One thing I really like about cooking at home is that your food can taste as good as in any restaurant — and you can prepare it in a way that’s much healthier. Mayonnaise is a classic example. It’s great for dressing coleslaw and making crab cakes. It’s also an ingredient that’s packed with plenty of unsaturated fat and that comes with a lot of calories you most probably want to avoid.
What’s a good substitute to mayo? Obviously, you need something to dress salads and act as a binding agent on recipes that require it. After plenty of experiments on a variety of cooking techniques and recipes, I’ve come to the conclusion that plain Greek yogurt is the best alternative to mayo for most recipes.
Yogurt: A Healthier Substitute for Mayo
To substitute mayo, mix ½ cup of plain Greek yogurt with a dollop of olive oil, a teaspoon of Dijon mustard, and salt and black pepper to taste.
Yogurt has a tarty, tangy taste similar, if less creamy and decadent, to that of mayonnaise. It’s also significantly less caloric. 100 grams of plain Greek yogurt contains 59 calories and 3.3 grams of fat. In comparison, 100 grams of mayo packs 680 calories and 75 grams of fat.
That’s a pretty sweet deal. When you substitute plain Greek yogurt for mayo, you get almost the same taste with more than 10 times less fat and calories.
This trick can be a life saver, especially if you’re cooking at home because you or one of your family members needs to eat healthier in the first place (and let’s be honest, nowadays most of us do).
Wondering if yogurt really is a healthier alternative to mayonnaise and store-bought salad dressing? Let’s compare the nutrition facts for mayo, salad dressing, whole-milk yogurt, and no-fat yogurt below.
|Mayonnaise||100 grams||680 calories|
75 grams fat
0.6 grams carbohydrates
1 gram protein
|No-fat Salad Dressing||100 grams||70 calories|
2.7 grams fat
12 grams carbohydrates
0.2 gram protein
|Whole-Milk Plain Yogurt||100 grams||61 calories|
3.3 grams fat
4.7 grams carbohydrates
3.5 grams protein
|No-fat Plain Yogurt||100 grams||59 calories|
0.4 grams fat
3.6 grams carbohydrates
10 grams protein
Trust me, I’m no health expert or fitness coach. But yogurt is clearly a better alternative to mayonnaise and most salad dressings (as long as you can eat dairy). Especially when you weigh the calorie, fat, and carbohydrate contents.
The best yogurt brands are the ones you and your family like the most. In our household, we like to buy Chobani Whole Milk Plain or Dannon Oikos Whole Milk Greek Yogurt.
You can also use non-fat plain Greek yogurt. As non-fat yogurt tends to be a little watery and runny, you’ll probably need to mix it with sour cream if you plan to use it as a binding agent in recipes like crab cakes.
Clearly, whole-milk plain yogurt and no-fat plain yogurt are much better alternatives than any mayo, light mayo, or store-bought salad dressing. Especially when you consider the carbohydrates.
Substitute Yogurt for Mayo in Most Recipes
Yogurt for mayo works exceptionally well with these three recipes below:
Idea #1. Make creamy potato salad, but hold the mayo. There’s nothing like a hearty German potato salad on a chilly autumn day. We all love potato salad, but it also comes with a touch of guilt and, “Man, I need to run extra miles tomorrow morning to burn these excess calories” thoughts before I go to sleep. So I found a way to make potato salad in a healthier way.
Make healthy potato salad by replacing mayonnaise with a 5.3 oz container of whole-milk or no-fat yogurt. Your body is going to thank you for doing it.
To give it that super-German smell and taste (if there is such a thing in the first place), add white pepper to the salad dressing to taste.
Idea #2. Make healthy tuna salad with yogurt dressing. Tuna salad is traditionally dressed with mayonnaise. As I’m not the biggest fan of mayo, I tried to recreate it with plain Greek yogurt — and it worked out pretty well. No-fat yogurt was a little too watery for this recipe, so my two cents are to stick to whole-milk yogurt instead.
Prepare the tuna salad as usual. Then dress it liberally with plain yogurt, Dijon mustard, lemon juicy, and salt and black pepper to taste.
Idea #3. Crab cakes without mayo. Yes, you can make crab cakes without mayonnaise. The thing to know here is that mayo is used as a binding agent for crab cake mix. So you’re going to need whole-milk yogurt mixed with a little sour cream, which adds extra thickness and fatiness to the yogurt.
Crab meat has a delicate taste. Yogurt and sour cream are tart and tangy, and pair just as well with crab meat as mayonnaise. Replace mayonnaise with yogurt in your crab cake mix and prepare as you would normally do to make lighter and healthier crab cakes.
Make Caesar Dressing Without Mayo
You can substitute plain yogurt for mayo in pretty much any recipe you can think of to make a meal that tastes just as good, but packs significantly less unsaturated fat and calories. Still, every home cook has their favorites. If you ask me, there’s nothing like Caesar salad sauce with Greek yogurt.
Grilled chicken Caesar salad is a staple in our home. Every now and then, I preheat my Lodge 10.25-inch cast iron skillet and sauté chicken breasts in extra-virgin olive oil and a small block of salted butter.
I buy the greenest and crunchiest salad greens and the ripest tomatoes that I can find in the grocery store. Last but not least, I make homemade croutons by sautéing stale bread in the same pan and oil where I made the chicken (if you’re not doing this yet, try it the next time you make croutons for chicken Caesar salad).
My wife and I are not the biggest fans of mayo, so I substitute plain yogurt for mayo (or, in this case, olive oil and egg yolk) whenever I can.
My fool-proof recipe for Caesar salad dressing without mayo:
The classic Caesar sauce that you get served in most restaurants is made of extra-virgin olive oil, anchovy, garlic, Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, and egg yolk. The egg yolk is mixed with olive oil and emulsified to a thick and creamy sauce that’s practically homemade mayonnaise. It’s then mixed with the anchovy and garlic.
Getting the emulsification right can be tricky and, when making Caesar salad at home, most folks either use store-bought sauce or make their own with mayo. The problem with both of these options is that they’re not really the healthiest. They come with an excess amount of sugar, unsaturated fat, and calories.
Here’s my lighter and healthier alternative.
Caesar Salad Dressing Without Mayo
- Large bowl
- Chef's knife
- Cutting board
- 5.3 oz whole-milk plain Greek yogurt (5.3 oz)
- ½ cup freshly-grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
- 2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 tbsp freshly-squeezed lemon juice (juice from 1 lemon)
- 2 pieces anchovy fillets
- 2 cloves garlic
- Grate enough Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese to fill ½ cup
- Peel and mince the garlic
- With a chef's knife, mince the anchovy fillets crosswise
- Blend the garlic and anchovy fillets into a paste-like mixture and mince for 5-10 seconds more
- In a large bowl, add the anchovy-garlic paste, Greek yogurt, grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, and olive oil
- Squeeze the juice from one lemon, not letting the seeds fall in
- Use a fork or a whisk to mix thoroughly into a consistent and unified sauce