Baby Steps To Getting Healthier Breakdown: Healthy Food Swap-Outs
Sometimes (oftentimes, actually) getting healthier is a matter of making a choice between A and B – exchanging one thing for another.
And shockingly, making said changes isn’t as painful as you may think. In fact, some of the healthier options taste even better!
The following healthy food swap-outs will help you make choices that are healthier, yet just as yummy (if not more) than what you’re currently using.
The list isn’t exhaustive by a long shot, but it’s a great start towards improving your health.
White Flour >>> Unbleached Flour
White flour is used in many households for baking and other cooking needs.
The issue is that it’s bleached using chemicals such as benzoyl peroxide and chlorine gas to speed up the aging process.
Unbleached flour, on the other hand, is “bleached” and aged over time, naturally. But because unbleached flour is not refined, it’s a bit heartier and has a higher protein content.
Personally, I find no problem baking or cooking with unbleached flour, but some say it doesn’t bake quite the same as white.
The best alternative, health wise, is of course whole wheat/grain flour. But it will be heartier, denser, nuttier and grainier than white or unbleached flours.
White Bread >>> Whole Grain Bread
This is very similar to the aforementioned white flour vs unbleached/whole grain flour situation. White bread is made with white flour, stripped of its naturally-occurring nutrients, then the nutrients added back in.
And, like flour, whole grain/wheat bread is healthiest because the full grain is intact (the bran, germ, and endosperm) which means it’s higher in fiber and takes longer for your body to digest. The key is to make sure that the bread has “100%” on the packaging and that there is at least 16 grams of whole grains. – Taste of Home
But also, like flour, you may not like the nuttiness of the whole grains in your bread. In that case (remember, we’re improving our health one day, step, bite at a time) there are breads that are whole grain white and the texture is very similar to regular white bread.
It may not be the healthiest choice, but it’s a step in that direction.
Tip: One thing I’ve found when it comes to whole grain bread is that it’s GREAT toasted with butter! It’s like toasting it compliments the grains and makes them taste better.
Pasta >>> Whole Grain/Veggie Pasta
Pasta can be tricky, especially if your palette is really sensitive when it comes to textures and you’re a pasta connoisseur. Some healthier pasta choices may not “fool” your tastebuds as well as others, so you really have to do a trial and error in this department.
Personally, I’m not a big pasta person, but I love spaghetti, lasagna and mac & cheese. Unless the texture is just totally weird and inedible, it doesn’t matter much to me and I honestly can’t tell much difference when I’m eating regular, white flour-based pasta or whole grain pasta.
But one that I’ve tried that, to me, seems to taste just like the real deal is Barilla Whole Grain.
There may be a slight difference that you may or may not notice, but with the sauce and other ingredients, it should be just fine as a healthier replacement for your old pasta.
White Sugar >>> Evaporated Cane Juice
If you were to look up “healthy sugar” online, you’d find a ton of sources spouting that “sugar is sugar” and that it’s all the same, no matter how healthy it’s supposed to be.
I beg to differ because, personally, my body doesn’t respond in the same negative manner to evaporated cane juice as it does to refined white sugar.
Not only that, but organic evaporated cane juice is less processed and still has the natural molasses found in sugar cane.
It may not be the “champion” of sweeteners, but it’s definitely a step or two up from white sugar.
Refined Salt >>> Sea Salt or Himalayan Pink Salt
Salt is another thing that, when white and refined, loses something and causes health issues. But sea salt (the REAL stuff, not the white stuff in the round box disguised as “sea salt”.
Real sea salt will have a tan-grey color to it with speckles. This lets you know you’re getting the actual minerals that natural salt is known for. You can also use pink himalayan salt or celtic sea salt as well. Either of those will be way better for you than white table salt will ever be.
Margarine >>> Real Butter
The great debate… margarine spreads vs. real butter. Hands down, real butter is better. There was a time when butter was being blamed for high cholesterol and heart disease. But now, we know better.
Trans fat raises LDL (bad) cholesterol significantly while lowering HDL (good) cholesterol.
Saturated fat also raises LDL (bad) cholesterol, but less than trans fats, and does not affect HDL. – Medical News Today
Some may think, “Well, margarine is made from plant oils so it’s healthier.”
Wrong! Margarine may be made from plant-based oils, but it’s also HIGHLY processed and usually has a lot of added chemicals, whereas butter is just cream and (perhaps) salt.
