Whether you’re trying to lose weight, maintain weight, or simply improve your diet, these healthy food substitutions will help. You don’t have to starve or give up everything you love. Just start with a few small changes!
Do Small Changes Really Help?
Absolutely! We all love our food, and we want what we want, the way we want it. If you try to suddenly give up everything you love to eat 100% healthy all the time, what are the chances you’ll stick to that plan? I can tell you that for me the answer is, not long.
A much more realistic approach is progress over perfection. When you begin to correct a few bad habits, it helps raise your awareness of where some of your unwanted calories are coming from. Quite often small changes end up leading to bigger changes.
You’ll also find that most of the suggestions below don’t require a huge sacrifice. Healthy food substitutes can be every bit as delicious and satisfying as your usual choices. The bonus is that over time you’ll likely feel better because you’re eating healthier, and you’re developing habits that can help with your goals for maintaining your weight or even shedding a few pounds.
Choosing Well – Some Common Gotchas
I blame false advertising for this one. The goal of marketing departments is to sell the product. To do that, they sometimes make claims that can be misleading if you aren’t paying attention. A few that come to mind include:
- Watch out for “low fat” foods. Quite often lower fat means the food will be much higher in carbs. Depending on you and your goals, eating less fat may not be helpful if you’re overloading on carbs. Be sure the trade-off is what you really want.
- You’ll often see suggestions to have a bagel instead of a donut or some other unhealthy pastry, but is that always best? It’s true that the bagel won’t have all the sugar content, but if you’re watching your weight beware. Plenty of bagels will have lots of carbs and as many calories as a glazed donut, or very close to it. A better substitute would be a whole grain English muffin.
- Whole grain bread is always a better choice than white bread. Well, you would think so, right? The truth is that whole grains usually contain more healthy nutrients, but not always. Some contain wheat flour (not whole wheat), refined white flour, and/or high sugar content. The calorie count of these breads can be just as high as that of white bread.
The lesson here is, learn to read labels. Just because a product is advertised as “healthy” doesn’t always mean it’s a good choice for you. Note that label ingredients are listed in order of amount, from large to small. For example, if whole grain bread lists “refined white flour” near the top of the list of ingredients, that tells you it is not a good choice.
I would also add that every healthy eating rule doesn’t necessarily apply to everyone. Granted I’m no dietician, but I know from years of experience what does and doesn’t work for me and my body. For instance, rice puts pounds on me faster than any other food. Brown rice is healthier, but for me it adds weight just as quickly as white rice. So, for my health I would choose brown rice over white, but if I’m watching my weight I avoid rice altogether.
What about you? It’s important to know your own body. Pay attention to how different foods affect it, and learn from your own experience. What works for you? When you’re trying to lose weight or maintain your weight, does it help you to cut fat grams? Do you have more success cutting carbs, or counting calories? Have you ever noticed that specific foods tend to make you add pounds or have a hard time losing them?
Only you can answer those questions. You might even want to keep a journal or jot down notes to help you keep track. Try out the healthy food substitutions below to discover what works best for you, and add your own individual needs to help you achieve your goal.
Healthy Food Substitutions
Always choose grilled over fried. That includes your meats, potatoes, other vegetables, and sandwiches. The good news is that you’ll be pleasantly surprised. We southerners love our fried chicken, but have you ever tasted the Chick-fil-A® grilled chicken nuggets? They’re so good I actually prefer them over the much-more-fattening fried version.
It’s all about the crust. Never eat stuffed crust, deep dish crust, or even the regular crust. Always choose thin crust and you’ll save yourself a boatload of calories and carbs. Besides, it’s more like the “real deal” because the crust of authentic Italian pizza is very thin and crispy.
Make the clear choice. Instead of cream based soups loaded with noodles or rice, choose soups made with a broth base and lots of vegetables. You’ll get more nutrition and fewer calories in a dish that is still very filling.
You have more than one option. Choose corn over flour for more fiber and fewer calories. Even better, use lettuce for your wrap. If you’re really looking to shave off calories and/or carbs, ditch the wrap altogether and create your favorite Mexican dish in a bowl.
What’s your favorite morning meat? Of all the common breakfast meats, sausage is the worst for fat and calories. Even bacon is a better alternative. For less fat choose Canadian bacon, and for the best choice of all have a slice of very lean ham.
Far too often the most convenient choice is the worst choice. With few exceptions, most breakfast cereal from a box gives you lots of calories with very little nutrition, and you’ll be hungry again in an hour. For protein and high fiber go for real oatmeal, chia pudding, or low-fat Greek yogurt topped with nuts and berries.
Think progress, not perfection. When you’re craving something crunchy and it has to be chips, choose baked instead of fried, preferably with lower sodium. Another good trade is air-popped popcorn. Go light on the salt and instead of butter sprinkle it with garlic powder, smoked paprika, or your favorite seasoning blend.
Trade your old standard for a spread that’s much more interesting and flavorful. For sandwiches and wraps use mustard or hummus or mashed avocado instead of mayo. Hummus and avocado can also make a tasty spread for toast that is healthier than jam or jelly.
Proceed with caution here. The main ingredients in ice cream are heavy cream, loaded with fat, and lots of sugar. Lots. Instead choose sherbet, sorbet, or frozen yogurt, but do be careful. Even some frozen yogurt can be deceiving. Check labels for the amount of fat and calories to make sure you’re making a good trade.
Don’t drink your calories! Sodas, fruit juices, and many of the popular sports drinks are very high in sugar. (One exception is Bodyarmor Lyte.) Even fruit juice gives you all the calories of whole fruit without any of the healthy fiber. The best alternative is water, of course, but other good choices include flavored water, fruit-infused water, and sparkling water.
Obviously, this isn’t any sort of comprehensive dieting plan, and it isn’t meant to be. But then, if you’re looking for ways to make small changes that can have a positive impact over time, give these healthy food substitutions a try. Who knows, maybe you’ll discover that some of these swaps are easier and tastier than you expected.
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