Have you ever heard the saying that small changes add up to big results? While relevant in many aspects of life, it is especially true when it comes to health, nutrition, and fitness. Healthy food swaps help break down a big goal into smaller, more manageable chunks. Making these small changes can also help build consistency, drive accountability, and raise self-awareness to ultimately build better habits for the long haul.
Making food swaps that cut calories consistently over time can help with weight management and may help support weight loss efforts if that is the goal. Healthy eating is not just about cutting calories. Making healthy food swaps can give the body nutrients that add benefits beyond what can be seen to ensure that all systems run at peak performance.
As a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist, I am mindful of the big picture and balance over time that will help manage weight and achieve long-term health goals. Experiment with these food swaps and see what works for best.
23 Healthy Food Swaps
#1 Natural Peanut Butter VS. Traditional
When first making this healthy swap, you may miss the creamy texture of the traditional version. Over time, taste buds will adapt, and you may notice the sweetness of the traditional version as many brands add sugar. When choosing less processed peanut butter, read the label and look for options with just two ingredients — peanuts and salt. Keep an eye on the portion size (2 Tablespoons max) and reap the nutritional benefits of this tried and true favorite.
#2 Banana Based Nice Cream Vs. Dairy-Based Traditional Ice Cream
Simply blending a frozen banana with some vanilla extract and milk of your choice will give you a creamy and sweet dessert that is just as satisfying as the real deal, but with a fraction of the fat and calories.
#3 Dates, Honey, Pure Maple Syrup VS. Refined Sugar
While all of these choices offer up a satisfying sweet flavor, sugar gives you nothing in the nutrition department other than empty calories. Dates, honey, and 100% pure maple syrup, on the other hand, give your body a boost of antioxidants, minerals, and other nutrients that help support your overall health.
#4 Farro Instead of Pasta
Ready to try a new grain? Try farro. This ancient grain is packed with fiber and protein with the texture of barley. Add to soups or mix into salad greens. It can also be eaten at breakfast in place of oatmeal.
#5 Seltzer VS. Diet Soda
You may have already swapped your regular soda for diet. While this swap may seem like a good idea to cut calories — mounting data suggests that the body can’t be fooled for long. The non-nutritive sweeteners in diet drinks have a potential impact on the brain, insulin confusion and may even contribute to weight gain. There are so many varieties of flavored seltzers to sample; you’re bound to find fizzy favorites.
#6 Greek Yogurt VS. Sour Cream
Swapping out plain Greek yogurt for sour cream gives all of the creaminess with more nutrition. For about the same amount of calories, Greek yogurt provides protein, probiotics, B-vitamins, and calcium. Buy a tub and give it a try with several different meals. Did you know it can take up to 12 times to develop a taste for a new food?
#7 Coconut Milk Vs. Coffee Creamer
While black coffee is naturally calorie and sugar-free, it can need a little more “oomph” for some people. Skipping sweetened coffee creamer and instead using unsweetened coconut milk will spare your body from unhealthy oils, sugars, and artificial ingredients.
#8 Veggies With Hummus VS. Chips
Need a crunch? While chips are a lot of people’s go-to, they are not the most healthful choice. Swapping chips for crunchy fresh veggies can give you that satisfaction with a boost of nutrients and far fewer calories. Dip them in hummus for an added fiber boost.
#9 Few Pieces of Dark Chocolate VS. Candy
If the sweet tooth strikes, candy is the first thing that many people reach for. But while candy can taste delicious, it gives your body nothing that will help you live a healthier life. Dark chocolate, on the other hand, is loaded with natural antioxidants, magnesium, and a slew of other health-supporting nutrients. Eat a few pieces of dark chocolate slowly and savor the sweet and satisfying flavor.
#10 Whipped Goat Cheese VS. Cheddar
Whipping a food adds air and, as a result, volume. With higher-calorie foods like cheese, whipped versions are a great option to enjoy the flavor without so many calories. Whipped versions also make it easier to spread and smear or vegetables and crackers.
