5 Simple Food Swaps to Improve Your Health
The foods you eat are an essential component of a healthy lifestyle. Fortunately, eating healthy doesn’t have to be complicated or tasteless. You can eat the foods and meals you enjoy with some minor changes. You can also create quick delicious meals that fit your lifestyle.
When it comes to healthy eating, the everyday choices you make often have the biggest impact on your health. Making small changes in the foods you select or ingredients you use when cooking can move you toward your health goals and help you reduce your daily calories. These simple food swaps become even easier to make once you get used to them.
5 Easy Food Swaps that Help Your Health
These food swaps will help you reduce the number of calories you eat each day while still enjoying the foods you’re eating. These small changes can help you achieve other health goals such as weight loss. Additionally, these changes, along with other healthy behaviors like exercising, not smoking, and limiting alcohol, can help your health, including your heart health and weight.
1. Increase your fiber and energy by swapping out refined grains for whole grains
If you’re used to eating white bread, rice, pasta, or low-fiber cereals, you can boost your fiber intake and your energy by swapping some of these with a whole-grain alternative. You don’t have to switch everything or do it all at once. Start small.
Try buying a whole-grain sandwich bread instead of white bread. You don’t have to select whole-wheat bread. You could choose a hearty grain mix, rye bread, pumpernickel, or other whole grain. If you don’t like the first kind of bread selected, try a different brand. Consider asking a friend or family member who eats whole-grain bread what brand they would recommend. Lastly, when shopping for whole-grain foods, check the food label to make sure the first ingredient listed is a whole-grain.
2. Swap a starchy side dish for a colorful side of vegetables
If you usually serve bread, rice, noodles, or potatoes as a side dish, consider swapping them out for a colorful side of vegetables. Those sides are often high in carbohydrates and calories.
Eating a side of vegetables can provide you with fiber, vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients that your body needs with fewer calories. When selecting vegetables, colorful vegetables with a high-water count or that are high in fiber can help you feel full on fewer calories.
Look for recipes that don’t have you adding lots of fats, salts, or sauces to keep the calorie count low. Steaming or roasting vegetables can be a healthy way to prepare vegetables. Riced cauliflower or spiralized vegetables can be a nutritious swap for rice or pasta. You can add flavor without adding calories with fresh or dried herbs. Lastly, many vegetables are delicious raw.
3. Replace sugar-sweetened beverages with unsweetened tea, coffee, or water
Sugar-sweetened beverages, like sodas, energy drinks, and sweetened iced tea, can add a lot of calories to your diet with no significant health benefits. Eating too much added sugar can also increase your risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and contribute to weight gain.
Swapping out one 12-ounce can of cola can save you around 140 calories and cut 39 grams of sugar, depending on the brand. You can swap your beverage by choosing drinks like:
- Water with a squeeze of lemon, lime, mint, or sliced fruit
- Unsweetened, calorie-free sparkling water
- Unsweetened iced tea
- Coffee or tea with no added sugar
- Hot water with lemon
Consider asking your doctor whether diet sodas are right for you. Some research has indicated that diet sodas may put people at increased risk for diabetes, but the research is mixed.
Remember that just because you’re cutting back on sugary drinks, like soda, doesn’t mean you can’t ever drink one. You can enjoy a soda or other sugary beverage on occasion and in moderation.
4. Swap out dried fruits for fresh fruit
If you like to grab a pack of dried fruit for a snack, you can save yourself some calories and help feel full longer by eating fresh or frozen fruit instead. Dried fruits have had all the water removed from them, so they are more calorie-dense. Fresh fruit, however, is typically high in water along with various nutrients, fiber, minerals, and vitamins. As a result, you’ll feel fuller after eating a fresh, crisp apple compared to dried apples.
If you need fruit that’s easy to grab during the day as a snack or when you’re on the go, consider prepping the fruit the night before or using frozen fruit. Be careful, however, of prepackaged fruit cups. Some of these have added sugars or heavy syrups that may add more calories than you want.
5. Reduce calories and cut back on fat by changing your cooking methods
Sometimes you can make your meals healthier by changing how you’re cooking. You know that deep-frying your foods adds lots of additional fat and calories. But swapping to out other methods can help reduce calories and fat as well, such as:
- Hard boiling your eggs instead of pan-frying them in butter
- Baking your sweet potatoes instead of candied sweet potatoes
- Grilling, baking, or broiling meats without an added breading
Know Your Daily Calorie Count and Portion Sizes
Small food swaps can help everyone eat healthier. However, you’ll want to make sure you’re eating the right number of calories each day if you’re also trying to lose weight. In general, you need to consume fewer calories than you use each day.
To lose one pound a week, you’ll typically need to reduce your calories by 3,500 each week. You can do this by reducing the number of calories you eat each day, burning more calories with exercise, or combining the two.
That said, if you’re not eating enough calories, your metabolism will slow down as your body tries to conserve energy. So be sure you’re eating enough calories each day. Fortunately, calorie calculators and guides can help you determine how many calories you need a day.
Understanding how much you should eat of different types of foods can also help you establish a healthy balance of nutrients. The USDA’s MyPlate campaign can help you determine the right mix of foods and nutrients your body needs.
Small Changes Can Lead to Big Results
Healthy eating can be delicious, fun, and easy. Making small changes like swapping high calorie or less nutritious foods for a healthier alternative can positively impact your health. You may find that after eating different healthy alternatives, like whole-grains, more often that you enjoy those foods as much, if not more, than the original food.