color) Ingredients: Water, Soy Protein Concentrate, Coconut Oil, Sunflower Oil, Natural Flavors, 2% or less of: Potato Protein, Methylcellulose, Yeast Extract, Cultured Dextrose, Food Starch Modified, Soy Leghemoglobin, Salt, Soy Protein Isolate, Mixed Tocopherols (Vitamin E), Zinc Gluconate, Thiamine Hydrochloride (Vitamin B1), Sodium Ascorbate (Vitamin C), Niacin, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride (Vitamin B6), Riboflavin (Vitamin B2), Vitamin B12
Nutrition: 290 calories, 22 grams fat, 5 grams saturated fat, 450 milligrams sodium, 20 grams protein Nutrition: 240 calories, 14 grams fat, 8 grams saturated fat, 370 milligrams sodium, 19 grams protein

For comparison, a quarter-pound McDonald’s burger patty without a bun, toppings or cheese has 210 calories, 15 grams of fat, 7 grams of saturated fat, 55 milligrams of sodium and 12 grams of protein. (McDonald’s burgers also contain small amounts of cholesterol and trans fats, neither of which are present in plant-based burgers.) Although the bun and condiments with which the patty is served have fairly extensive ingredient lists, the patty has just one component: beef. [2]

Neither Beyond nor Impossible products are meant to be staples of any diet.

Ethical and environmental issues of meat production aside, it’s difficult to ignore the number and nature of the ingredients necessary to reproduce the taste and texture of a single-ingredient food. Aside from water, just about everything in the Beyond and Impossible burgers is highly processed, and many ingredients bear a striking resemblance to those often found in foods considered responsible, at least in part, for the current epidemic of obesity and chronic disease affecting numerous populations around the world.

However, both Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods cite the health of the planet as a core part of their missions, and this is where their products significantly outshine animal foods. According to Impossible Foods’ 2019 impact report, their meat alternatives:

  • Use 87% less water
  • Use 96% less land
  • Generate 89% fewer greenhouse gas emissions
  • Create 92% less “nutrient pollution” (fertilizer runoff)

Numbers are given in comparison to “even the most environmentally efficient cattle-based production.” [3]

How about the Beyond Burger? Its footprint appears to be even smaller with:

  • 46% less energy required
  • 90% less greenhouse gas created
  • 99% less impact on water scarcity
  • 93% less impact on land

Impact statistics were reported in a study by the Center for Sustainable Systems at the University of Michigan using one-quarter pound of “U.S. beef” as a comparison. [4]

Made From Plants, but Not Healthy

Deriving meat alternatives from plants may do less harm to the environment, but there are still several concerns associated with the ingredients:

  • Processed oils can cause a temporary reduction in the ability of blood vessels to dilate, restricting blood flow for hours following consumption
  • Saturated fat can raise levels of LDL cholesterol [5] and increase your risk of heart disease
  • Yeast extract, a flavor-enhancing additive, is high in sodium and contains glutamates, which may produce adverse reactions in sensitive people [6]

In addition, Impossible Burgers contain both genetically modified (GM) soy and a new food additive called leghemoglobin, produced by plants in nature but mass-produced for Impossible products using GM yeast cells.[7] Leghemoglobin is what gives the Impossible Burger its characteristic “bloody” appearance when cooking, but since it hasn’t been on the market very long, there’s little research regarding any long-term impact on health.

The Case For (Occasional) Meatless “Meats”

Despite the potentially negative health effects of the ingredients, options like those from Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods aren’t without their uses. Remember when you transitioned away from animal products? There were probably some awkward moments when you got invited out to lunch or to a gathering where there was little or nothing you could eat. Or you had a party at your place, and none of your non-vegan friends touched the food. Being able to order a meat-free option or toss a few Beyond patties on the grill eases the social tensions many people feel during the early stages of a lifestyle change.

