Subscribe to RSS

5 small food swaps to make you instantly healthier

By Brierley Wright, M.S., R.D., December 23, 2010 - 10:29am

  • Share

As a registered dietitian and the nutrition editor for EatingWell, I’m immersed in nutrition research and news 24/7—and I love it! (Heck, nearly every night I try—always unsuccessfully—to convince my husband that reading nutrition news Tweets from fellow RDs at 9 p.m. is not work, it’s fun.) But despite the fact that I like to be in the know about what’s hot and what’s not, I still love basic, simple nutrition advice. So here—just in time for New Year’s resolutions—I’m offering up simple swaps to get healthier instantly. For once, make achieving your “get healthy” resolution easy!

Swap Out: butter
Swap In: olive or canola oil

Not all fat is bad. Opt for unsaturated (e.g., olive or canola oil) over saturated fats, such as butter. Here’s a nutrition breakdown: 1 tablespoon of olive oil has 14 grams fat, 2 of which are saturated; 1 tablespoon of canola oil has 14 grams fat, 1 gram saturated; 1 tablespoon butter has 11 grams fat, 7 of which are saturated. But because all fats are loaded with calories (119, 124 and 100 calories respectively), still use them in moderation.

Related: Mini Greek Pizza Muffins, Pineapple Coconut Bites and 8 More Healthy Baking Recipes Using Olive Oil
Olive oil buyer's guide
How healthy is canola oil really?

Swap Out: refined grains
Swap In: whole grains

Refined carbohydrates, such as white bread and sugary sweets, may be just as bad for your heart and arteries as cream and butter—that’s one reason to limit them. But there are also reasons to pick whole grains over refined grains: people who eat plenty of whole grains tend to be leaner and have a lower risk of heart disease than those who don’t. What’s more, whole grains—like brown rice and bulgur—have their bran intact and thus have more fiber, B vitamins, magnesium, zinc and other nutrients.

When searching for whole grains, don’t be fooled by faux whole grains. Appealingly brown-colored bread or crackers labeled “multi-grain” or “cracked wheat” are sometimes made mostly from refined white flour. The only reliable guide to ensuring that your choice is a true whole grain is to check the ingredients list: the term “whole” or “whole-grain” should precede the grain's name, such as “whole-grain rye.” Not ready to go whole grain 24/7? Phase in a whole grain by mixing it half-and-half with a refined one—for example, a blend of whole-wheat and regular pasta or brown and white rice. Gradually increase the proportions until your palate—and digestive tract—adjust.

Related: Grab-and-go whole-grain breakfasts
Unlock the nutrients in your whole grains by pairing them with this ingredient

Swap Out: salt
Swap In: fresh or dried herbs and spices

Whether you have high blood pressure or not, it’s wise to watch your sodium intake. The USDA’s dietary guidelines for Americans recommend consuming less than 2,300 mg (about 1 teaspoon salt) daily. While not always a perfect replacement for salt, distracting your palate with chopped fresh or dried herbs and spices can help ease the transition to lower-salt cooking by waking up other flavors. Get creative with seasoning blends, found in any spice aisle; just make sure they’re labeled “salt-free.” Not ready to go salt-free? Get started with this easy tip: don’t add salt if you can’t taste it. A little salt goes a longer way if it’s sprinkled on a food just before serving; skip it while you’re cooking.

Related: Cure your salty junk-food cravings with these better-for-you swaps
More easy ways to cut sodium

Swap Out: full-fat dairy
Swap In: low-fat dairy

Dairy products like milk, sour cream and yogurt are a good source of calcium—a bone-strengthening mineral most of us don’t get enough of. Choosing low-fat dairy products and nixing the full-fat versions is an easy way to cut saturated fat in your diet (saturated fat may boost risk of heart disease). Plus, recent research suggests that replacing full-fat dairy with low-fat dairy may also help lower blood pressure.

Swap Out: steak
Swap In: salmon

Yes, red meat is a great source of protein and iron (a mineral essential for getting oxygen from the lungs to cells throughout the body), but it’s also a big source of saturated fat in many people’s diets. You don’t have to give up your steak all the time, but trading one 3-ounce serving of steak for the same-size serving of salmon will save you about 8 grams of saturated fat. That serving of salmon also delivers heart-healthy omega-3 fats. (Omega-3s have also been linked with better eye health and hearing as you age and may even help boost your mood.)

Related: Black Bean & Salmon Tostadas & More Delicious Salmon Recipes
Fish & Shellfish: 6 to eat, 6 to avoid

What food swaps have you made to be healthier?

Related Links from EatingWell:

TAGS: Brierley Wright, M.S., R.D., Healthy Cooking Blog

Brierley Wright, M.S., R.D.
Brierley holds a master’s degree in Nutrition Communication from the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University.

Tell us what you think:

Get a full year of EatingWell magazine.
World Wide Web Health Award Winner Web Award Winner World Wide Web Health Award Winner Interactive Media Award Winner