Eating healthy may seem like a lot of work, and a tough process to go through, but it doesn’t have to be! You don’t need to jump in all at once, instead, you can ease into it by slowly changing what you eat with some clever and healthy food swaps. But what exactly does that mean? Well, a clever food swap is basically taking unhealthy or not-so-nutritious foods and replacing them with healthier alternatives. There are so many healthy foods that are delicious and can easily replace your go-to snacks and regular foods with just a little bit of effort and a slight modification of your grocery list. Eating healthier will leave you feeling more energized and satisfied for longer, so without further ado, here are some clever food swaps that you can start implementing in your daily life in order to stay on track!
Oats instead of cereal
Regular breakfast cereal is usually very high in sugar and high-fructose corn syrup, while also being low in protein and fiber... This is why cereal is not very filling or nutritious, to begin with. Oats, on the other hand, are very high in fiber and antioxidants and can be prepared in a lot of different ways - with milk, honey, dark chocolate, fresh fruits, or dried fruit, toasted, baked, in granola form… You name it! Since they’re high in fiber, oats are very filling and can help you reduce your food portions and wait longer between meals, promoting weight loss and better digestion.
Another great alternative is chia pudding, which you can easily make at home with just some chia seeds and milk! Just like with oats, you can add different extras to the mix in order to make it tastier. Chia seeds are a complete protein, which means that they contain all nine essential amino acids as well as other important minerals, making for an excellent addition to your grocery list, especially for those who follow a plant-based diet!
Protein-rich pancakes instead of regular pancakes
The best, and nutritious breakfast is one that has a good balance of protein, plus veggies for extra nutrients, and maybe carbs or some fats to keep you full longer. Typically that would be some eggs, leafy greens, and maybe whole-grain toast or another side. Although eggs are an excellent source of protein and make for a delicious breakfast, sometimes you need to change things up with something sweet, like pancakes… The thing is pancakes aren’t necessarily healthy, but they can be!
Whenever your sweet breakfast cravings kick in, try creating your own protein pancakes! Find a recipe online and try to do it from scratch with your favorite protein mix, or try a pre-boxed protein pancake mix (something like Kodiak Cakes). Top them with your favorite fruits, and nut butter for some fats to keep you full longer! This will change your usual breakfast routine, but still give you a nutrient-dense breakfast that is tasty, satisfying, and beneficial for your training!
Trail mix instead of chocolate candy
Some people like having a few chocolate bars and candies laying around their house for when they’re craving something, but they’re usually loaded with saturated fats and carbohydrates like sugar. A great way to satisfy your chocolate cravings is by grabbing some trail mix instead! You can make your own trail mix at home or just opt for a store-bought trail mix bag, but making your own is actually really easy. Just gather your favorite nuts, seeds, and dried fruit and mix them up. You can even add some dark chocolate chips to really get that flavor going and your craving satisfied!
Veggies instead of chips (or make your own!)
Veggies have that crunchy texture and salty taste that we crave from time to time, except that sometimes a bag of chips can be a more irresistible option, but it’s not a healthy one! Crunchy vegetables like carrots, cucumbers, zucchini, and celery are packed with vitamins, minerals, fiber, and even antioxidants that your body needs to stay healthy. Something that you can do to make it easier for your future self is cut up your veggies as soon as you arrive from the grocery store, and keep a tasty and nutrient-dense dip at hand, like a spinach dip or some delicious hummus. This way, when you’re feeling like snacking on something crunchy, you can just grab a few chopped veggies from the fridge and your favorite dip and enjoy it right away!
You can also make your own chips if you want your snacking experience to be just like eating chips from a bag. Slicing some plantains, carrots, sweet potatoes, or beets and roasting them in the oven will make for a great and satisfying alternative, and even a more diverse one if you choose to mix your different homemade chips!
Fruit instead of candy
Having some sweet sweet candy cravings? Cut up some fresh fruit instead! Fruits like watermelon, berries, mangoes, and grapes are very sweet because of their high sugar levels, but fruit sugar is metabolized differently from added and processed sugars, and on top of that they are packed with vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, so they’re actually very nutritious. Mix it up with some greek yogurt or your favorite nut butter and you’ll have a full snack to tackle your cravings! You can also blend the fruit together with the yogurt and put it in an ice tray, let it freeze and you’ll have fruity yogurt bites ready for any time of the day!
Greek yogurt instead of regular yogurt
While yogurt may already be part of your diet, you need to be careful when buying them if you actually want to reap all of the health benefits that they offer. Though it may taste delicious, yogurt usually comes artificially flavored and loaded with sweeteners, so next time you’re at the grocery store, read the labels and try picking out a plain yogurt. Greek yogurt in particular is processed a little bit differently than regular yogurt, getting strained and removing the whey and other liquids to make it thicker and healthier. It contains about half the grams of sugar and carbs than regular low-fat yogurt does, but it’s higher in calcium and sodium and contains almost twice the protein, and it’s also packed with probiotics, helping maintain a healthy gut microbiome and ease digestion. So for snack time, you can sweeten your Greek yogurt with some honey and add some freshly diced fruit to really get that flavor going, or make it into a smoothie, your choice!
Nice cream instead of ice cream
Similar to the fruity yogurt bites, nice cream is a great go-to snack for your cravings! Instead of grabbing that pint of ice cream that is full of additives at the grocery store, pick up some fruits and your favorite milk (non-dairy and plant-based are the healthiest). Cut up your fruits and freeze them, then blend them with some milk to create a delicious and creamy healthy snack! You can add whatever you want to the mix or use them as toppings, like almond or peanut butter, vanilla extract, or the protein powder of your choice. It’s up to you so make sure to get creative - the more variations you can come up with, the better!