And, no matter how good you get at meal planning, sometimes life happens. There are emergencies or unexpected changes in schedules that leave you with a growling stomach and few options. It’s unlikely eating an Impossible Burger in one of these rare circumstances is going to cause lasting damage if your normal diet consists mostly of unprocessed plant foods.

However, neither Beyond nor Impossible products are meant to be staples of any diet. Whether you’re WFPB, vegan, or are just starting to decrease the amount of animal foods in your diet, it’s best to think of these meat-free burgers as what they are: processed products best left off your plate the majority of the time.

Whole Food Alternatives

Although these much-touted meat alternatives aren’t compatible with a WFPB lifestyle, you’re far from out of luck! Unprocessed ingredients like beans, whole grains, veggies, and nuts can come together in endless combinations to make delicious, plant-based burgers. The best part? They’re completely customizable to your tastes and can be frozen so that they’re ready to enjoy any time. Check out this guide to building the ultimate plant-based burger to get started with your own meat alternatives.

Revised 11/1/19: The original version of this article mistakenly cited the nutrition facts for McDonald’s standard burgers instead of the quarter-pounder. The text has been corrected for clarity.


How Sugar Substitutes Stack Up

There are plenty of reasons to avoid fructose (a.k.a. sugar, the subject of the cover story in this month's issue of National Geographic magazine) and its even more vilified twin, high-fructose corn syrup.

For athletes, these sweeteners provide much-needed energy. For the rest of us, they're high-calorie, zero-nutrition temptations that can lead to obesity and a host of related conditions—diabetes, high cholesterol, heart disease.

When sugar has a rap sheet like this, alternative sweeteners start to look appealing. For diabetics, most of these substitutes don't cause the dramatic blood sugar spikes associated with the real thing. For weight watchers, zero (or dramatically reduced) calories are a dieter's boon.

But which to choose? There are scores of sugar substitutes most fall into one of four categories: natural sweeteners, artificial sweeteners, dietary supplements, and sugar alcohols. And there's a new hybrid sweetener—tagatose—that is natural and has fewer calories than sugar.

As a category, natural sweeteners are a less processed, better-for-you-option than fructose. Like sugar, they produce energy when metabolized by the body. Unlike sugar, they have some nutritional value in the form of trace vitamins and minerals.

There's agave from the eponymous plant, honey (actually sweeter than sugar, so you don't need as much), molasses, and the syrup family (barley, malt, brown rice, cane, corn, golden, maple). Over the years I've performed enough tests to know that while there are taste and textural differences, most of these more distinctive sweeteners are fine stand-ins for sugar.

Dieters take note: This category of sweeteners is not low-cal. For diabetics, however, many of these sweeteners have a low glycemic index, which means they don't cause the highs and lows that come with sugar and high-fructose corn syrup.

Artificial sweeteners (or zero-calorie sweeteners) include the big three: Sweet'N Low, Nutrasweet, and Splenda. These synthetically produced food additives offer sweetness without calories—but having no calories means they give your body no energy. These sweeteners pass through the body undigested. And they're so intensely sweet that they must be diluted with fillers like dextrose or maltodextrin to approximate the sweetness—and bulk—of sugar.

Almost all artificial sweeteners have a distinct aftertaste, but regular users find them to be good sugar substitutes in drinks and tend to be passionate about their favorite.

But do these sweeteners bake up well? To test their performance, I made simple yellow cakes from a standard 1-2-3-4 cake formula (1 cup butter, 2 cups sugar, 3 cups self-rising flour, 4 eggs).

As a category, artificial sweeteners did not impress in the oven. They may mimic the taste of sugar in a latte, but they don't perform like sugar in a cake. There are two issues. Artificial sweeteners lack sugar's bulk. Compared with sugar-sweetened cakes, artificially sweetened ones are dense and squat. You could solve the volume problem by increasing the batter, but that means more flour and butter (carbs and calories). Artificial sweeteners don't melt like sugar, so the cake's texture is often dense, dry, and lumpy—more like a biscuit than a cake.

