Vowing to eat healthier doesn’t mean you need to partake in a strict food regimen or drastically overhaul your diet. You’re more likely to successfully alter your eating habits if you integrate small, but effective, changes to your diet on a daily basis. For example, you can make simple ingredient swaps to your meals, which will cut unwanted fat and calories, while adding more fruits, vegetables, nuts, and whole grains to your dishes. Whether you want to use citrus juices in place of salt or substitute Greek yogurt for sour cream, here are five simple ingredient swaps that will make your meals healthier.
1. Whole-wheat for refined grains
Don’t let refined grains like white bread, pasta, and rice sabotage your suppers. Joy Bauer notes that these grains are stripped of bran and germ — the healthiest parts of the grain —during the refining process, resulting in a product that’s missing many of the nutrients it once had. Using whole-wheat products in place of white flour-based foods is a great way to give your meals an instant nutrient boost. “You’re getting fiber, a healthy plant-based protein, vitamins, minerals, and a variety of phytochemicals that will improve your health,” Lilian Cheung, DSc, RD, a lecturer in nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health, told Health.
The United States Department of Agriculture states that whole grains are important sources of several B vitamins, iron, magnesium, and selenium, and regularly consuming them may reduce your risk of heart disease and help with weight management. To begin incorporating more whole grains into your meals, Mayo Clinic suggests replacing white rice with kasha, brown rice, wild rice, or bulgur, and adding whole-grain bread crumbs or cooked brown rice to ground meat or poultry for a healthier breading alternative. In addition, pasta dinners are instantly improved when you use whole-wheat noodles in place of white pasta, like Fitness does in this recipe for Italian Sausage and Veggie Pasta.
2. Citrus juices for salt
Fight the urge to reach for the salt shaker when your meal needs a flavor boost; there’s a better way to create perfectly seasoned dishes. Instead of sprinkling salt on your food, Woman’s Day suggests adding a touch of lemon or lime juice. Removing the salt shaker from your dinner table and replacing it with a small bowl of sliced lemons or limes is a great way to start making this healthy habit a reality.
SFGate warns that while you need to consume a significant amount of sodium each day — up to 1,500 milligrams — many Americans regularly exceed the recommended daily intake, which can lead to several negative health effects, including water retention, dehydration, and hypertension. Lemons and limes, on the other hand, are chock-full of noteworthy benefits; Livestrong explains that they contain vitamins B-9 and C and limonoids, compounds that may help prevent and treat cancer.
3. Rolled oats for bread crumbs
Bread crumbs may give chicken and fish a crisp and crunchy coating, but Livestrong warns that they often contain corn syrup, high levels of sodium, and trans fat-riddled hydrogenated oil. But that doesn’t mean you need to say goodbye to Friday fish frys; it just means it’s time for a healthy ingredient swap! Rather than using store-bought bread crumbs, coat your meat with rolled oats that have been tossed in the seasonings of your choosing, suggests Time.
Rolled oats are a rich source of dietary fiber and several minerals, including manganese, selenium, phosphorus, fiber, magnesium, and zinc, explains Medical News Today. Eating the healthy grain reduces your risk of coronary artery disease and colorectal cancer, and it may help lower your blood pressure. Ready to start serving your family nutritious breaded dinners? Start by making The Simple Dish’s Rolled Oat Crusted Tilapia, which has a crisp texture, fresh flavors, and ample health benefits.
4. Nonfat Greek yogurt for mayo or sour cream
Do you love the creamy flavors mayo and sour cream add to your food, but hate the extra calories? Replace them with Greek yogurt, which eliminates a substantial amount of fat and calories from your meals, All You states. Food Network notes that one cup of mayonnaise contains a whopping 1440 calories, 160 of grams fat, and 24 grams of saturated fat, and according to Fat Secret, the same serving size of sour cream has 492 calories and 48 grams of fat.
One cup of Greek yogurt, however, only contains 260 calories and 18 grams of fat, iChange explains, and is a good source of protein, B12, potassium, and calcium. This ingredient swap is particularly beneficial when you’re making pasta, potato, tuna, and chicken salads. Substitute an equal amount of yogurt for mayo or sour cream, and be sure to play around with spices and seasonings when you make the swap, suggests Time.
5. Nuts for croutons
Salads seem more satisfying when they have a smattering of crunchy croutons tossed throughout, but Shape notes that they don’t have many nutrients, only empty calories. Kimberly Snyder explains that croutons are highly processed and often contain refined oils, artificial colors and flavors, salt, and high-fructose corn syrup. Eliminating croutons from your salads and replacing them with nuts will give your salads an instant health boost.
For more intense flavor, Food Network suggests toasting the nuts in a dry skillet over medium heat for a few minutes, until golden brown. Health notes that the best nuts for your diet include almonds, cashews, and pistachios, which include a mix of omega-3 fatty acids, fiber, and protein. Nuts are great for heart health and are rich sources of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, BBC Good Food adds.