Are you looking for ways to eat healthier, but you’re not sure where to start? Don’t worry, it can be simpler than you think. You don’t have to overhaul your whole diet all at once. It’s actually more effective to make smaller, gradual changes, because the changes are more likely to stick.
Start with some of these simple food swaps. By replacing common everyday foods with healthier options, you can supply your body with more nutrients and fewer excess calories. These little changes can add up over time and make a big difference in your health.
Swap Out: Chips
Swap In: Nuts
When you’re craving a salty snack, reach for something with a little more substance. Chips go down easy, but they are mostly empty calories, filling you up without providing much nutritional value. They may also be full of unhealthy saturated and trans fats, which aren’t so good for your heart.
Nuts, on the other hand, are rich in heart-healthy unsaturated fats, including omega-3 fatty acids. They also pack a nutritional punch, with protein, vitamins, and minerals, including high amounts of vitamin E, a great antioxidant with skin health benefits, and magnesium, an important mineral for bone health and muscle function.
Nuts are a great source of energy, but a little goes a long way. If you find yourself filling up on them too fast, try shelled nuts, which take a little more work to open, helping to slow you down.
Swap Out: Iceberg Lettuce
Swap In: Mixed Greens
Maximize the nutritional value of your salads by swapping out your pale lettuce for dark, leafy greens. That vibrant green color is a sign of a rich nutritional profile.
Baby leaf spinach and kale are tender enough to be eaten raw and make a great mixed salad base. They are also superfoods that come packed with vitamins and minerals, including vitamin A for eye health, vitamin C for immune health, iron and folate to build healthy blood and support your energy, and calcium and vitamin K for strong bones.
Swap Out: White Rice
Swap In: Farro
White rice is brown rice that’s been stripped of its fiber, nutrients, and antioxidants. This makes it easier to cook, but it turns a whole grain into basically empty carbs. Sometimes a few vitamins are added back in, but this doesn’t turn it back into a whole food.
Refined grains are processed differently by the body than whole grains. The simple starches are converted quickly into sugar, causing blood sugar to spike, then crash. Whole grains are digested more slowly, gradually converting carbs into energy while helping to keep blood sugar levels steady. The fiber also supports digestive health and helps feed the good bacteria in your gut.
You could swap white rice for brown rice, but farro is another popular alternative. It’s an ancient wheat grain with a chewy rice-like texture, a pleasant nutty flavor, and an impressive nutrient profile. It has more protein and fiber than brown rice or quinoa, plus tons of vitamins and minerals, including B vitamins for energy and brain health, magnesium, iron, and zinc.
Swap Out: Juice
Swap In: Smoothies
Fruit juice is full of healthy vitamins and minerals. But it’s also high in sugar and missing much of the fiber from the whole fruit. This makes it easy to drink a lot at once, while your body also absorbs the sugar more rapidly, which can lead to blood sugar spikes.
If you still prefer to drink your fruit rather than eat it whole, but you’re looking for a healthier option, try making a smoothie instead. Smoothies blend the whole fruit, keeping all the fiber and more of the phytochemicals that are often found in skins and berry seeds. Plus, you can combine a variety of fruits for a wider range of nutrients.
In fact, you can turn your smoothie into a whole meal if you want. You can sneak in some leafy green veggies, add some protein powder or collagen, or throw in some flaxseeds or chia seeds for extra fiber and heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids. The sky’s the limit.
Swap Out: Meat
Swap In: Beans
Beans are an excellent source of plant-based protein and make a versatile substitute for meat in a variety of dishes, from tacos, bowls, and burgers to soups, dips, and salads. Unlike meat, beans are low in fat and full of fiber, which is healthier for your heart and your waistline. The fiber also makes them very filling, so you may be surprised how much you don’t miss your meat.
Plus, beans are a nutritional powerhouse, rich in antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals, including folate, thiamine (B1) iron, magnesium, and manganese. Some of the healthiest beans include chickpeas (garbanzo beans), black beans, kidney beans, pinto beans, soybeans, and lentils. Get creative and try out some recipes!
The best part about eating healthier is that it opens up a whole new world of food possibilities that you didn’t even realize were there. Rather than restricting your options, your diet actually expands and becomes more diverse as you discover new, healthier alternatives. Start with these simple swaps, and watch how your tastes evolve. You’ll wonder why you stuck with boring white starches for so long.