So you have decided to go vegan or try out a plant-based diet; that’s great! Whether you are doing it for your health, the planet or the animals, everyone benefits. You probably already know which foods are no longer on your shopping list, but now you have to learn what you can eat in their place. No sweat! The good news is that there has never been a time in vegan history such as now when there have been so many options for animal-free, cruelty-free, healthier ingredients. You can have anything you desire in a vegan version. Any recipe you ever made can be made vegan with just a few ingredient substitutions. Don’t be surprised to find that you even prefer the vegan versions to the originals. It happened to me. Here are 10 food substitutions you need to know.

1. Milk

Milk is probably the easiest of all food substitutions. Just buy non-dairy milk and use it however you would have used cow’s milk. There are so many to choose from: soy milk, rice milk, almond milk, hemp milk, hazelnut milk, cashew milk and coconut milk.  Most non-dairy milks are available sweetened or unsweetened, unflavored or flavored in vanilla and chocolate. Some are refrigerated and some are shelf-stable. There are also non-dairy creamers for your coffee and for super-creamy desserts, thick coconut milks for cooking and specialty seasonal milks.

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You can also make your own milk. It’s easy to learn how to make your own almond milk, peanut milk, cashew milk, coconut milk and more. Make non-dairy buttermilk by mixing 1 tablespoon of vinegar or lemon juice with 1 cup of milk and wait ten minutes until it curdles. You don’t have to wait for Christmas to give yourself the gift of homemade rich, delicious Healthy Holiday Nog.

2. Other Dairy Products

Milk isn’t the only dairy product that has vegan counterparts. There is also sour cream, cream cheese, yogurt and ice cream. They are all available in stores or you can make your own. I make my own Coconut Sour Cream and it only takes a few minutes. You won’t believe how easy it is to make your own cream cheese. Try this Cashew Coconut Cream Cheese on your next bagel. If you have a blender, it’s that easy to make your own Coconut Yogurt. “But what about ice cream?” I hear you! You can make your own vegan ice cream and other frozen desserts. You don’t have to have an ice cream machine to do it. Try making The Best Raw Ice Cream Ever, Cherry Garcia Ice Cream, Strawberry Sorbet or your own Chocolate Fudgesicle. For more ideas, check out these 34 Dairy-Free Ice Creams that are Beyond Epic.

3. Butter

Being dairy-free doesn’t mean you have to live without butter. You can substitute for butter in recipes with oil, non-hydrogenated non-dairy butter spreads or vegetable shortening. Coconut oil is a healthy, tasty option and because it has a high smoke point, it’s as good for cooking as it is raw.

On the other hand, why worry about reading labels for hidden ingredients like palm oil in store-bought non-dairy butter spreads and margarines when you can easily make your own vegan butter. When you make your own butter, you get to choose the ingredients. My homemade Vegan Butter is made with cashews and is both palm oil-free and soy-free. You can make Walnut Butter, Coconut Butter or even Cocoa-Coconut Butter. No churning required.

4. Cheese

I know, I know. This is the big one. Of all the animal-based foods, cheese seems to be the one missed most by people. It’s understandable (though it’s not my most-missed food) – cheese is delicious and addicting. Until recently, there just weren’t great vegan options for cheese substitutions. Luckily, that has changed. There has never been a more exciting time in the vegan culinary world than now with the amazing varieties of vegan cheese available. Store-bought vegan cheese is better than ever but you can make your own! Yes, you can!

There are tons of recipes out there so that you can be your own cheese monger. Make this stretchy and melty Vegan Moxarella cheese or a Spicy Pepper Jack Cashew Cheese. Make a fancy vegan cheese plate with this vegan Brie en Croute made from macadamia nuts and this beautiful Herb and Nut Encrusted Cheese Log. Your burgers will be insane with this Smoked Coconut Gouda that stretches, melts, slices and grates. If you want a crumbly cheese, try this Cauliflower Cashew Cheese and if saucy cheeses are your preference, this Béchamel Cheese Sauce will blow your mind. Try these 5 Killer Mac and Cheese Recipes that will make you wonder how you ever ate food that came out of a box.

5. Eggs

I thought I couldn’t live without chicken but it was eggs I missed most. Scrambled eggs and omelets were my favorite breakfast items. Tofu is an excellent substitution for making scrambles, omelets, frittatas, quiches or “egg” salad. Adding ground turmeric will give it that familiar yellow color and Himalayan black salt will add the sulfuric smell and taste of eggs. For a soy-free option, you can also make these same recipes using chickpeas and/or chickpea flour which also have an “eggy” look and taste.

