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20 Healthy Food Swaps to Boost Your Health
By Christine Ruggeri
November 9, 2021
Sticking to a healthy diet may seem like a difficult task, as life’s stressors continue and you’re frequently looking for something quick and easy to feed yourself and your family.
But staying healthy doesn’t have to be stressful. In fact, there are many easy and healthy food swaps that you can make today to increase your nutrient intake, reduce calorie consumption and promote your overall health.
Easy, clean eating food swaps will positively impact your health in several ways. These healthier options contain:
Fewer (or no) additives
No artificial ingredients
Healthy, essential fats
Canola Oil: Over 90 percent of canola oil is genetically modified. Plus, it’s a refined, often partially hydrogenated oil that may lead to inflammation and other health concerns.
Avocado Oil: Avocado oil has a high smoke point, so it can be used in a range of recipes, and it’s a good source of monounsaturated healthy fats. It’s also versatile and can be used on your skin too!
Sugar: It’s no secret that sugar is an inflammatory food that can lead to a range of health issues when consumed in excess, including diabetes, obesity, heart disease and mood disorders.
Stevia: Stevia may help to support healthy blood sugar levels, which is why it’s often recommended as a natural sweetener for diabetes. It contains zero calories and zero carbs, making it a healthier option than sugar and artificial sweeteners.
Ice Cream: Eating ice cream can cause a number of digestive issues, including bloating, diarrhea and upset stomach. It’s high in saturated fats, contains processed dairy and added sugars.
Acai Bowl: Use this to make your own decadent, naturally sweet and hydrating treat. This is a healthy swap for sweets because there are no added sugars or artificial sweeteners — only nutrient-rich fruits that are rich in antioxidants and high-fiber seeds that promote digestive health.
Soda: Soda is loaded with sugar and has been linked to negative health effects like obesity and heart disease. And diet soda is no better, as it contains artificial sweeteners that are terrible for your health.
Seltzer: Seltzer is also carbonated, but it contains zero calories or sugars. Adding fresh lemon or lime juice can make it even more enjoyable, without the nasty side effects of drinking soda.
Conventional Flavored Yogurt: Conventional yogurts are over-processed and have added thickeners and sweeteners for better taste and texture.
Raw or Organic Yogurt: Raw yogurt is richest in probiotics and healthy bacteria. Yogurt from sheep and goat milk may also be easier to digest than yogurt made from cow milk. Organic, grass-fed yogurt is also a good option because it’s minimally processed and will also supply healthy probiotics.
Spaghetti: Flour-based noodles, like spaghetti, contain over 200 calories per cup. It’s also very high in carbohydrates and doesn’t offer many nutrients.
Zoodles: These strands of zucchini are nutrient-rich, very low in calories and carbs, and help to increase your vegetable intake. They contain fiber, vitamins A, C and B, and potassium. Plus, they are gluten-free.
Mayo: Many types of mayonnaise are high in linoleic acid, an omega-6 fatty acid that has health benefits, but only when consumed in small amounts.
Avocado: Avocado is a superfood because of its impressive nutrition profile. It’s rich in monounsaturated fats, vitamin K, folate, potassium and vitamin C. Avocado can make a meal more filling and can be used to add a creaminess to dishes that typically call for mayo, like tuna salad, chicken salad and turkey-BLTs.
Bun: Buns and white bread are made with refined carbohydrates that can lead to inflammation and digestive problems. They are also high in calories and carbs.
Lettuce Wrap: Using a lettuce wrap for your grass-fed burger or sandwich is an excellent way to reduce calorie and carbohydrate intake. This can be especially helpful if you are following a low-carb, low-calorie or ketogenic diet.
Alcohol: Excessive alcohol consumption can have detrimental effects on the body. Alcoholic drinks are high in calories, carbs and sugar, and they have inflammatory effects. Drinking alcohol can also lead to fatigue, brain fog, headaches and more.
Kombucha: Kombucha is a probiotic drink that works as an antioxidant, contains fewer calories and sugars than alcoholic drinks, like beer or wine, and supports the health of your gut.
Margarine: Margarine is made of heavily processed vegetable oils that are high in polyunsaturated fatty acids and can contain trans fats. It also often contains food additives to modify its texture and color, like emulsifiers and coloring agents.
Grass-Fed Butter: Grass-fed butter is rich in several important nutrients, including vitamin K, omega-3 fatty acids and conjugated linoleic acid. It’s less processed than margarine and a good-quality butter won’t contain food additives.
