Anyone looking to eat healthier might feel overwhelmed at the things they’ll be giving up: many processed foods, fast foods, and even animal products top the list of most people looking to improve their health all by what they put on their forks (and spoons!) each day. But swapping out foods for healthier choices is much easier than we make it out to be. In fact, instead of choosing processed substitutes of our favorite things (such as sugar-free candies for regular candy or diet soda for regular soda), it’s much better just to stick to the basics.
While many foods out there are lower in calories and some even calorie-free, the key to eating healthier isn’t to (always) reduce the calories in your diet, but to instead focus on higher-quality calories that the body can use more efficiently for fuel. Looking at your health this way is the most beneficial way to making a lifestyle change instead of seeing food as just a way to diet or gain weight.
So next time you visit the store, consider making some of these top food swaps that will improve your health (and weight if that’s a concern) in no time!
1. Choose Fruit Instead of Fruit Juice
Fruit juice is often marketed as healthy, but it’s really just unnecessary sugar in disguise. Even if some juices have fiber added to them, these aren’t the fibers found in natural foods and normally come from synthetic or harder to digest sources (such as inulin that can cause bloating). Always go for real fruit instead of fruit juice; it will digest more slowly and won’t disrupt your blood sugar levels as a result. Real fruit can also help you manage your weight since it’s richer in fiber and vitamins and minerals, while drinking fruit juice may actually lead to weight gain and contribute to high blood sugar.
2. Choose Whole Grains (or Nuts and Seeds) Over Cereals and Granola
Most store-bought cereals and granola options are packed with added sugars and some also have oils, GMO’s, or cheap fillers from corn. You’re much better off choosing a whole grain you cook at home (like oats, quinoa, or brown rice), or even making a quick granola with oats, almonds, chia, and hemp seeds instead. Or, go grain-free and mix up some nuts and seeds with coconut, pour a little non-dairy milk over the top, add some fruit and enjoy a grain-free granola. The less processed your cereals and granola options, the better. Plus, choosing whole sources of fat, such as nuts and seeds, instead of consuming processed oils is also much healthier for your heart.
3. Choose Almond Milk and Stevia in Your Coffee Instead of Cream and Sugar
Choosing almond milk and stevia in your coffee is a much healthier approach to your morning cuppa versus cream and sugar. The combination of fat from the cream and sugars from well, the sugar, is enough to send your insulin skyrocketing and is detrimental to achieving a healthy weight. Choose an unsweetened vanilla almond milk and alcohol-free liquid stevia instead. Or, just drink yours black and keep things really simple!
4. Choose Vegetables and Greens Over Frozen Meals Made With Them
Frozen meals may boast many health claims, but most all frozen meals are packed with excess sodium and ingredients you don’t need. Instead of buying a frozen dish made with vegetables, choose whole vegetables instead. Leafy greens are fine to buy frozen (as are regular vegetables), but there’s no need to get them through a frozen pasta meal made with spinach or kale. Just choose regular frozen spinach or kale and make your own batch of pasta instead. The less preservatives included with your veggies, the better they are for you!
5. Choose Unsweetened Yogurts Over Regular Yogurts
Many non-dairy yogurts on the market are incredibly delicious, but sadly, most of them are still packed with added sugars. Some have more sugar in a small container than a candy bar, which is a little absurd when you think about it. Choose unsweetened versions and either stir in some fresh fruit or stevia instead. Added sugars have been linked to Type 2 diabetes and weight gain; they do your body no favors and only contribute empty calories.
6. Choose Sweet Potatoes Over Sweet Potato Fries
Sweet potato fries are all the rage, but don’t pay $3-$4 a bag for the frozen ones that are coated with corn-based fillers, refined or processed flours, added salts, sugars and preservatives. No matter how natural a brand may appear, most people would be surprised to see just how many ingredients these “healthy” fries have. Keep things simple and make your own: Chop up a whole sweet potato on a baking pan, sprinkle on your favorite seasonings (Mrs. Dash is a great MSG-free and salt-free flavorful choice), and bake in the oven at 400 degrees Fahrenheit for 40 minutes. Easy!
7. Choose Plain Nut Butters Over Highly Processed Brands
Jif, Skippy, and most other well-known commercial nut butters have come out with just about every kind of “healthy” nut butter option you can imagine, but those brands aren’t just deceiving to the eye (along with many others that advertise themselves as healthy). Processed nut butters are also just generally not necessary. Choose naturally ground, plain nut butters instead. These actually have much more flavor than you’d imagine and taste great! Many even now come in easy-to-spread versions, so you don’t have to stir the oil from the top into the nut butter each time. See some great tips for purchasing the best nut butters at the store here!
8. Choose Plant-Based Burgers Instead of Meat-Based Burgers
Red meat has consistently been linked to cancer, diabetes, and heart disease. Even if you’re not 100 percent plant-based, eliminating meat from your diet is a smart choice to make. So next time you have a burger craving, try a natural plant-based burger instead. No need to go for the heavily processed faux meats out there; the plant-based burger industry has come a long way. Many brands are now made with 100 percent whole foods, or you can just make your own. Plant-based burgers have more fiber, are so flavorful, and can be used just like regular burgers.
9. Choose Non-Dairy Milk Instead of Cow’s Milk
Everyone can make this change and it’s so much easier than you think. It’s almost bewildering to visit the store and see more plant-based milk options than cow’s milk options. Wahoo! This is a great thing plant-based eaters! Try your best to choose the unsweetened non-dairy milks over the sweetened options when possible to eliminate drinking your calories from sugar; the unsweetened vanilla milks out there are delicious! Why not cow’s milk? No other dairy product has been linked to as many cancer risks or hormone troubles as cow’s milk. If you’re new to the whole dairy-free idea, start by at least giving up cow’s milk for a plant-based option. Doing so can reduce your risk from cancer, excess hormones, and excess sugar from the lactose in milk (about 12 grams per cup). See how to choose the best non-dairy milks here if you need some pointers.
These are just nine examples of easy food swaps you can make to eat healthier and make a great starting point for newbies wanting to eat healthy, or anyone looking to revamp their health goals. Practice reading labels, educate yourself on ingredients in your food, and be a present consumer instead of one that’s duped by the food industry and clever marketing.
Remember to vote with your dollars … your health and our food system depend on it!