Eggs get used a lot in cooking and baking as binders, leavening agents or for taste. They can also be used for dredging and breading to help the breading stick to food. There are vegan substitutions for all of these purposes. As long as you know what the purpose of the egg was in the recipe, you can easily choose an alternative ingredient such as flaxseed, fruit puree or chickpea flour. Read my article “How to Cook and Bake Without Eggs” for detailed instructions on how to replace eggs in every situation.

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 6. Honey

The honeybee population is diminishing. One way we can help save the honeybees is to stop taking their food away. After all, the bees make honey for themselves, not for us. We can buy vegan honey or use other sweeteners such as agave nectar, maple syrup or date paste. They taste just as sweet as honey, are healthy and better for the environment. Read “The 5 Best Alternatives to Honey” for  even more sweet ideas.

7. Gelatin

Many of us grew up eating wiggly, colorful desserts, chewy candies and fruit-flavored jams and jellies. Now that we are grown-up label readers, we know that many of these products contain gelatin. Sadly, gelatin is an animal by-product derived from boiled skin, tendons, ligaments, bones and hooves. Yuck!

Substitutions for gelatin include agar-agar, carrageen, vegetable gum and fruit pectin. Agar-agar is made from red algae. It comes in powdered form which is easily dissolved in water. Substitute powdered agar-agar for gelatin in recipes using equal amounts. Carrageen is a flavorless seaweed also known as Irish Moss. It’s a good choice for softer gels and puddings. Vegetable gums are often used in ice creams and gluten-free baked goods. Examples of vegetable gums include xanthan gum, guar gum and locust bean gum. Pectin is made by boiling, filtering and dehydrating fruits and their peels. Pectin is a soft gel that is often used to make jams, jellies and marmalades as is konjak powder which is made from yams.

8. Sugar

What? Sugar isn’t vegan? Well, some refined sugars may not be if they are refined with bone char. Luckily, organic sweeteners are minimally processed or not refined at all. According to Vegetarian Resource Group, “Since bone char is not on the National Organic Program’s National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances, certified USDA organic sugar cannot be filtered through bone char.” There are other reasons to avoid refined sugar such as our health and the fact that so many products contain cheap, chemically-based sweeteners like corn syrup. Artificial sweeteners are not a better choice as their safety still seems to be unclear.

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If you buy sugar, be sure to buy one that is raw and/or organic. There are also healthy alternatives to white sugar such as maple syrup, agave nectar, dates, fruit syrups, evaporated cane juice, brown rice syrup, molasses and barley malt. Check out this handy Guide to Natural Vegan Sweeteners to find out more.

9. Fish

Fish don’t get a lot of sympathy even though they can feel pain and deserve our compassion. Besides the obvious cruelty to sea creatures, eating them destroys our oceans and our health. With the pollution, chemicals and mercury in the ocean and in the fish, if you think eating fish is healthy, you should think again.  It is easy to replace fish in seafood recipes. It’s all about creating the right textures and flavors.

Tempeh is the perfect texture for chewy, flaky “fish” fillets and vegan “crab” cakes. Tofu has a smooth and solid texture that works for vegan scallops and vegan “shrimp.” Need a tuna replacement? Chickpeas made a delicious vegan “tuna” salad as does tempeh and tofu. Get “fishy” flavors by using ingredients often associated with seafood dishes like Old Bay, lemon, dill, and seaweed. Make your own vegan “fish” sauce for Thai dishes. For more details and recipes, read my article “How to Make Vegan Seafood Dishes Without the Fish.”

10. Meat

Last but certainly not least, we certainly have to substitute the meat. Pretty much anything you used to eat can be made with plant-based ingredients – even really meaty dishes like burgers, meatballs and Buffalo wings. It just takes a little imagination, a bit of creativity and the benefit of some tips and guidelines to help you create delicious vegan versions of those recipes.  There are two roads to take here and you are certainly allowed to travel both. The first road involves eating lots of vegetables for the sake of vegetables in their colorful and healthy vegetable form. There are so many delicious veggies out there, you can eat something different every single day and never get bored. The second road involves using plant-based ingredients to make vegan versions of meaty dishes. Both roads are valid; they both save animals, offer healthier meals and protect the planet.

Fortunately, I have written many articles about this topic. Check out the “10 Vegetables that Can Substitute for Meat” as well as the “10 Vegetables You Can Make Burgers With.” Read my “5 Tips for Making Meatless Food Taste Meaty” and then learn all about vegan meats in “6 Vegan Options for Hearty, Meat-Free Dishes.” Get all the details about how to perfectly cook tofu, tempeh and seitan, along with tons of amazing recipes.

Once you know these ten substitutions, it will be a snap for you to veganize any dish. Plus, when you learn how to make your own ingredients, you will get a sense of pride and self-sufficiency. All that along with saving our health, the animals and the planet sounds like a vegan dream.

Lead Image Source: Herb and Nut Encrusted Cheese Log