Deli Meats: Deli meats and processed meats, including hot dogs, bologna, turkey, ham and chicken meat are often packed with fillers, preservatives, salt and sugar. They can make you feel moody and bloated, and give you a headache.
Grilled Chicken: Grilling your own chicken to slice and add to salads and sandwiches is a much healthier option. You’ll avoid a ton of additives and will be able to control what ingredients go into your body.
Refined Carbs: Pastas, white bread, crackers, cookies and muffins aren’t your friends. They are packed with added sugar, driving up inflammation and negatively impacting your blood sugar levels.
Whole Grains: Whole grains including quinoa, buckwheat, farro and barley are highly nutritious, provide fiber, promote heart health, improve blood sugar control and may even aid weight loss. When combined with veggies and spices, they make for a healthy and filling meal.
Salted Nuts: These store-bought nuts are often pre-seasoned with vegetable and canola oils, made with GMO ingredients, contain a ton of sodium and have hidden additives.
Raw Nuts: Nuts are a super healthy snack because they are high in protein, rich in vitamins and minerals, and provide omega-3 fatty acid. Opt for unsalted, raw nuts for the health benefits, without the unwanted extra ingredients.
Standard Chips: Store bought potato chips are deep-fried, artificially colored and have zero nutritional value. You are much better off choosing healthy swaps for junk food.
Homemade Veggie Chips: Bake your own or zucchini chips for a more nutrient-dense, guilt-free and healthy snack. You’ll be able to use heart-healthy olive oil or energy-boosting coconut oil, plus antioxidant herbs and spices.
Non-Organic: While eating fruits and vegetables is always a smart, healthy choice, the non-organic options may contain neurotoxins and bacteria that disrupt your gut health. Plus, non-organic produce has been sprayed with pesticides like atrazine and Roundup™.
Organic: It’s best to choose organic produce whenever possible. You at least want to buy the organic options for the “dirty dozen” foods that are most often contaminated with harmful pesticide levels.
Breakfast Cereal: As you can imagine, breakfast cereals are made with refined sugar and some pretty sketchy additives, including colorings and preservatives.
Oatmeal: Steel-cut or rolled oats are nutrient-rich breakfast options. Oatmeal is high in fiber, so it makes you feel full longer, and it helps to stabilize blood sugar levels and promote regularity.
Fruit Juice: It’s no surprise that fruit juices are loaded with sugar that can lead to a handful of health issues, including inflammation, obesity and unregulated blood sugar levels.
Fruit Smoothie: Fresh fruit smoothies are a much better alternative to fruit juices, especially for children who enjoy a sweet, refreshing treat. Make a fruit smoothie with antioxidant berries, spinach, banana and coconut milk for a nutrient-rich snack or meal.
Store-Bought: Yet again, the store bought options are packed with refined sugars and carbohydrates, leading to blood sugar spikes, cravings and headaches. They often contain hidden ingredients for texture and color as well.
Homemade: Baking your own treats allows you to choose the healthiest ingredients possible. From almond flour, to coconut sugar and honey — there are so many gluten-free, health-promoting foods to include in your baked goods recipes.
Try this vegan carrot mug cake.
Milk Chocolate: The nutrition value of milk chocolate is minute compared to dark chocolate. It’s made with milk powder or condensed milk, which gives it that creamier flavor, so it has a higher sugar content than dark chocolate and can be a potential allergen.
Dark Chocolate: When consumed in moderation, dark chocolate can benefit your heart, brain, eyes and more. It’s rich in antioxidants, including flavonoids and polyphenols, allowing this treat to fight free radical damage to your cells.
Try this fudge brownie recipe.
Frozen Pizza: Did you know that frozen pizzas are loaded with preservatives, additives and unrecognizable ingredients. You are likely consuming way more calories, sugars, carbohydrates and sketchy additives when eating frozen pizza.
Homemade Pizza: Stay in control of the ingredients by making your own pizza dough at home and keeping it in the freezer until you need it.
Eating a healthy diet doesn’t have to be complicated. Sometimes, small changes or healthy swaps can go a long way.
Sticking to this healthy food alternative list can cut calories, reduce the amount of sugar and refined carbohydrates you consume, support heart health and help you to maintain a healthy weight.
Christine Ruggeri is a writer and nutrition counselor based in New York. She's worked for Ancient Nutrition and the Dr. Axe team for five years. She has a degree in Education with a concentration in English from Iona College, and received her health coach certification from the Institute for Integrative Nutrition.