The 24 Easiest Healthy Ingredient Swaps You Can Make Right Now
Small changes, big benefits.
In our pre-New Years fantasies, the shiny, opportunity-filled days of January were occupied with lighthearted meal prep sessions, breezy daily trips to the gym, and watching the holiday pounds slip off without a hitch. In reality, getting back into the healthy swing of things can seriously suck.
In an ideal world we’d all be able to resist our favorite everyday indulgences and kick our health goals into high gear with all of the steamed veggies and lean meats we could handle, but we’re humans and have needs. Specifically: cheese, wine, and carb-filled needs.
Luckily, making better dining choices doesn’t have to be a total sacrifice. After all, we’re much more likely to stick to our healthful resolutions if they don’t completely devoid us of joy and flavor. These simple ingredient swaps can be taken one day at a time and be sustained for much longer than sudden, strict diets. It might not be totally painless, but we’re certain you’ll start to feel healthier in no time, one swap at a time.
Watch: 5 Steps to Clean Eating
Nonfat Greek yogurt instead of sour cream – When added to dressings and dips, or used as a garnish on soups and Mexican inspired dishes, this tart topping can replicate the creamy tanginess of sour cream, which is more caloric and less nutritionally beneficial.
Corn tortillas instead of flour – Choosing a tortilla made with a whole grain (corn) over white flour means increasing fiber intake while cutting back on carbs. Corn tortillas also tend to be smaller than their flour cousins, reducing the calorie content of each individual taco.
Oil and vinegar instead of bottled dressings – While store-bought dressings are typically laden with extra calories and mysterious ingredients you can’t pronounce, making your own simple combinations at home will help you keep track of exactly what’s going into your salad. Try out this Balsamic Vinaigrette recipe, or a Greek Vinaigrette.
Wine and beer instead of mixed drinks and cocktails – Though swearing off alcohol altogether is obviously the ideal health move, for those of us who need to imbibe from time-to-time, stick to the basics. Beer and wine have tend to contain less sugar and fewer calories than mixed drinks—particularly sweet and fruity beverages like pina coladas and margaritas.
Riced cauliflower instead of white rice – While the white rice you’d typically serve at the bottom of your burrito bowls and Asian dishes is pretty much void of nutrients, this 100 percent vegetable alternative feels almost like the real thing and is packed with vitamins and fiber. Make your own in a food processor or pick up a pre-riced frozen blend at the grocery store, and flavor with the spices and seasonings you would typically add to your rice dishes. If you’re preparing an Indian feast, this Turmeric Cauliflower Rice will be a hit.
Radishes instead of corn chips - While chili is typically a healthy, comforting winter dish, the corn chips, cheese, and sour cream piled on top won’t do you any favors. Ditch the cheese, sub in Greek yogurt, and swap corn chips for crunchy radish slices. While you’re at it, try dipping lightly salted radishes in your favorite salsa or guacamole.
Hard-boiled eggs instead of fried – Boiling eggs instead of frying in butter or oil not only cuts calories but also eliminates intake of saturated fats. Plus, hard boiled eggs can be kept in the fridge for quick, protein-packed breakfasts on the go and lunch salads with minimal effort.
Banana nice cream instead of ice cream – When you get a craving for something creamy and sweet, try swapping your favorite dairy and added sugar-filled carton with this Banana Ice Cream, made with frozen bananas and your choice of healthy ingredients, like berries, cinnamon, or cocoa powder.
Lettuce wraps instead of tacos - By trading lettuce wraps for dishes that require tortillas or sandwich wraps, you’ll not only cut calories but also give your meal a nutritional boost. Try this Asian lettuce wrap recipe, or fill the lettuce cups with your favorite taco night ingredients.
Onion slices instead of pita chips – Make like a Tel Aviv local and swap crunchy onion slices for pita chips while snacking on hummus. Not only will the carbs and calories be reduced, but the slightly acidic bite of the onion pairs perfectly with some homemade traditional hummus.
Sashimi instead of sushi – While sushi might seem like a healthier dining option, the white rice used in most rolls isn’t ideal for those cutting carbs or focussing on nutrient intake. Try switching to sashimi for the fish flavors you love without the extra calories.
Homemade nut butter instead of store-bought – Instantly reduce your added sugar intake by making your own nut butters at home. While it might take a little patience, creating your own healthier product will be worth it in the end.
Sparkling water instead of soda – Naturally flavored sparkling waters like La Croix and Polar Seltzer have experienced a boom in popularity—especially among reformed soda addicts looking to get their fizzy fix without the huge sugar, calorie, and chemical content of traditional sodas.
Nutritional yeast instead of Parmesan – Steal a move out of the vegan playbook and try swapping Parmesan for nutritional yeast on your pastas and salads. This ingredient, which has a rich, slightly cheesy flavor, is packed with amino acids, vitamins, and minerals, and is a beloved alternative for dairy-free dinners.
Spinach or kale for iceberg lettuce – While iceberg lettuce isn’t necessarily bad for you, when it comes to salad bases, it’s about as nutritionally lacking as it gets. Switch to darker, leafy greens like kale or spinach, which is rich in Vitamin K, Vitamin A, Calcium, and Iron.
Real fruit instead of fruit juice – When you get that sweet, fruity craving, reach for something straight from the produce aisle instead of the fridge. Rather than sipping a glass of orange juice, which has none of the fiber from the orange and often includes added sugar, opt for the real thing instead.
Zucchini noodles instead of spaghetti – While there’s no pretending a “noodle” made out of vegetables is going to taste or feel exactly like the real thing, for pasta addicts looking to cut down their weekly consumption these spiralized noodles can help. Plus, with a really killer Bolognese on top you’ll barely notice the difference.
OR, try an alternative pasta - Swap your typical flour-filled pasta for a box of one of these trendy plant-based alternative pastas, which are gluten-free and packed with protein.
Mustard instead of mayo – Replace the high-fat and more calorie-laden sandwich condiment with its tangier, nearly calorie-free counterpart. If you’re looking for a healthy way to replicate that creamy, fatty flavor, try spreading avocado on your sandwich instead.
Air-popped popcorn for potato chips – By swapping your favorite crunchy chips with this airy alternative, you’ll not only cut down on saturated fat and calorie consumption, but will also be free to get creative with your popcorn seasonings and flavors.
Apple slices for crackers – Whether you prefer your crackers paired with cheddar or peanut butter, crunchy apple slices make for a tasty, nutritional alternative.
Whole-grain toast or English muffins for bagels – Eating healthy doesn’t mean cutting out the carbs completely. At your next brunch party, swap out your bagels for a lower-carb, whole grain option, piled with low-fat cream cheese, smoked salmon, and capers. Just make sure a whole grain is the first ingredient on the label to ensure more fiber, protein, and micronutrient rich products.
Edamame for peanuts – Swapping out these green legumes for their nutty cousin will mean more protein and fewer calories. Sprinkle them with a little salt for a similar savory bite without the excess oil.
Cinnamon for sugar – Whether you’re addicted to sugar in your coffee or sprinkled over your oats, cinnamon makes a great, slightly-sweet stand-in for those trying to cut down on sugar intake—which should be just about everyone.