How to Make Simple, Healthy Eating SwapsSep 29, 2022
When it comes to eating healthy food, most people know what to do, but remain tempted by familiar favourites. While healthy eating doesn’t mean giving up everything you love, it does carry the responsibility of making healthier choices most of the time - around 80% of your meals - and saving those tempting treats for the other 20%. Just because you’re on vacation, celebrating a special occasion, at a party, or eating out, doesn’t mean you should give yourself “free reign” to eat whatever you want.
Eating out used to truly be a special occasion, meaning that it only happened once in a while. These days, not only can we get takeout food more easily, but in many places, we can now get it delivered, which means that in most Western countries at least one meal per week includes food that’s not prepared at home. And depending on the generation you’re part of (X, Y, Millennials), those numbers can be vastly different. One benefit of the pandemic was that more people started eating home-prepared meals than in the years before, but many of the food choices being made still aren’t healthy ones.
So what can you do if you don’t like to cook or aren’t accustomed to making healthy food choices? Let’s talk about some simple food swaps you can make without sacrificing taste or satisfaction!
Eating At Home
The easiest way to ensure you’re getting healthier meals is to prepare them at home, where you have 100% control over the ingredients. There are many quick and healthy recipes available just a quick internet search away.
Let’s look at some easy, healthy food swaps broken down by meal:
Juice: If you’re opting for carbs at breakfast, instead of fruit juice, choose the whole fruit. You’ll get the added fibre, which helps keep you full and slows down the sugar uptake. You also get plenty of other nutrients that you lose out on when you just have the juice alone. Looking for a lower-carb option? Take some berries and throw them into a blender with some protein powder and make yourself a protein-packed breakfast smoothie!
Bread: Swap out that bagel for an English muffin or some whole-grain toast. Sprouted grain toast is an even better option. The idea is to start with small steps, so choose the easiest ones to make. You don’t need all that starch weighing you down and making you bloated first thing in the morning!
Cereal: Don’t believe what you read on the box! A lot of so-called “healthy” cereals are full of sugars or artificial sweeteners that load you up with unsatisfying empty calories and trigger your sweet tooth for the rest of the day. Learn to read ingredient labels and find a few high-fibre, healthier cereal options. If you want to add sweetness, throw on a handful of berries! If you want to get really creative, you can make your own granola or muesli with whole or steel-cut oats, nuts, seeds, and other health-promoting ingredients. Also, be aware of the serving size when it comes to cereal. A serving size can be a lot smaller than you think!
Eggs: If you love eggs but worry about eating too many (even though we now know that it’s not about the number of eggs but instead their quality), try throwing in some organic egg whites and having a big scramble with plenty of vegetables. You’ll get a great boost of protein and feel fuller longer. Whole eggs pack plenty of nutrients, which makes them a great choice, and you can always add egg whites to add volume to your meal and increase your protein intake without consuming lots of extra calories.
Bacon and Sausage: While these can be really tasty, try opting for centre-cut bacon instead of a sausage patty. Even better, look for uncured bacon or turkey bacon instead, or opt for a piece of chicken or turkey with your breakfast and you’ll get some lean protein without all the extra calories, fat, and chemicals in processed meats.
Yoghurt: Opt for plain regular yoghurt or plain Greek yoghurt and add your own fruit and nuts if you want to add some flavour. Or, throw in a small spoonful of your favourite healthy nut butter. Most commercial yoghurts - especially the flavoured varieties - are loaded with sugars or artificial sweeteners.
Sandwiches: Sandwiches can be an easy, portable lunch option, but you can add a lot of unnecessary calories and starch to your day if you’re not careful with your bread choices. Sandwiches purchased from a deli or food counter often use enough bread for 3 or 4 servings. Healthier options include different kinds of wraps or even lettuce leaves. Iceberg lettuce leaves and butter lettuce leaves make great sandwich wraps and are usually less expensive than buying bread.
Salads: Salads are looked at by most people as a healthy meal option, but beware of what you put on your salad. While salads can be convenient and healthy as a meal occasionally, they can become unhealthy pretty quickly. An otherwise healthy meal can become laden with unhealthy ingredients if you’re not paying attention. When you can, make your salad dressings at home. There are plenty of quick and healthy recipes that are cost-effective. At a restaurant, ask for the dressing on the side and just dip the tip of your fork into the dressing before taking a bite of salad. You’ll enjoy the flavour of the dressing without soaking your salad in it.
Opt out of (or at least minimise) ingredients like cheese, mayonnaise-based salads and dressings, and keep dried fruit, nuts, and seeds to a reasonable amount (like what would fit into your cupped hand). If you’re a taco salad lover, instead of getting the deep-fried tortilla bowl, opt for a handful of tortilla chips instead. You’ll still get the Mexican twist on your salad and avoid all the saturated fats from the shell.