Here's how the artificial sweeteners stack up in baking.

Acesulfame potassium (or acesulfame K or ace-K) is about 200 times sweeter than sugar and has no calories.

Brand names: Sunett, Sweet One (very limited retail distribution, available only in small packets)

Used for baking: Yes, at temperatures below 400°F. (Because Sweet One is not available in my area and comes only in small retail packets, I did not test this brand.)

Aspartame is also about 200 times sweeter than sugar and is completely broken down by the body into its two component amino acids—aspartic acid and phenylalanine (and a small amount of methanol or wood alcohol). It actually contains 4 calories per gram, but since so little is used there are only trace calories per serving.

Aspartame is not safe for those with the rare but serious metabolic disorder phenylketonuria (PKU). Those with PKU cannot process the amino acid phenylalanine, and too much of it in the body's system can lead to mental retardation, low IQ, and behavioral problems.

Brand names: NutraSweet, Equal, Sugar Twin, and the lesser-known brands Spoonful and Equal-Measure

Used for baking: Some sources said yes others said heat caused it to lose its sweetness. The latter, in fact, is true. The cake I baked was not sweet.

Neotame is made by Nutrasweet. The newest of the artificial sweeteners, it is about 40 times sweeter than aspartame (making it 8,000 times sweeter than sugar) and is metabolized like aspartame.

Brand name: Neotame (not available to consumers)

Used for baking: It is said to be much more stable than aspartame for baking and cooking. (Since it is not available in retail outlets, I did not test it.)

Saccharin (or benzoic sulfimide), the oldest of the artificial sweeteners, was accidentally discovered by a chemist working on coal tar derivatives more than 100 years ago. Depending on its use, it can be 200 to 700 times sweeter than sugar.

Brand names: Sweet'N Low, Sweet Twin, and Necta Sweet

Used for baking: Yes. Although the cake I baked was dense and lumpy, it was surprisingly tender and very sweet, with that unmistakable metallic Sweet'N Low aftertaste.

Sucralose (or chlorinated sugar) was accidentally discovered in 1976 by a researcher and was approved for use in the U.S. in 1998. It is 600 times sweeter than regular sugar and is marketed as a sugar substitute that can fill in for the real thing in any capacity, including cake baking.

Used for baking: Splenda is popular because it can retain its natural sweetness when heated to high temperatures. The cake I baked had a biscuit-like texture, consistent with that of cakes baked with the other artificial sweeteners. The aftertaste is not as strong as Sweet'N Low's but is noticeable.

Stevia is a virtually calorie-free sweetener that is 200 times sweeter than sugar it has been used for centuries as a sweetener in South America. In the 1980s, tests on stevia had problematic results: Animal studies linked stevia to a negative impact on fertility and possible genetic mutations. As a result, pure stevia is categorized as a dietary supplement not approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. In 2008, however, the makers of Truvia and PureVia petitioned the FDA, which ultimately granted GRAS (generally recognized as safe) status to the highly purified extract of stevia called rebaudioside A (also known reb A or Rebiana).

Even though it is derived from a plant, some consider it artificial because it is so highly refined. For now, FDA-approved stevia products like Truvia and PureVia are widely available. For pure stevia, head to a health-food store or vitamin shop.

Brand names: Truvia, PureVia, SweetLeaf, Rebiana, Sun Crystals (a stevia-sugar blend)

Used for baking: Yes, but like many of the artificial sweeteners, pure stevia doesn't have the bulk to deliver appealing baked goods. The cake made with Truvia was acceptable, but there was a mild vanilla aftertaste that is apparently added to disguise the more obvious licorice finish.

Lo Han Kuo (or monk fruit) is an ancient Chinese fruit about 200 times sweeter than sugar it received FDA GRAS status in 2009. Stirred into a drink, the Nectresse brand blend most closely approximates sugar and was one of my favorite no-calorie sweeteners.