Butter is simply made of pasteurized cream. Sometimes, salt is added. In countries where cows are grass-fed, butter consumption is associated with a dramatic reduction in heart disease risk.
Grass-fed dairy products are much higher in Vitamin K2 and omega-3 fatty acids, both of which are important for heart health. Grass-fed butter also contains conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), which helps improve body composition and protect against cancer. Short and medium-chain triglycerides are also present which are helpful for the gut bacteria, immune function, and metabolism.
Regular or non-grass-fed butter contains significantly less, if any, of these nutrients.
Yogurt >>> Full/High Fat Greek Yogurt
When I initially decided to add yogurt to the swap out list, I was thinking of the sugary ones. But your body’s needs will determine which yogurt is best for you.
Regular yogurt tends to be higher in calcium than Greek yogurt, but (plain) Greek yogurt has more protein and less sugar.
Personally, I choose Greek yogurt because I like the thicker consistency. Plus, I prefer a lower sugar, higher protein option seeing that I get plenty of calcium from the meal shakes I drink.
Canned Fruit >>> Fresh Fruit
When it comes to fruit, fresh is ALWAYS best. But what about pesticides? You can eat organic. Most stores sell it and it doesn’t cost much more than conventional produce. But don’t feel you have to because:
- An organic label or being in the organic section doesn’t necessarily guarantee it’s 100% organic. I’m a firm believer that you just never really know.
- You can do a soak with water and vinegar to remove a lot of the wax build up and some of the pesticide residue. It more than likely won’t remove all of it, but it’ll be better than not soaking at all.
But if you simply must do canned, go for the ones in their own natural juice as opposed to heavy syrup.
Canned Vegetables >>> Frozen/Fresh Vegetables
Alright, I won’t B.S. you. When I initially added vegetables to this list, I honestly thought fresh was better than canned.
I hadn’t bought canned vegetables in so long, my mind was still back in a place when the cans were ALL metal, outside and in, and you were cautioned to not eat the contents of a dented can because of the risk of botulism.
But, upon researching, I found that canned vegetables still retain their nutrients. Go figure.
Apparently, they’re picked right at the time of ripeness and immediately go through the canning process, thus preserving the vitamins and minerals… well, some of them. Some are lost from high temperatures. But some are retained.
Fresh vegetables, however, are said to be picked before fully ripe and nutrients not at their peak.
So, why did I leave it in this list even after finding all of that out?
Because fresh or frozen is still a preference for me for a number of reasons:
- Despite the change in cans where there is a BPA-free coating inside, I still don’t trust them. lol
- Canned veggies are often high in sodium (unless you get the low sodium variety, of course) and preservatives.
- Fresh & frozen (to a degree) vegetables allow YOU to control the amount of “snap” when you cook ’em. Canned ones are gonna be soft by default, which is okay for some, but not for others.
- Veggies that are fresh, or at the very least frozen, just taste better.
But I’ll leave this one to you and your discretion, just thought I’d share my personal reasons for sticking with fresh or frozen.
Soda/Sugary Drinks >>> 100% Juice No Added Sugar
I used to drink soda or Kool-Aid (don’t you dare go there! lmao) with EVERY meal. Drinking water after a meal was just not cutting it. Or, as my kids say, “That ain’t it, chief.”
Nowadays, it’s water (more like a cup of crushed ice), occasionally fruit (orange, cranberry, or apple) juice, or this healthy strawberry-lemonade drink mix.
The only time I drink soda is on our family pizza night and even at that, it’s like half a cup (or less) with ice.
Switching out soda for something healthy, yet flavorful, will benefit you in more ways than one:
- possibly lose weight <==
- lower your risk of diabetes <==
- help your teeth <==
- sleep better at night <==
- and more
Naturally, the best thing to replace the soda with would be water – but I get that you’d miss the flavor and sweetness.
So the next best thing would be to go for fruit juice. Just please make sure it says 100% juice and that there is no added sugar.
Once you’re ready, you can begin to replace some of the juice with water or other healthy beverages such as infused water, homemade lemonade with natural sweetener, or this all natural healthy powdered beverage mix.
Fruity Candy >>> Dried Fruit/Fruit Leather
I love Twizzlers, Red Vines, and Laffy Taffy. But they definitely don’t love me back. I don’t always get a hankerin’ for sweet, chewy, fruity candy but when I do, (and don’t wanna go for the aforementioned) I pull out the food dehydrator and make either some fruit leather or dried fruit.
