21 Simple Healthy Food Swaps
When it comes to being healthy and developing healthy eating habits, one of the simplest things you can do to get started is to pick just one or two of your less healthy go-to foods or ingredients and swap it for a healthier option.
That's it! You don't need to take an all-or-nothing approach with a radical new diet. You really can begin with just one healthier choice a day or a week. Once you've done it once you can gradually start introducing more and more healthier food swaps to keep improving your diet as much as you want, bit by bit.
Most of us know some of the main culprits to reduce from our diets (they're usually processed foods high in sugar, salt or multi-syllabic ingredients), but there are plenty more foods worth taking another look at if you want to improve your diet just a little bit - especially if you already eat in a pretty healthy way.
21 healthier foods to try instead
Here are some of the healthier food swaps you could try.
Try wholemeal pasta or zucchini pasta instead of white pasta
Almost everybody enjoys a steaming bowl of pasta with their favourite sauce. It is also one of the best ingredients for a quick, cheap and easy weeknight meal. However, white carbs are broken down easily and can cause your blood sugar levels to spike.
There are many alternatives to white pasta, but if you are a hardcore pasta lover, then my favourite is wholemeal pasta. It may take a while to get used to the slightly different texture, but if you stick with it you will get used to it. The trick is to add a tasty sauce filled with veggies and lean meats.
Zucchini pasta is another awesome alternative to regular white pasta and can be easily made using a vegetable spiralizer. It is especially perfect for those summer months when you don't feel like eating anything too heavy. I like to mix mine with plenty of marinara sauce!
Try quinoa or brown rice instead of white rice
Rice is another staple that is so versatile and is used in a number of dishes. White rice has a lot in common with white pasta, in that its reduced fibre content means that you are less likely to stay full. The best swap for white rice is quinoa, which is packed full of protein.
If you don’t really enjoy the flavour or texture of quinoa no matter how hard you try, another one of my favourite alternatives is brown rice. Brown rice is cooked exactly the same way as white rice, but just a little bit longer. If you are worried about burning your pots and pans, then you should invest in a rice cooker, which cooks your rice perfectly every time!
Try grilled or roast chicken instead of deli meats
Protein is a great component of every meal, it can help to keep you feeling full and satisfied and can reduce sugar cravings. However not all protein is created equal, and most deli meats are living proof of this.
The trouble with deli meats is that on top of the protein they contain, they are also full of sodium, fat, and other additives. The worst offenders are salami, bologna and ham. Swap your ham sandwiches for grilled or roast chicken breast, and if you really need to choose the deli option, go for leaner meats such turkey or chicken meat instead.
Try avocado instead of butter
This is a weirder swap but an awesome one. Avocados are perfect to use instead of butter in baking recipes because all the ingredients are getting mixed together and you can’t tell the difference in the end results.
When baking treats like cakes, cookies or muffins add the same amount of avocado as you would butter. It adds the same creaminess and texture without the calories, and you can't even taste the difference. The best part is that avocados are full of healthy fats so you are literally swapping a bad fat for a better one! Avocado is also great used as a spread on toast instead of butter.
Try dry beans instead of canned beans
Canned beans are super convenient if you are having a lazy night as they are easy to chuck into almost any dish for added fibre and protein. The problem with canned beans is they are usually full of sodium (more than you need) and preservatives to keep them lasting longer.
I recommend that you swap these for dried beans, as you can still enjoy all of the benefits that they offer without the nasties! This does mean you have to soak them yourself, but you can easily soak up a big batch overnight, drain them in the morning then freeze what is left for the next time you need them. You can then take them out with no defrosting needed!
Try raw cacao instead of cocoa
Cocoa is a baking staple in so many pantries, and let’s be honest we have all probably sprinkled it over our cereal at one point or another. Not only is cocoa exposed to incredibly high heats during processing, but it often contain added sugars, fat and milk solids to give it that sweet flavour. If you use cocoa regularly I would swap it for raw cacao. While it is slightly more expensive, it is generally better quality.