Brand name: Nectresse (actually a blend of monk fruit, erythritol, sugar, and molasses)

Used for baking: Yes. Nectresse performed similarly to the other no-cal sweeteners, producing a cake that was tender but lumpy, dry, and biscuit-like.

Not all non-nutritive sweeteners are artificial. Sugar alcohols, or sugar/alcohol hybrids, are natural, not chemically derived. Since they are not completely absorbed by the body, these plant-based sweeteners have fewer calories than sugar does. The body absorbs sugar alcohols more slowly than it absorbs sugars, so these products are lower on the glycemic index.

It's easy to identify sugar alcohols on packaging labels because most of them end in "ol"—glucitol, sorbitol, maltitol, mannitol, glycerol, lactitol. Many of them have a cool, fresh finish associated with mints, gum, and cough syrups, so it's no surprise that these are the sugars used to sweeten those products.

Products containing sugar alcohols can be labeled "sugar free" or "reduced calorie," so be aware that sugar free does not necessarily mean calorie free. Consuming excessive amounts of sugar alcohol can cause gas and/or diarrhea, which I have confirmed with regular users.

The two most common sugar alcohols available to consumers are no-calorie erythritol and reduced-calorie xylitol, both of which baked up into very respectable cakes. Although there was some criticism that sugar alcohols don't brown when heated, I didn't find it to be true. Perhaps it was from the butter and milk, but both the erythritol and the xylitol cakes were golden brown.

Erythritol has the calorie advantage over xylitol—zero calories compared with xylitol's nine calories per teaspoon. Of all the zero-calorie sweeteners, erythritol was my overall favorite in its baking performance and clean flavor.

Brand names: ZSweet, Sweet Simplicity, Zero

Used for baking: Yes—the erythritol-sweetened cake was a runner-up in my personal baking contest. Though not as good as the xylitol-sweetened cake, it was far superior in taste and texture to the cakes made with other zero-calorie sweeteners.

Xylitol is five percent less sweet than sugar, but it has 40 percent fewer calories (9 calories versus sugar's 16) and a low glycemic index. It can be made from many different things, but it's primarily extracted from corncobs and hardwoods. It is increasingly difficult to find the better-for-you xylitol made from hardwoods. The bulk of xylitol is made from corn and imported from China.

Brand names: XyloSweet, XyloPure, Miracle Sweet, Nature's Provision

Used in baking: Yes. Xylitol looks like sugar, tastes like sugar, and responds like sugar in baking. Among the sugar substitutes, xylitol is my favorite. Though it was not as sweet as the cake sweetened with sugar, the xylitol cake's texture was tender and cake-like and the flavor was pure.

Tagatose is a new naturally occurring sweetener found in milk. It's 92 percent as sweet with only a third of the calories of sugar. Like yogurt, it contains probiotics, which means it helps the good bacteria in the digestive system multiply. It has a clean neutral taste, and it browns very well in baked goods.

Used in baking: Yes. Although the tagatose-sweetened cake was very tender, the crumb was gummy with a slightly sour finish. A xylitol-tagatose blend could be a winning combination.

Conclusion: Weighing Risks and Benefits

Although no hard link between artificial sweeteners and cancer has been established, suspicions linger from the famous 1970s experiment showing that lab animals given extremely high doses of a cyclamate-saccharine combination were prone to bladder cancer. Subsequent studies seemed to limit the artificial sweetener/cancer connection to lab animals only, and to date no direct correlation between artificial sweeteners and cancer in humans has been shown.

An interesting link, however, has been reported between artificial sweeteners and weight gain. Despite the apparent logic, research and repeated studies point to artificial and no- and low-calorie sweeteners actually causing weight gain. It appears that once we get a hit of sweet taste without the calories, it increases our food cravings, and we eat more.

For diabetics, sugar substitutes are a necessary and pleasurable alternative. For those trying to shave a few calories out of their daily diet, the occasional diet soft drink or artificially sweetened cup of coffee is fine, and lower-calorie xylitol is a great option for baking.