#11 Open Face Your Sammy
Sometimes a sandwich is the quickest, easiest, and healthiest option available. Stop first and ask if you need all of the bread? A simple fix is to make a sandwich open-faced and top with lettuce and tomato. Add pickles or pepperoncini peppers for zest.
#12 Boston Bibb Lettuce VS. Bread
While sandwiches are super easy and convenient, sometimes you might choose to skip the bread altogether — Boston bibb or romaine lettuce makes a great swap to mix up a lunchbox.
#13 Homemade Salad Dressing VS. Store-Bought
Making salad dressings is quicker and easier than you think. The benefit is to moderate the amount of fat, salt, and sugar added for a fresher and healthier version. Double the amount of vinegar or lemon to cut the amount of oil — this saves calories and adds some zest and zing.
#14 Chia Seed Pudding VS. Pudding In A Cup
Making chia seed pudding is another food that is easy and quick to make. Chia seeds are little nutritional powerhouses — packed with protein, antioxidants, and fiber. There are countless versions to keep it interesting. Enjoy at breakfast or for a snack.
#15 Cauliflower Rice VS. Rice
Frozen versions are quick in a pinch and cut down prep time. If you want to grate it yourself, go for it, but feel free to save time and effort with a just as good frozen option. Use plain as a side, or add mushrooms and spinach with a lean protein to round it out for the main event.
#16 Add More Color To Your Plate
Instead of french fries, try some baked sweet potato wedges. The rich orange color will give your body a boost of beta carotene, and the method of cooking will save you a ton of calories.
#17 Plain Latte VS. Flavored
A plain latte with low-fat milk or non-dairy milk (almond, oat, or soy) is a great on-the-go option. Be careful when adding flavors — these flavors are syrups with a fair amount of sugar or sugar-free, non-nutritive sweeteners. If you need a little sweetness, try a drizzle of honey or pure maple syrup.
RELATED: Which Type of Milk is Best For You?
#18 Breakfast Sandwich VS. Muffin
Muffins are essentially cake, and better options are available on your morning coffee run. Keep it simple — look for breakfast sandwich options on an English muffin, flatbread, or in a wrap. Use your nutrition know-how and avoid croissants and bagels. In place of a muffin, try an egg and cheese with ham on an English muffin or scrambled egg wraps packed with vegetables.
#19 Guacamole VS. A Cheesy Dip
Guacamole is made from whole, fresh avocados — which have heart-healthy fats and are high in both potassium and fiber. While you enjoy this savory starter, share among the group to help keep an eye on your serving size.
#20 Oil Atomizer For Cooking Spray
While it may seem a little nit-picky, the more foods you can keep as close to their original version, the better. Purchase an atomizer for $10-$12, pour in the oil of choice, and voila — a spay oil in a healthier, less processed version that benefits the body and the environment.
#21 Stove-top Popcorn VS. Microwave
Freshly popped popcorn smells and tastes yummy. A little oil goes a long way. Flavor to your liking when warm and only pop what you need to avoid mindless munching.
#22 Substitute One Plant-based Meal A Week
There is no downside to eating more plant-based meals. Give it a try and swap in mushrooms or beans in place of meat. There are many varieties of both that you’re bound to find a couple of family favorites. Swapping out even one meal a week with a plant-based option has both health and environmental benefits.
#23 Enjoy Dried Fruit VS. Gummy Bears
Gummy bears, gummy worms, or any other gummy candy typically offers no nutritional value. Dried mangos, apples, or really any other fruit, on the other hand, are loaded with vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants to help fuel your body with key nutrients.
Add it all up!
When making healthy food swaps, a little effort can go a long way. Have some fun — sample and experiment with these suggestions in your own kitchen to see what sticks with your personal lifestyle. Soon, you will see that small changes in your diet can result in profound results when it comes to your health and well-being. Practice these changes consistently and watch them become habits. Soon enough, all of the small changes will add up to big results.
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