While the natural sugars may be highly concentrated, I feel better eating it because it’s, well… fruit. And while it may have sugar, fruit has nutritional value whereas candy does not.
For example, dried apricots are high in Vitamin A, fiber, and potassium.
You can make fruit leather in any flavor you choose: strawberry, banana, mango, blueberry, or any combination.
And as for the dried fruit, you can slice and dry virtually any of your favorite fruits. I particularly love dried banana chips, sliced pineapple, and apples.
Of course it’s not going to be identical in flavor or even texture of your favorite candies, but it does help to curb that sweet tooth and give you a healthy treat to boot.
And if your fruit isn’t all that sweet to begin with, add some agave nectar or real maple syrup – if making fruit leather, blend it in with the fruit and if just drying fruit, toss the fruit around in the sweetener before drying.
Chocolate >>> Dark Chocolate
Alright, I know this isn’t gonna go over well with many readers… maybe even you. But it is what it is. Dark chocolate is healthier than milk chocolate.
The main reason, without going into a whole slew of details, is that the higher the percentage of cacao, the more antioxidants and flavanols* it contains.
*Flavanols are a type of polyphenol in cocoa that helps lower blood pressure and improve vascular function, improve cognitive function, and even provides UV protection for our skin.
The more the cocoa is processed, especially if Dutch processed which is processing with alkali. This greatly minimizes the nutritional benefits of chocolate.
And yes, dark chocolate is an acquired taste. It can be very bitter and not very sweet, depending on the percentage of cacao in it.
This is why you will see some bars with 90%, 70%, etc. The higher the percent, the stronger the flavor.
Since I’m not a chocolate expert, I thought I’d point you to this resource to learn more about the best and worst dark chocolate brands.
I actually like the dark chocolate-covered almonds or raisins, and these meal bars made with dark chocolate.
But find your favorite(s), with or without fruit or nuts.
Canned Chili/Stews/Soups >>> Homemade Chili/Stews/Soups
Aside from the whole canned veggie thing I mentioned before, I recommend making your own soup, chili or stew as opposed to canned because:
- canned is high in sodium whereas you can control the salt when it’s homemade
- you don’t have to worry about additives and preservatives
- it just effin’ TASTES better!
And it’s easy to make, just get you some chicken or beef broth (or vegetable if you don’t do meat), meat of choice, potatoes, onions, carrots, celery, sea salt & pepper, and any other seasonings you want. And if you want to, add in some rotini or other noodle of choice and BAM!
Delicious homemade soup without all the crap in it. The “Mmm mm good” chicken noodle soup has freakin’ MSG and soy in it! Ain’t nobody got time for that when we’re tryna get healthier.
And if your excuse is convenience – girrrl (or boy), if you don’t get your butt in that kitchen, make a big pot of it and divide it up into small freezer bags or containers…
That way, you just pull out what you need, heat & eat. Easy peasy!
Boxed Mac & Cheese >>> Homemade Mac & Cheese
Okay, now I realize that boxed mac & cheese is a main staple in many households. It sure was in mine, both when I was growing up, as well as once I got married and had kids of my own.
There’s just something about it that, while it’s fake as all get out and probably one of the worst foods you could consume due to the heavy processing… it’s yummy. At least it used to be. I think they’ve changed the recipe or something or my tastebuds just don’t like it all that much anymore because it doesn’t seem to taste the same.
Anyway, whether you think it tastes good or not, there is a better option…
“Aww but that’s too much work.”
No it’s not. Think about it.
- boil pasta
- drain pasta
- add butter, milk, and processed cheese packet
- stir ’til the cheese stuff dissolves and is evenly distributed on the pasta
Making homemade mac:
- boil pasta
- drain pasta
- add butter, milk, and REAL cheddar cheese (or whatever kind floats your boat)
- stir ’til cheese is melted
- add a little (sea) salt and pepper
Now, if you wanna get that good ‘ole down home effect, layer it in a pan with more cheese (I prefer shredded) and butter, pop it into the oven on 350-400° and bake until it gets that nice brown crust on top.
As you can see, there’s really not that much more involved in the process of making it yourself, and it’s better for you because there aren’t a gazillion additives in it.
Don’t Overwhelm Yourself
It’s okay if you don’t make all of the swap-out changes. Remember, this is all about taking “baby steps” to improving your health, so start with one or two and work your way up.
Be sure to take note of how much better you feel and how much healthier you are as you take these steps, plus the others in this series.
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