Healthy Food Swaps that Make a Noticeable Difference
Photo © Maja Petric
Dieting isn’t easy, especially when you’re forced to give up some of your favourite food.
But that doesn’t mean you have to forget about crunchy, savoury snacks or sweet, creamy treats when you want to lose weight or be a healthier you.
One of the biggest tricks to a better diet starts not with cutting food out but by swapping better food in. And trust me, once you taste some of the good-for-you goodies out there, you may never want to go back to what you used to nibble on.
Before we get into snacks and cravings, let’s talk about some basic groceries that have some as basic alternatives that make a big difference.
Protein and starches are staples in almost everyone’s diet, and yet not every protein or carbohydrate are the same. Red meat is high in iron and protein, but it actually can be your body’s frenemy thanks to its high level of cholesterol (and not the good kind).
If you want to get protein from meat, lean is the way to go. Chicken and turkey are some of the most versatile lean meats out there since you can eat in just about any form out there. Ground, patties, drumsticks, bacon, breasts, sausages? Yep, you can find chicken and turkey like that.
Fish is another great alternative, too. Plus, lots of the oil in fish are rich in nutrients that can improve your hair and your mind. Now that’s looking good and feeling good!
Eggs are more than just breakfast food, and the yolk is, according to recent studies, not so bad after all. True, egg whites are still best if you want to mind your heart, but the yolk has vitamins essential to keep you going and having the full egg does keep you fuller longer.
Don’t eat meat at all? Beans and nuts are so jam-packed with protein, healthy fat, fibre, vitamins, and taste good on just about anything. The only thing about nuts I would say is to try to go raw instead of salt to avoid high sodium, which can cause bloating and high blood pressure.
As for starches, there are so many different ways to go:
Love white rice? Try brown rice or quinoa. Love pasta? There’s wheat pasta to try and even vegetable varieties. In most produce aisles you can come across zucchini and squash sliced up into strands just like spaghetti. Top them with pesto, olive oil, or your favourite marinara sauce and taste the refreshing difference.
Bread? Simple: whole grain or whole wheat. Potatoes? Sweet potatoes! Sure, they’re great for the holidays; the thing is, you can find them in the store year-round, and they taste amazing. Try not to always make a casserole or pie out of them! Sweet potatoes can be baked, roasted, and mashed the same as white potatoes, making them a centrepiece to your dinner table no matter the time of year.
Of course, with carbs, don’t try to eat them all the time and mind your portions. Even good stuff can be too much. The last little tip before we get to the fun stuff is pretty simple but good to know. When cooking, try to avoid butter and bring in some tablespoons of olive oil instead. Trust me, two spoons of extra virgin olive oil drizzled in a pan makes just enough sizzle to grill some chicken or fry some egg whites.
Now, on to the snacks and desserts!
We all have cravings, and no matter what “experts” try to say, there is nothing wrong with nibbling once in a while. But you need to nibble wisely.
I know people who cannot go without their 3 PM bag of chips from the vending machine or a scoop of ice cream after dinner, and I understand completely.
There are better options out there to try! If you love chips and really can’t see yourself dropping them, try vegetable or whole grain varieties. My person favourite veggie chips are made by the Terra company, where you can find chips made out of anything from blue potatoes to beets. The same crunch of normal potato chips but with less of the bad stuff.
Tortilla chips are another favourite, and there are better versions of them, too. Late July is making my favourite tortilla chips in the world that not only come in a ton of flavours (nacho, green mojo, lime, red hot) but every serving has 21 grams of whole grains.
Sweet treats can get a little trickier since sugar is never good to eat in large quantities; but, if you read labels and mind the portion size, you really can keep dessert in your kitchen.
Not to sound any more like a broken record than I already have but dark chocolate is one of the best swaps you can make if chocolate is your weakness.
I know the bitter varieties aren’t for everyone or that some bars can be boring blocks with no oomph at first glance. That is why one of my favourite ways to have my dark chocolate is from Brookside, a company that combines dark chocolate with fruits, nuts, and even crispy rice (for you out there you adore Crunch bars). They taste good in handfuls straight out of the bag and as a topping on Greek yoghurt or ice cream.
Speaking of ice cream, the possibilities are endless here. There are non-dairy alternatives that swap cow milk out with milk made from rice, almonds, and coconut while removing calories and not removing any of the taste.
You don’t even have to go hunting for expensive, organic brands to find them nowadays because companies like Breyer’s and Ben and Jerry’s have branched out into the vegan market and made non-dairy versions of some of their favourite flavours.
If you don’t mind milk but do mind the fat, sugar, and calories, then fat-free ice cream or frozen yoghurt could do the trick.
Anyone who’s anyone has probably either seen or heard of Halo Top recently, and there’s a reason for that. The entire carton has the same number of calories as a serving – yes, just one serving – of Haagen Dazs, low fat, high in protein, and low in sugar. Like any growing popular brand, they also carry dairy-free versions of their best flavours made from coconut milk, so no one misses out on some goodness. Need more convincing to give them a try? Visit the Halo Top website and click on their “Us vs Them” link that compares their nutrient label and ingredients to other brands. Trust me; as a longtime ice cream lover, it’s very eye-opening.
Weight loss is usually the main goal when someone changes their diet, and yet it’s not the only big change that happens when good food replaces bad food. You get more energy. You sleep better. Your skin, hair, joints, and mind get a boost from all of the nutrients you’re putting in.
Feeling good starts with eating good, so why not start making some changes?