Sparkling water instead of sugary drinks
Even though they may taste great, sugary drinks like sodas are not good for you since they have little to no nutritional value and contain tons of added sugars and artificial sweeteners. You can replace these beverages with flavored carbonated (sparkling) water to get that same nice flavor and sparkling feel in your mouth without harming your body! Just be careful when choosing your carbonated water since it may contain some added sugars to enrich its flavor.
Don’t like sparkling water? That’s okay! There are many other healthy drinks that you can make at home or just buy at the nearest store, like green tea, which is packed with nutrients and antioxidants, or just a regular homemade fruit juice. Another alternative is kombucha, a fermented drink made from that same green tea (or black tea) which contains a lot of probiotics, beneficial to your overall gut health. You just have to explore your options, and there are many!
Homemade jam instead of store-bought jelly
All that glitters is not gold, and just because it’s made from fruit doesn’t mean that it’s good for you! Store-bought jams and jellies contain lots and lots of added sugar and preservatives that you probably don’t want in your body. And making your own is so easy, non-expensive, and actually healthy! This way you can keep the rich flavor of the fruits and stay away from sweeteners like high-fructose corn syrup. Instead, you can make unsweetened jam or use a low amount of brown sugar to sweeten it, or go the even healthier way and just use some honey. You can make a good amount of jam and store it in batches that will last you for a while! But if you don’t have the time to make your own, look for no added sugar jams at your local grocery stores, just make sure to read the ingredients list carefully!
Plant-based milk instead of regular dairy milk
Regular cow milk can be very nutritious, but you may want a switch, whether you’re lactose intolerant, follow a vegan lifestyle, or you just want to consider healthier options that support your fitness goals! Plant-based milk such as almond milk and cashew milk are very low in calories, fats, and carbs, but they’re also low in protein, so they may be a great option if you’re after a low-carb content, but not so much if you’re looking to consume more protein. On the other hand, oat milk is high in protein and fiber, helping with digestion and fullness, but it’s also high in carbs and calories. A great option that falls right in the middle is hemp milk, which has fewer calories and carbs, but is high in protein and essential fatty acids, ideal for those who are looking to switch their milk source to a low-carb one that contains high-quality protein!
Olive oil instead of vegetable oil
The big difference between olive oil and regular vegetable oil is how they’re processed. Olive oil is extracted only from pressed olives, and it’s not highly refined, meaning that it retains that rich olive flavor along with micronutrients and anti-inflammatory benefits that come from the monounsaturated fats contained in it. Extra-virgin olive oil, specifically, is very rich in antioxidants, on top of the already mentioned benefits, because it’s the least processed type of olive oil. On the other hand, vegetable oil comes from heavily processing canola, corn, sunflower, and other sources in order to remove the impurities and blend them all together, losing almost all of its health benefits in the process and actually containing inflammatory fats that are not good for your body. So next time you’re at the grocery store, try choosing an extra-virgin olive oil for your cooking and leave that vegetable oil on the shelf! You can also opt for other oil sources, such as avocado oil and coconut oil, which are just as healthy and delicious to cook with or use in salad dressings.
Sweet potatoes instead of french fries
A great and very similar alternative to classic french fries is sweet potatoes! This crunchy and delicious snack is made by just drizzling some freshly cut sweet potatoes with avocado or olive oil (instead of vegetable oil) and putting them in the oven. If you have an air fryer that's a great option too! Sweet potatoes can actually be prepared in a lot of ways, and they’re highly nutritious, containing lots of fiber which helps with digestion, and also vitamins and minerals that are great for your healthy body. So just get creative with them next time you’re in the kitchen!
Whole-grain bread instead of white bread
There are so many types of bread out there, but not all of them are very nutritious! When buying bread, try switching to whole-wheat and whole-grain instead of buying regular white bread, which contains more calories and tends to be higher in antinutrients since it comes from refined grains. Whole-grain bread contains all three parts of the grain and is incredibly healthy for you since it’s packed with fiber, vitamins, minerals, protein, and even antioxidants.
One of the best types of whole-grain bread out there is the sprouted bread, which is high in antioxidants and low in antinutrients due to the sprouting of the grains. Another one is sourdough, a type of fermented bread that is packed with probiotics and also has a low glycemic index, meaning that it has less impact on blood sugar levels. But keep in mind that you need to look for gluten-free options if you have any kind of gluten intolerance, and if you’re not sure, ask your dietitian or a nutritionist! Also, remember that bread is still a food that is high in carbohydrates, no matter the presentation, so try eating it in moderation and choose whole-grain varieties to reap all the benefits!
These swaps are on the healthier side, now we want to give you a few other options that aren’t 100% healthy or nutrient-dense, but are healthier than their counterparts…
- Butter-free or air-popped popcorn - Top it with some sea salt and pepper, or other low cal toppers.
- Dairy-free, no sugar added, or low cal ice cream - So Delicious, Halo Top, just to name a few.
- Protein bars or chips - Quest Nutrition has good options, just remember to read the nutrition labels!
- Chocolate covered strawberries and/or bananas - Choose any chocolate, could be milk or dark, either way, you’ll be eating a minimal amount compared to a whole bar.
These foods aren’t completely healthy, so eat them in moderation. They are a good option to have around in case you want something guilt-free to indulge in, like choosing a low cal ice cream instead of your usual favorite will not only leave you feeling satisfied but also keep you aligned with your health and fitness goals.
And there you have it! A list that is full of healthy and delicious alternatives to foods that may not be as good for you. This doesn’t mean you have to give up all your favorite comfort foods or snacks, but having clever healthier swaps like the ones above will help ensure that you don’t overindulge in unhealthier foods. It will also make it easier for you to stay focused on your fitness journey and will help you naturally gravitate towards the more healthy options as time goes on! Just remember to get creative and don’t be afraid to try new things!