Diet and nutrition is often the hardest part of the fitness journey. The key for me was learning how to make healthy food swaps to make eating better EASIER. Once I learned simple substitutions to make on a regular basis, and created a habit out of them, eating healthier became fun and easy. Here are some of my favorite healthy food swaps that are so drilled into my brain, thinking of all of the original things I substituted them for was actually tough! Start small by choosing a few things on the list, and as they become a habit, add a few more! In no time, making healthy food swaps will come naturally to you with almost no thought at all.
12 Easy Healthy Food Swaps
1. Almond milk instead of dairy milk
Almond milk has many advantages over dairy milk such as less calories, less carbohydrates and no sugar(as long as you get UNSWEETENED almond milk), 50% more calcium, no cholesterol, no hormones and antibiotics, and more of the antioxidant Vitamin E. It is also rich in heart-healthy mono and polyunsaturated fats, while the fat content in cow’s milk is mainly saturated fat. Cow’s milk does contain more protein than almond milk, so make sure you are getting adequate protein from other sources. I only drink Silk Unsweetened Vanilla almond milk. Don’t expect to like the taste of it plain, but I regularly enjoy my almond milk with protein powder, oats and fruit, cereal, in smoothies, and for cooking.
2. Quinoa instead of rice
Quinoa is a far better nutrient-rich carb choice than white rice and in some areas even brown rice. (I am working on getting a blog post up comparing quinoa and brown rice) Quinoa is packed with way more fiber and protein than brown and white rice. It is also high in many important vitamins and minerals, such as iron, magnesium, phosphorus, manganese and zinc. The higher fiber content and low glycemic index of quinoa helps prevent blood sugar spikes that you get from eating processed and refined carbohydrates such as white rice, making you feel full longer and keep your body energized.
3. Oats and fruit instead of cereal
Most cereals are packed with sugars and refined grains, which I talked about in 3 Reasons You’re Not Losing Weight. Starting your day with a high sugar, low in nutrients breakfast such as sugar will spike your blood sugar and insulin levels, only to leave you tired, groggy, and more hungry not much later. If you start your day with an antioxidant and vitamin rich, high fiber breakfast such as a bowl of mixed berries and oats with your milk-of-choice, you’ll be feeling much more energized and ready to start your day, and not to mention more likely to last until lunch without getting a grumbling stomach. Just make sure you get a whole-grain oats option, such as old fashioned, rolled or steel cut oats, rather than instant oatmeals that are often processed and packed with sugar. I often enjoy eating oats uncooked over fruit and almond milk in place of cereal, but you can also put the same ingredients in a container or mason jar to make overnight oats.
4. PB2 powder instead of Peanut Butter
Are you one of those people who enjoys the dangerous habit of eating peanut butter with a spoon out of a jar? I am. I stopped buying peanut butter and started buying PB2, a powedered peanut butter, and am loving it. PB2 is all natural powdered peanut butter without the saturated fat or the added hydrogenated oil. It has 50 calories compared to the ~200 calories in a serving of traditional peanut butter, only 1 gram of sugar, and 85% less fat calories. I often just mix the powder with water and add a little organic raw honey when I am craving a spoonful of peanut butter, but you can also add it to smoothies, oatmeal, cookies, pancakes, anything else you want the peanut butter flavor in.
5. Spaghetti squash instead of pasta
As an Italian, pasta is my weakness. But when trying to eat clean and steer clear of refined carbohydrates, spaghetti squash takes the win. Carbs and calories are the most obvious reason to choose spaghetti squash, but spaghetti squash also has antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals that you won’t find in regular pasta. Learning to cook spaghetti squash was a learning curve, but once I got the hang of it, using it became a very simple substitution.
6. Pink Himalayan salt instead of table salt
I was treated for high blood pressure from age 15 up until just over a year ago, so I barely ever use salt when I’m cooking. But on the rare occasion I do, I use pink Himalayan salt. You know, the kind in those pretty salt lamps with all the awesome health benefits. (I have one and love it, you can find it here) Pink Himalayan salt is not processed like table salt is, so it is a greater source of minerals and electrolytes. You can read more about advantages of Pink Himalayan salt and its health benefits in this article.
7. 80-100% Dark chocolate instead of milk chocolate
I am a chocoholic. I can’t live without it. But since I try to keep my sugar-content low, I opt for the highest percentage dark chocolate I can find. When baking or making smoothies, I’ll add some 100% dark unsweetened dark cocoa powder instead of regular sweetened cocoa powders. As a daily after lunch treat, I nom on a square of Ghirardelli 86% Dark Chocolate, which only has 1g of sugar per square. Dark chocolate is also rich in antioxidants and has many other health benefits. Just make sure you’re getting dark chocolate that is at least 70-80% or higher.
8. Plain Greek yogurt and fruit instead of flavored yogurt
Flavored yogurts are often packed with sugar and preservatives. Especially the fruit-on-bottom yogurts. Even if you are getting Greek yogurt, make sure you are getting plain. I often see people getting this Honey Vanilla Greek Yogurt which has 32g of sugar(HOLY COW), but why not get plain Greek yogurt which has much less sugar, and add some honey or fruit yourself to sweeten it up? Plain Greek yogurt is a great source of protein and paired with some frozen mixed berries is a fantastic healthy breakfast.
9. Raw nuts instead of roasted/salted nuts and trail mix
Check the sodium and sugar content in pre-made delicious looking trail mixes. Nuts are a great way to get some extra protein and healthy fats, when you eat them the right way. Trade your trail mix and roasted/salted nuts for a bag of raw unsalted nuts and enjoy the benefits.
10. Bowl of mixed berries and organic honey instead of dessert
I always have a bag of frozen mixed berries on hand. Always. If I’m really craving something sweet, before caving and getting ice cream, I’ll eat a bowl of mixed berries, sometimes topped with chia seeds and a little honey or agave nectar. It usually does the job and satisfies my sweet tooth. The more you detoxify your body of processed sugars, the more you will be able to taste the natural flavor and sweetness in fruits.
11. Lemon juice, balsamic vinegar, or salt-free seasonings instead of condiments and cooking sauces
I’ve mentioned how important this stuff is in my meal prep secrets post. Making yourself a “healthy” stir fry and drown it in teriyaki stir fry sauce? It’s not so healthy anymore. You’d be surprised how much flavor lemon juice, balsamic vinegar, or salt-free seasonings such as my holy-grail Mrs. Dash adds to your steamed or roasted veggies.
12. Sliced almonds, walnuts, or sunflower seeds on salad instead of croutons
I hate seeing people add a bunch of stuff to their salads that take away its healthiness. If you need some crunch to your salad, drop the sodium and refined carbohydrate packed croutons. Try adding some raw sliced almonds, walnuts, or sunflower seeds to your salads. You’ll get some extra proteins and good fats while adding some crunch and flavor!
Do you have any other food swaps that have changed the game of healthy eating for you? Let us know in the comments below!