Raw cacao is the purest form of chocolate you can consume, which is also why it has quite a bitter taste. It is packed with antioxidants, minerals, and healthy fats. I love using raw cacao powder in my smoothies as it adds richness without leaving you feeling guilty.
Try wholemeal toast with peanut butter instead of white bread and jam
A popular breakfast staple in any household is toast - easy to make and eat whilst you are rushing out of the front door! Then come the toppings - jams, chocolate spreads and butter are some of the biggest staples. The problem with eating white bread is that it is full of refined grains that have been heavily processed leaving them void of many beneficial nutrients. Eating white carbs may cause your blood sugar levels to spike, resulting in a crash and may make you feel tired and hungry again.
I would swap all white bread with wholemeal/wholegrain bread, which generally contain more vitamins and fibre to keep you feeling fuller for longer. In terms of toppings, opt for ones that are protein-rich and full of healthy fats to help sustain you throughout the day. It’s a good idea to stay away from things such as jam spreads, butter and chocolate spreads because they are filled with empty calories and refined sugar. I would choose things like avocado, eggs and natural nut butters in their place.
Try dark chocolate instead of milk chocolate
While milk and white chocolate are made using cocoa solids, they also contain sugar, milk solids and cream. Dark chocolate, particularly 70% varieties, have more of the original cocoa present. Plus, many dark chocolate varieties also contain flavanols, which can help your body to fight cell damage and can promote healthy blood flow. Proper blood flow is important for your skin to remove toxins and to provide nutrients to the skin cells.
Try nut mix instead of pre-packaged bars
Another sneaky food that we're led to believe is healthy are pre-packaged ‘health’ bars. These are generally marketed as being “good for you”, however many of these are also full of refined sugars (such as high fructose corn syrup) amongst other things. If you can’t pronounce most of the ingredients on the bar, then it’s a sign it may not be as healthy for you as you think.
Instead, I recommend you make your own nut mix, based on your favourites. I love mixing dried goji berries, pistachios, almonds and sunflower seeds. You can mix up a batch at the start of the week and portion in little bags, so you have a snack ready to go whenever you need.
Try nice cream instead of ice cream
If your favourite Friday night past time is indulging in that tub of double chocolate ice cream, don’t despair! I have a tasty alternative for you! Instead, try and make some nice cream, which is basically a frozen banana blended until it reaches the consistency of a soft serve.
You can add cacao powder to make it chocolatey or try different variations with peanut butter and other fruits. Whilst I believe you shouldn’t deprive yourself and allow yourself to eat treats when you really feel like them, nice cream is a great alternative for anyone who likes something sweet after dinner or during the day.
Try air-popped popcorn instead of potato chips
Potato chips can be full of saturated fat and sodium, and are generally considered a junk food. If you still want to snack of something crunchy, swap the chips for some air popped popcorn with a little salt. It still tastes delicious but has contain much less oil and fat as a result of the cooking process.
Try sparkling water with fruit instead of soda
Unfortunately, there are virtually no nutritional benefits that come with drinking sodas, so you’re practically drinking empty calories. On top of this, they are filled with refined sugars, which also cause your blood sugar levels to spike.
If you like the taste of bubbly drinks, try to swap them out for sparkling water. It can be a little different at first, but you will get used to it! If you need some more flavour, add chopped up fruits to infuse your water, such as strawberries, raspberries and citrus. Mint is also a great addition!
Try Greek yoghurt instead of sour cream
If you are one of those people who love using sour cream in everything from nachos, to dressings and soups, then you really need to get on the Greek yoghurt bandwagon! Greek yoghurt has approximately half the calories of sour cream and basically tastes the same. It also has probiotics (one thing that sour cream doesn't), which help to support the healthy bacteria in your gastrointestinal tract. Make sure to check your yoghurt has live, active cultures to reap the full benefits of this.