As for those who habitually use artificial sweeteners to lose weight—yet without success—the path to actual weight loss may be the counterintuitive one: making peace with sugar.


Date Sugar

Date sugar is different from other natural sugar substitutes in that it's not an extract, but is instead made by grinding dried dates into a fine powder. It contains the same nutrients as whole dates&mdashpotassium, calcium and several antioxidants&mdashand has only 30 calories per tablespoon. Hand points out that under the latest FDA draft guidelines, whole fruit, fruit pieces and dried fruit don't fall into the category of added sugars.

However, Hand warns that date sugar has some restrictions. Because it doesn't melt well, its uses are limited. "It can primarily be used as a replacement for brown sugar in quick breads and bar cookies, sprinkled in yogurt, added to a smoothie or used to top a hot cereal," she says.


Frequently asked questions

Red velvet traditionally has a slightly acidic taste, balanced with sweetness and a mild chocolate flavor. These pancakes do not use buttermilk, so the acidic taste is less. However, they have a perfect chocolate undertone that pairs well with fresh berries, cream cheese, or syrup.

Typically red velvet recipes use red food coloring to produce the bright red color. Some recipes also use natural ingredients, such as beets, to add more color. If you prefer not to use food coloring, you can leave it out.

It is better to add milk. Not only will it add flavor, but it will make the pancakes fluffier. You can use non-dairy milk like almond milk, or use 1-2% milk instead.


Taste Test: Nonfat Vanilla Yogurt

Quick, easy, portable and healthy -- yogurt is an all-around favorite snack. But with supermarket shelves stacked with the stuff, shopping for yogurt can get confusing. After some tasting and label reading, check out what we found.

For this taste test, we tested all types of nonfat vanilla-flavored yogurts. We focused on taste, mouth feel and nutritional value and scored each on a 5-points scale (5 being highest).

We took a look at the calories and sugar in each yogurt. Since yogurt is made from milk sugar (called lactose), you'll typically find some natural sugar is in all yogurt. We took a deeper look into the types of sugars (or in some cases sugar substitutes) that were added to yogurt -- some even surprised us!

Each yogurt tested contained between 5 to 8 grams of protein and between 15 to 30 percent of your daily calcium needs per 6 ounces. As all dairy products contain sodium, the amount was about the same for all varieties ranging from 75 to 110 milligrams per 6 ounces. Another interesting find is that most yogurt companies add vitamin D which works with calcium to keep bones healthy (check the ingredients and you’ll find "vitamin D3" listed) — the only exception was Activia Light. All yogurts had active cultures (a.k.a probiotics) added to them although some brands advertised them more than others.

Nutritional info (per 6 ounces): 130 calories, 24 grams sugar

Our Take: The organic yogurt of the bunch, Stonyfield has a creamy texture that is not overly sweet. It’s made from organic nonfat milk and milled organic sugar is added for sweetness —which is why you’ll find that it has the highest sugar content of the bunch. The ingredient list is relatively simple and easy to understand without any added chemicals or artificial sweeteners. Although it was pricier than some of the other varieties, I often find it on sale at my local market.

Nutritional info (per 6 ounces): 100 calories, 12 grams sugar

Our Take: A little more watery than some of the other varieties, Weight Watchers didn’t have that rich and creamy mouth feel. The yogurt is made from nonfat milk and is sweetened with the artificial sweetener sucralose — which explains the aftertaste. A quick look at the laundry list of ingredients reveals added fiber, giving it 3 grams per 6 ounces. Weight Watchers fans take note: only one point per 6 ounce serving.

Nutritional info (per 6 ounces): 80 calories, 11 grams sugar

Our Take: This yogurt is the lowest in calories and sugars as it’s made from nonfat milk, but it's sweetened with a combo of sugar substitutes including sucralose and aspartame. For someone who is really trying to cut calories, this may be a good choice if you can deal with the chemical aftertaste. The texture is smooth and somewhat creamy and it was the cheapest of the bunch.

