2017-01-01 / Features

Smart Swaps

Just a few simple switches can help you start your health-focused resolution on the right foot.
Samantha Lauriello | Photos by Matt Fern

Amid bursts of confetti and sips of champagne, nothing should stop you from ringing in the new year with an optimistic attitude. Maintain that positive outlook when the party ends by seeing your health-conscious resolution as an opportunity, not a daunting task. When it comes time to write a plan of attack, refrain from penciling in any cheats or hacks. We’ve all convinced ourselves we deserve a reward for our dedication, but we forget what the real reward is — the way our body feels after treating it right.

Instead of a cheat sheet, come up with a list of tips to keep you on track when the road seems narrow. These healthy substitutes for unhealthy foods will give you a plan to beat temptation and maintain progress toward your health-focused goal.

Crunch Time
Fix salad with almonds instead of croutons

Adding a crunch can be the perfect way to top off a leafy salad, but Penn State nutrition instructor Lynn Parker Klees recommends that crunch come from a nut source rather than croutons. Though their tastiness tends to mask their true identity, croutons are simply bread, and along with these bite-sized squares comes a lot of starch, making almonds a healthier, yet equally crunchy, alternative.

Almonds provide all of the crunch of a crouton but with double the health benefits. Klees says a serving of nuts a day has been shown to lower risk for heart disease. Almonds are also packed with vitamins E and H (biotin), which have a number of health benefits, and are rich in digestion-promoting fiber. With all of these nutrients in one small package, it’s easy to make this healthy switch.

More salad substitutions:
Sprinkle chia seeds in place of bacon bits.
Instead of creamy dressings, use flavorful vinaigrettes.
Avoid sugary dried cranberries and top with fresh blueberries, which are often cited as a superfood.

Get Yourself to the Greek
Substitute Greek yogurt for sour cream

A spoonful of sour cream may add a burst of flavor to a bowl of mashed potatoes or a breakfast burrito, but along with that flavor comes a generous serving of saturated fat, says Klees. The hard truth is this creamy topping that many know and love is mostly fat. To not only cut back on fat but also add plenty of nutrients, Klees recommends swapping sour cream with low-fat or nonfat plain Greek yogurt.
A similar texture and taste makes it nearly impossible to notice a difference between these two options, says Penn State nutrition instructor Brenda Eissenstat. What you will notice is how your body feels after you’ve committed to making these small but significant healthy changes. Greek yogurt will give your body levels of nutrients that sour cream can’t offer. Eissenstat says calcium and protein are two of this topping’s best assets.

More topping trades:
Replace cream cheese on a bagel with perfectly ripe, spreadable avocado.
Try apple or almond butter in place of regular butter or peanut butter on toast.
Spread your sandwich with hummus instead of mayonnaise.

When the Chips are Down
Snack on popcorn instead of chips

Though we’ve been warned before, we sometimes turn our heads to the dangers of snacking on chips. Klees reminds us to stand strong in the face of salty temptation — there are other options for snacking. This new year it’s time to put down the bag for good. Along with a bag of chips comes a rap sheet of crimes against your body, like extreme amounts of sodium and a nauseating amount of fat.

Turn to air-popped popcorn for your go-to midday snack. Klees says the beauty of this alternative is the ability to munch over a long period of time and not consume an excessive amount of calories. This type of popcorn is a whole grain snack, meaning it has healthy nutrients to offer your body. For example, air-popped popcorn is rich in fiber. But be warned, microwave popcorn and air-popped popcorn aren’t the same, Eissenstat says. Stick to store-bought brands of air-popped popcorn or use an air-popper at home.

More snacktime switches:
Try the uber-trendy kale chips or pita chips in place of potato chips.
Snack on pistachios or dried chickpeas to quench a salt craving.
Switch from regular corn chips to a whole grain or blue corn variety.

Just Your Cup of Tea
Drink herbal tea instead of soda

Diet or not, fizzy soda is not your friend, but finding a healthy replacement for the sugary drink is easier said than done. Klees says the search for a new thirst-quenching drink may become easier after learning about the harmful additives in soda. Among these additives are artificial flavors that have been linked to cancer and fake sugars that have been shown to cause weight gain.

Green tea — a superfood in comparison to soda — delivers a slew of health benefits in every glass. It is chock-full of antioxidants, specifically types that boost your metabolism and even intensify the results of your workout routine. Klees says make sure your tea is unsweetened and fresh in order to see results. Other forms of herbal teas, such as black tea and red tea, are health bearing as well.

More beverage best bets:
Add a little spritz to your wine for more hydration and less alcohol per sip.
Instead of plain water, add flavor with lemon.
Replace juice in your morning smoothie with green tea.

More Than Meats the Eye
Top pizza and pasta with vegetables instead of meat

Whether this comes as a surprise or not, the average American diet is plentiful in protein but lacking in fruits and vegetables, Klees says. The United States Department of Agriculture suggests half of your plate be fruits and vegetables. Though that may seem challenging, making this simple switch can help you reach that goal.

Vegetables such as cucumbers, radishes and zucchini add a great flavor to pizza and pasta dishes while also adding bulk, Eissenstat says. We tend to overlook vegetables’ potential to leave us full and satisfied, but the volume they add to a meal does just that. Not to mention, feeling full is key to weight loss, Eissenstat says. Swapping meat with vegetables also reduces the calories of the meal — another strategy for losing weight. Along with vegetables’ weight loss benefits comes loads of fiber, yet another healthy bonus.

More veggie value:
Instead of pasta, use spaghetti squash as noodles.
Add a handful of spinach or kale to smoothies.
For the ultimate food camouflage, add mashed cauliflower to mashed potatoes.

Don't Sugarcoat It
Use stevia instead of white sugar

Sugar — the source of society’s growing sweet tooth — can be replaced by the sugar substitute stevia. Klees says satisfying cravings with something sugary is actually counterproductive. Eating sugar-filled snacks will simply make you crave more sugar-filled snacks. This is because though sugar may give you a burst of energy, that burst is extremely short-lived, and soon your stomach will be grumbling again. Excess sugar intake also has been linked to diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure. On a daily basis, the average American consumes much more sugar than needed, Klees says. She recommends leaving white sugar behind.  

Stevia, a sweetener made from a South American plant, has been shown to lower blood pressure. Though research on artificial sweeteners is still developing, they have been shown to not only contain fewer calories than white sugar but also help you eat better overall. Studies have shown consuming large amounts of white sugar leads to eating a greater number of calories throughout the day. The same studies show using stevia leads to less of a calorie intake than white sugar.

More sugar-reducing swaps:
Top pancakes with fresh fruit instead of maple syrup.
Try honey in your coffee instead of white sugar.
Use agave in place of sugar when baking.

*This article was updated Feb. 1, 2017

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