Try hummus instead of cream-based dips
If you love a good dip platter, switch the cheese and chives and other cream-based ones with hummus! Dips seem like a healthy option until you read how many additives they contain! Opt for veggie-based dips like roasted beetroot, carrot and hummus and serve them with fresh veggie sticks. Serving them with veggie sticks rather than white crackers will also fill you up a lot quicker!
Try cheese and apple slices instead of cheese and crackers
Another popular snack is cheese and crackers, which most people make healthier using wholegrain crackers. Sometimes the problem isn’t what you are eating, but how much of it you are eating. It can be very easy to get carried away with the cracker to cheese ratio and before you know it, you are half a packet down.
Instead, I recommend eating apple slices with the cheese instead. Apples will fill you up a lot more than crackers and your body will thank you for it! Full of fibre and low in calories, apples are a great snack to have any time of the day.
Try fresh fruit instead of fruit juice
If you think washing down your lunch with a fresh juice is an added nutrient boost, this may not always be the case! This is because most fruit juices contain high amounts of sugar. While these may be natural sugars, the fact that they have most of their fibre (found in the skin and flesh) stripped away means that you would be drinking much more of that fruit than what you would if it you were eating it whole.
I suggest opting for a smoothie using the whole fruit instead, or simply a fresh piece of fruit, such as an orange or apple. Both fruits contain fibre and other nutrients, which may have been stripped during the juicing process.
Try low sodium stock instead of regular stock
Whether it be chicken, vegetable or beef stock most of these are really high in sodium (salt) and can account for up to 40% of your daily recommended sodium intake. Stock is a great food to add flavour to almost any savoury dish from quinoa to soups, mashed potatoes, veggies and casseroles. Swap regular stock for low-sodium (salt-reduced) stock - even better if you can find an organic one!
Try spices instead of salt
Salt is overused in SO many households, we tend to add it to everything even though so many foods already have added sodium. Excess sodium can make you bloated and cause you to hold onto weight. Instead, swap salt for herbs and spices in recipes, which will also add a flavour kick.
For example, rather than seasoning chicken with salt and pepper use oregano and garlic powder, or your favourite spice combination. One of my favourites is smoked paprika, dried coriander, cumin and cayenne pepper for a mexican style chicken.
Try Panko bread crumbs instead of regular bread crumbs
Bread crumbs are just bread crumbs, right? No questions asked. If you read the ingredients list on your box, you may be surprised. They are usually filled with artificial flavours, preservatives, oils and a ton of other things you probably can’t even pronounce.
Swap them with panko bread crumbs which should have a shorter ingredient list and also half the calories of the regular kind. Panko bread crumbs are made without using the crust and are lighter and slightly bigger than regular bread crumbs. They are also crunchier and absorb less oil - winning!
Try homemade salsa instead of tomato ketchup
One problem with many bottled sauces is they can be filled with sugar and preservatives, as well as artificial colours. These nasties can affect the health of your gut, which can stop it from efficiently drawing nutrients to provide to your body. Swap store bought sauces for homemade spice rubs or fresh salsa and you’ll soon notice the difference in your gut and skin!
Try mustard instead of mayonnaise
Although creamy and delicious, mayonnaise is full of saturated fat and sugar. Swapping it for mustard allows you to cut down the fat and sugar content of your meal while still maintaining flavour. I suggest using mustard in sandwiches and mixing it with olive oil and lemon juice for a delicious salad dressing. I also love making rye sandwiches with rocket, chicken and mustard.
Remember leading a healthy life doesn't have to be a chore! You can still enjoy all the foods you love, simply making a few different choices can make a huge difference to your health.
* Disclaimer: This blog post is not intended to replace the advice of a medical professional. The above information should not be used to diagnose, treat, or prevent any disease or medical condition. Please consult your doctor before making any changes to your diet, sleep methods, daily activity, or fitness routine. Sweat assumes no responsibility for any personal injury or damage sustained by any recommendations, opinions, or advice given in this article.