Nutritional info (per 6 ounces): 110 calories, 13 grams sugars

Our Take: All the ads for this yogurt promote the fact that it’s bursting with several probiotics promising to keep you regular. Although it has a creamy mouth feel, it’s one of the sweetest yogurts of the bunch (compliments of the sugar substitute sucralose). Unlike most of the other yogurts, Activia Light only comes in 4-ounce containers or 24-ounce tubs — as this is the most expensive yogurt, buying the larger container would be a smarter choice. It also contains 4.5 grams of added fiber per 6 ounces, where most other brands contain none.

Nutritional info (per 6 ounces): 110 calories, 15 grams sugar

Our Take: This yogurt is created from nonfat milk and is sweetened with high fructose corn syrup and aspartame. The yogurt was pretty creamy, but as we’ve seen with some of the other varieties, aspartame gives it that chemical-like taste.

Toby Amidor, MS, RD, CDN, is a registered dietitian and consultant who specializes in food safety and culinary nutrition. See Toby's full bio »


Butter

There are a few easy swaps for butter.

Surprisingly, avocado can be a powerhouse "plant butter" in many recipes, according to Sass.

"This swap provides the satisfying texture you crave in a dessert, while also supplying heart healthier monounsaturated fat, and significantly boosting the vitamin, mineral, and antioxidant makeup of your goodies," Sass said.

If you don't want your baked goods turning out green, you can disguise the color with cocoa powder or in chocolatey batters like brownies or cake, she said.

Oils can also work, according to Karim, but you'll want to consider the flavors. Stronger-tasting oils like coconut and olive can alter the flavor of the finished product. If you prefer, more neutrally-flavored oils, include grapeseed oil, sunflower, or safflower oil.

If you're really in a pinch, you can use shortening in place of butter, Karim said, but look for a sustainably-sourced variety if possible.


What do you think about plant-based eating?

So, how does this trend stack up in terms of health? To start, animal products, including beef, pork, poultry with skin, butter, and cheese, contain saturated fat, which is linked to health issues such as heart disease and stroke, according to the American Heart Association. High-fat foods can also be hard to digest, triggering Crohn’s symptoms.

For people with Crohn’s disease, the plant-based trend might be a smart idea for another reason, too: Red meat and processed meats — bacon, hot dogs, salami — are pro-inflammatory, whereas whole plant foods have anti-inflammatory properties, according to Mayo Clinic.

According to the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation, people with Crohn’s disease who have a sensitivity to lactose (a sugar found in dairy) may do better with plant-based milk and cheese alternatives made from soy, almonds, oats, or cashews.

It’s harder to get enough protein.

Plant-based eating isn’t without its drawbacks, though, especially for someone with an inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) such as Crohn’s. Intestinal inflammation can cause malabsorption, and certain medications along with Crohn’s symptoms, such as diarrhea, may contribute to malnutrition, according to the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation. This means you may have higher daily requirements for vitamins and minerals or even need to consume more calories to gain weight. Whenever you restrict your diet, it’s important to work with a dietitian to make sure you’re getting all the nutrients you need.

One possible challenge: “It’s harder to get enough protein,” says Feuerstein. Meat tends to be a primary source of protein in Western diets, so you’ll need to replace it with plant-based sources. Good options include legumes (beans, lentils, peanuts), soy, nuts, and quinoa.

Since many plant-based proteins are also high in fiber, consider how much fiber you can tolerate. Blending, mashing, or grinding may help make certain foods easier to digest.

“I can actually eat these things if I make a mash out of them,” Tina says. “So a cauliflower mash or mashed potatoes. This works really well for me and still allows me to include vegetables.”

Tina also recommends chopping vegetables very finely, peeling any that have fibrous skin, and cooking them very well.

Some other nutrients to watch for in a plant-based diet, according to the American Academy of Family Physicians, include:

You can learn more about these nutrients and plant-based sources of them in Everyday Health’s On Trend video series.