Simple Food Swaps for a Healthy Diet

The other night a family friend, while rummaging through the pantry in awe of my lack of junk food, asked me to teach her how to eat healthy without giving her a strict diet to follow. While this seems like an impossible task, it is actually my preferred method of helping people.  I don’t believe in strict diets as they cause the dieter to get bored and cheat (which doesn’t do them much good in the end).  So my advice to her was to start with a few simple staple food swaps.  In other words, do a “this for that” approach with a few of the staple foods featured in almost everyone’s everyday diet.

 Bread/Pasta: The bread aisle of the grocery store can be daunting.  There are hundreds of different brands all claiming to be healthy, so how do we know which one to buy? Look for breads with Whole-Wheat Flour.  Whole-wheat flour means the bread naturally contains the entire grain (bran, germ, and endosperm), as well as other important nutrients. Do NOT buy white flour or enriched wheat flour breads, pastas, or any other wheat products!

Meat: When choosing your meat, it is best to go with 100% grassfed meat.  I know, the prices can be deterring when compared to regular grain fed meat, but the extra few bucks is worth the extra few years they can give you.  Grain fed meet is often raised in a feedlot situation where they are fed corn and different grains, which cows stomachs cannot properly digest resulting in a sick cow.  Like humans, the only way to make the cow better is to inject them with antibiotics.  If you really think about it, we are now ingesting the meat that comes from not only a sick cow, but is also saturated with antibiotics. Grassfed cows have no injected hormones or antibiotics and stand in clean pastures instead of their own waste allowing them to avoid diseases such as e coli.  This means, we can avoid consuming diseases such as e coli.  Another tip when choosing meat, is always aim to pick the meat that is at least 90-95% lean. Lean meats contain the most vitamins and nutrients.

Diary: While diary is a great source of calcium, protein, and other vitamins, it can also be loaded with bad fats if you aren’t careful. Here’s how to choose your different dairies.

Milk: Choose low-fat or fat-free milk.

Yogurt: Choose fat-free yogurt.  In fact, Greek yogurt is the best choice because it has twice as much protein as regular yogurt, up to 50% less sodium, less carbohydrates and lactose, and can even be used to replace sour cream (which I often do).

Cottage Cheese: If you like eating cottage cheese with your pineapple or other fruits, be sure to choose cottage cheese containing 4% fat.  Also, try mixing some cinnamon into your cottage cheese with a pear or cantaloupe.

Cheese: Choose cheese products made from whole milk.

Fruits and Vegetables: When looking for snack foods, put down the candy bars and unhealthy quick options.  Cutting up some fruits and vegetables and separating servings into a few baggies at the beginning of each week can be just as quick but much healthier.  These low glycemic index snacks will leave you feeling full longer and give you long lasting energy to take on the day. Not to mention, they won’t make you gain weight the way sugar laden foods will.

Nuts and Legumes: When looking for dinner side dishes, avoid the potatoes and try some beans!  Try lima beans sprinkled with garlic salt, or black beans and brown rice (remember no white rice EVER).   Legumes are a great source of protein, good fat and carbohydrates, potassium, calcium, iron, and several B complex vitamins.  They’ll leave you feeling full longer, give you the vitamins and nutrients you need, and keep the weight off.

These are just a few easily tradable staple foods for your everyday diet.  These changes won’t alter the taste of your favorite meals by much but will alter the health aspect, and they are easy to remember.  When starting a healthy lifestyle, taking small steps is key to staying on track. Changing everything at once can be overwhelming and lead to lapse back into the unhealthy eating choices you were originally making.  Start with these staple foods and gradually work your way into a well-rounded, healthy diet that limits all bad sugars and adds in only the good ones.

About Dish Out The Skinny

I am currently a certified personal trainer on the challenging and rewarding path to becoming a registered dietitian. Life is hard enough...staying healthy doesn't have to be! With the ever changing "rules" to staying healthy, my goal is to create a simple blog so that the average person, like myself, can understand the ins and outs of the world that is fitness and nutrition.
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2 Responses to Simple Food Swaps for a Healthy Diet

  1. GroundCherry says:

    I’d add that for nuts, you should buy raw ones and store them in the freezer. Nut butters should be unsalted (and no sugar, added fats, etc.). The salt and/or flavors tend to make them more snack-like and add salt and sugar. You can always make your own flavored nuts if you decide you want them seasoned, or salt your peanut butter sandwich. At the simplest end, just toast nuts for 5 mintues in a skillet, stirring regularly.

    For bread, you want 100% whole grain or 100% whole wheat. Whole [insert grain name] or oats should always be the first ingredient, but some breads are something like 52% whole grain and 48% refined grain. Generally, Americans eat too many grains (often combined with sugar), so think about decreasing your refined grain consumption. 3-4 servings whole grains and maybe 1-2 servings of refined grains as the occasional decadence is sort of ideal for both being healthy and also being achievable.

    My mother’s rule of thumb is to make everything yourself. If you’re not hungry enough for tortilla chips to start with corn flour, you don’t really want them. I’m not that hardcore, but it’s quite true that non-hunger driven snacking decreases when there are no snacks prepared.

    • Thank you so much for the comment GroundCherry! I agree with you on the nut part: the salt is what gets people. Salt is addicting and once you start eating the salty nuts, it’s difficult to stop. Especially because most people tend to think, “well nuts are good for me so I can eat as much as I please.” Everything should be portion controlled, especially salt! I really like your idea about toasting the nuts in a skillet and seasoning them yourself. Smart healthy option!

      You are 100% correct about the breads. Not only should the grains being listed as the first ingredient, they should also be basically the only ingredients listed. For a bread to be truly whole grain, it should contain at least 3 grams of fibre per slice. I recommend Ezekiel bread. It contains no flour, whole grains, and the allotted grams of fibre.

      You’re mother is a smart woman, but then again, aren’t mothers always. I have caught myself playing victim to this non-hunger snacking many of times! I make it a point to write a grocery list and not deter from the list at all once in the store. If I don’t buy the cookies, I can’t eat them. However, it is nice to have a little sweet something after a meal. A small piece of dark chocolate (at least 70% cocoa) and unsalted almonds always do the trick for me. 🙂

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