Soups: Stick to broth-based soups when you can, and choose varieties that have plenty of vegetables. Exceptions to this would be lentil or bean soups that are fairly lean and don’t include fatty meats. Soup can be an excellent filling, hearty food option, especially when you’re travelling. And broth-based soups are really quick and easy to make at home.
Whenever possible, try to keep your evening meal a bit lighter and do your best to allow at least 3 hours between your evening meal and your bedtime so you can digest your food before you go to sleep. Your body needs those bedtime hours to repair and restore your cells and run important body processes, so it’s best not to bog it down with food digestion.
Pasta: There are whole grain and bean-based pasta varieties available these days, which are healthier options than pasta made from white flour. Even better? Try spiral-slicing zucchini (courgette) or sweet potato and using those as your “noodles.” You’ll get the benefit of the extra fibre and reduce the bloat that pasta can give your belly. If you do opt for flour-based pasta, remember that one serving would fit into your cupped hand. You can have more than “one serving” but do your best to avoid the kind of portions that restaurants typically give you when you order pasta.
Meat: Opt for leaner cuts of meat, enjoy organic chicken or turkey, and opt for wild-caught fish. There are endless ways to prepare animal protein (try searching for sheet pan meals), so if you eat animal protein you won’t ever be bored! Baking, roasting, or grilling are your best prep techniques, especially if you’re ordering in a restaurant. Fatty fish like salmon or mackerel are filled with Omega-3 fatty acids, which are health-promoting, so enjoy them baked, poached, or grilled, and skip the creamy sauces. A good piece of fish is delicious with just a squeeze of fresh lemon!
Fats: Focus on fats that are naturally saturated (like coconut oil or grass-fed butter), healthy unsaturated options like olive, walnut, flax, or hemp, or food that contains healthy fats, like avocados, olives, and different raw nuts and seeds. Remember, though, that just because they’re healthy fats doesn’t mean you should overeat them - more isn’t necessarily better. They’re still very nutrient-dense, and while they’re an important part of your daily intake, be aware of portion sizes.
Fats to minimise or avoid are highly processed PUFAs (Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids) like corn oil and other commercial vegetable oils. These are processed at excessively high temperatures and with harmful chemicals. They also provide an excessive amount of Omega-6 fatty acids. Omega-6 fatty acids aren’t unhealthy on their own, but a diet heavy in processed foods provides an unhealthy balance between Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids, which can be damaging to long-term health. Saturated fats that are not naturally saturated (meaning they have to undergo some kind of processing to be solid at room temperature) like margarine, processed meats and cheeses are best avoided. These foods have been linked to many preventable lifestyle-related diseases.
Sweets/Desserts: If you have a sweet tooth, or you’re always looking for something sweet after a meal, instead of reaching for a cake or a bowl of ice cream, try some of these options instead. Fresh fruit (especially berries) can provide some healthy fibre and sweetness. If you’re a chocolate lover, choose dark chocolate (75% cacao or higher) over milk chocolate, and buy the best you can afford. It’s a lot easier to savour a small amount when it’s really good! Try a homemade yoghurt parfait made with fresh fruit and a sprinkle of granola/muesli if you aren’t too full from dinner.
Snacks: You probably already know that packaged, highly processed foods like potato chips and cheese puffs aren’t particularly good for you. These days, while there are healthier versions available, like baked crisps or veggie chips, they are still highly processed foods. When you’re eating healthier meals generally you’ll have less desire to eat this kind of snack food. If the urge does strike to have a snack, though, try some healthier options like cut-up vegetables with hummus, air-popped popcorn, or apple slices with a few thin slices of real cheese. Edamame could take the place of a bowl of peanuts and you still get to play with your food! Remember that a lot of the commercially available protein bars are little more than fancy candy bars, so make sure you read the labels of anything you choose to snack on. Keep your food as close to its natural state as possible and your body will feel all the benefits over time!
How to eat less: If you tend to overeat and want to find ways to eat a bit less without feeling deprived, these tips have you covered. Practising just these techniques alone will help you reduce your overall food intake. Use smaller dishes when you eat. We eat first with our eyes, and if we see a plate that looks full, our brains can’t really tell the difference in the overall amount of food. By using a smaller dish you’ll automatically eat less. Combine this with eating slowly and mindfully and you’ll definitely find yourself feeling satisfied.
A few other fun tips for eating less are to eat with smaller utensils. For example, whenever I want to enjoy a dessert, I share it with my dinner partner and use an espresso spoon to eat it. It helps me take smaller bites and eat it more slowly, so I’m usually satisfied with a lot less that way!
Whatever food choices you make, they should “earn” their space on your plate. If it’s not something you really, truly enjoy eating, stop and ask yourself if it’s worth having. Will eating it help you reach your goals? If not, is it something you want to eat? You get to choose! And when you make your choices with the 80/20 rule in mind, you can enjoy healthy eating AND occasional indulgences while reaching and maintaining your health goals. Focus on better, not perfect!
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