A good start to embarking on a journey of healthier eating would be to switch out some of the foods currently a regular in your kitchen. It is not just about weight management; a healthier way of eating could lead you to curb sugar cravings and leave you satisfied following each meal. Moreover, it could even change how you feel about yourself. So try out some of these food swaps now:
1. Whole Grains for Refined Grains
Consider swapping white rice for brown, regular pasta and bread for whole-wheat and couscous for bulgur wheat. Why? Because whole grains are high in magnesium and selenium which are essential in supporting bone health and immune function. Whole grains also contain antioxidants and digestion-aiding fibre.
2. Natural Dressings for Processed Dressings
Salad for dinner? Good! Drowning it in a cream-based dressing? Not so good! You might just be adding unnecessary calories and unhealthy fats into your nutritious meal. Instead, swap out mayo for mustard, sour cream for Greek yoghurt, and ranch for vinaigrette and salsa. If all else fails, try lightly dressing your salad with some olive oil and balsamic or apple cider vinegar instead – all natural!
3. White Meat for Red Meat
This seems obvious enough, yet not all of us can give up our beef steak, lamb chops and pork loin. This swap could save you some calories and assure that you consume less bad cholesterol, reducing your chances of heart disease. Examples of white meat include chicken, fish and shellfish. Some types of fish in particular, such as salmon, mackerel and sardines, have omega-3 fatty acids, which conversely lowers your risk.
4. Oatmeal or Fibre-Rich Cereal for Sugary Cereal
Whether it’s for breakfast or just a mid-afternoon snack, reach for oatmeal instead of Coco Pops or sweetened granola. Sugary cereals drive up calories and can cause a sugar spike. Among other benefits, oatmeal can help lower cholesterol and even protect damage to LDL cholesterol (the good sort). If oats aren’t your cup of tea, then fibre-rich cereals, especially those that are bran-based, are a good alternative. Add natural fruits or whip up your own delicious breakfast bowl.
5. Toast for Bagel or Buns
We all love a dense bagel slathered with cream cheese and smoked salmon. Or a matcha bun with a red beans paste centre? As tempting as these treats are, they are packed with calories and other unhealthy ingredients. If the craving for bread strikes, you would be better off with a few slices of whole-wheat bread. Believe it or not, one bagel equals five slices of whole-wheat bread in terms of calories, with less than a quarter of the amount nutrients. Try spreading it with smashed avocado or some natural jam (without added sugars) and add a sprinkle of seeds.
6. Whole Fruit for Fruit Juice
In the era of smoothies and juicing (find out the truth about green juices and smoothies), you might find yourself grabbing a carton of OJ to save yourself the effort of peeling an orange. Truth is, fruit juice often contains very little or no fibre content, even home-juiced ones. Store-bought ones can even consist of added sugar and preservatives. Grab a fruit instead, and savour each bite, with all those wonderful nutritional benefits, or better yet, make a fruit salad!
7. Cinnamon for Sugar
Most of us start our day with a cup of coffee filled with sugar for that much needed wake-up kick. Problem is, having sugar first thing in the day means your body would be yearning for it the whole day. Here is a nifty trick to keep in mind: ditch sugar for cinnamon to enjoy a more flavourful cup of coffee or even oatmeal without the additional calories. Moreover, cinnamon is a natural metabolism booster, which means you won’t find yourself craving a sugary snack later in the day.
8. Dark Chocolate for Milk Chocolate
Chocolate, most of us love it, and are very reluctant to give this tasty treat up even when they are trying to cut calories and lose weight. The good news is, you don’t have to. All you have to do is switch milk chocolate for dark, which is naturally lower in sugar and higher in antioxidants, iron, zinc and even fibre. But don’t forget that moderation is key with this one.
Think Twice Before Swapping These
Margarine for Butter
The obvious substitute for butter is margarine. Made from vegetable oils, it contains unsaturated fats, which help reduce LDL. Certain brands of margarine contain trans fat though, which is much like saturated fat (some say even worse). Butter has a bad reputation as it is created using milk fat, or what we know as cream. It is true that this means it contains saturated fat and cholesterol, a big no-no for a heart-healthy diet. Recently however, research has shown that butter is not as scary as it seems. Butter in fact contains a number of fat-soluble vitamins and healthy saturated fat. Some studies even suggest that unlike natural butter, margarine can actually increase your risk of heart disease. Ironic? Whatever the research says, butter is a tasty addition to any dish, so just a little of it goes a long way. So it wouldn’t be realistic for you to give it up altogether.
Low-Fat/Skim Milks for Whole Milk
Research indicates that skim milk is not always the best option. Despite fears of it being higher in saturated fat (and therefore calories), it might not be as healthy as we think. Skim milk has more sugar than whole, hence there is insufficient evidence that skim milk will help with weight management in the long-term. Additionally, full fat milk may lower the risk of metabolic syndromes, a constellation of ailments (like high blood sugar and increased blood pressure) that, when occurring together, can increase the risk of heart disease, stroke and diabetes. Finally, it is recommended that young children, at least up to a certain age, consume whole milk instead of low-fat as it is more nutritious, which is necessary for their growth.
Frozen Vegetables for Fresh Vegetables
The debate between fresh and frozen has been long-standing, but it boils down to this: it varies depending on the type of vegetable. Some kinds of frozen produce, such as frozen peas and spinach, have a higher nutritional content than fresh, but the blanching process involved before freezing can cause significant loss of some nutrients and antioxidants. Your best bet would be to use a mix of both to fulfil your nutritional needs.
Nut Butters for Raw Nuts
From almond to cashew, nut butters are all the rage these days. Are they better for you? Not really. In fact, as compared to raw nuts, nut butters have more fat, sugar and even salt. Worse still, they’re easy to overeat. You’re better off munching on a handful of nuts rather than spreading your toast with a thick layer of peanut butter from end to end.
Swap or Not?
Without a doubt, minor changes to your diet can protect you from the risk of developing certain illnesses, especially diabetes, heart disease and stroke. However, making wiser decisions about what to swap and what not can allow you to make informed choices without going overboard. Most importantly, if you’re struggling with weight management issues or a chronic long-term condition, it might be best if you consult a dietician or doctor before making any major modifications to your diet.
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