10 Easy Healthy Food Swaps You Can Make Right Now For Better Health (List Graphic Included)
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A list of 10 easy healthy food swaps you can make today for better health.
Making the decision to get healthier is such a daunting task isn't it friend?
I mean, you want to do it. You want to choose the right foods. You want to nourish your body with healthy wholesome ingredients so that you can feel your very best because you love yourself.
But, where do you even start?!
There is so much information out there. One person says eat this, the other person says no, eat that. One source says this is healthy and then the other source says it's not. Ah.
Information overload. And then you're paralyzed. And another year goes by, and you changed nothing.
Trust me, I get it.
I've been there. I'm *still* there at times. This journey into health and wellness is never-ending, always evolving. I'm always learning and getting better and adjusting.
But after being on this path for almost six years now I'll tell you one thing that is forever true - starting is the hardest part, so you have to do like Nike and just do it. Everything else will fall into place.
I want you to just start.
With baby steps. Making small changes to your diet that will eventually have huge long-term positive impacts on your health.
The list below includes TEN of the most powerful healthy food swaps you can make to your diet for better overall health and wellness. If you do nothing else, but you commit to most of the changes listed below, you're giving yourself the best chance to enjoy greater health and wellness.
This post ended up being a lot lengthier than I wanted it to be, but I didn't want to hold any information back. I could honestly speak about this stuff for hours but also need to keep you engaged, so I included as much information I thought was necessary to get my point across, including links to studies and other recognizable websites that support the things I state below. Take your time reading it. Break it up. Read it in parts. Whatever works for you. I hope you enjoy it, and i hope it inspires you to make some changes for the better.
Switch refined white sugar for a natural sweetener like maple syrup, coconut sugar, coconut nectar, or honey
Refined white sugar is not your friend.
Refined white sugar, also known as table sugar, goes through a process of heavy refinement with chemicals in order to remove impurities and molasses which naturally gives sugar a brownish/golden color - the end result is the pure white sugar we're all accustomed to.
Even though the FDA states that the chemicals used in this heavy refinement process are "safe", that fact alone was one of the reasons why I quit refined white sugar five years ago and never looked back.
Refined white sugar has virtually no nutritional value and provides zero nutritional benefit. It is an empty food! As a matter of fact, it is quite detrimental to your health.
Excessive consumption of refined white sugar (and let's be real, we excessively consume white sugar) has been linked to diabetes, obesity, and even some cancers.
I copied this tidbit straight off of Mayoclinic.org:
"There is some evidence that consuming large amounts of sugar is associated with an increased risk of certain cancers, including esophageal cancer. Eating too much sugar can also lead to weight gain and increase the risk of obesity and diabetes, which may increase the risk of cancer."
It can also affect your mental health. Researchers in London found a link between the consumption of sugar-laden processed foods and depression. And another study found that sugar is actually more addictive than cocaine!!! I mean, I feel like we pretty much knew that one already.
The better choice:
You do not have to go completely sugar free. Not only is that extremely hard to do, but it is also unsustainable. We want to form healthy habits that we are going to be able to keep long term.
Instead choose BETTER natural sweeteners. Natural sweeteners are usually less processed, if at all, and contain many beneficial nutrients like vitamins and minerals, unlike white table sugar.
Some of my favorites, in no particular order are:
- maple syrup
- maple sugar
- coconut sugar
- coconut nectar
- agave (use in moderation because lots of controversy on this one)
- stevia (preferably the actual green leaf)
If you want to learn more about each individual natural sweetener I have listed about, you might want to also read this post I wrote where I rank the top six natural alternatives to white sugar.
Switch refined industrial seed and vegetable oils like soybean, canola, corn and palm oil for unrefined cold-pressed varieties like coconut oil, extra virgin olive oil, and avocado oil.
The most commonly used oils in processed foods in the United States are soybean, canola, corn, and palm oil. The reason being that these oils are cheap to produce. But that comes at a cost (no pun intended) to our health.
These oils are known as RBD oils - they are refined, bleached, and deoderized in order to extract the oil from the plant. The problem is that this "RBD" process involves a chemical solvent (no surprise there), usually hexane, to extract the oil from the seed.
There is a possibility that some residual solvent is left behind in the end-product, and even though research claims that it is safe I'd much rather just stick to oils that are cold-pressed and unrefined meaning there are no chemicals used to extract the oil from the plant.
These vegetable oils have also been linked to inflammation, obesity, diabetes, fatty liver disease, heart disease, cancer and certain neurological conditions.
For example, new research is showing a link between soybean oil consumption and genetic changes in the brain of mice. Of course, mice aren't humans, but it is something worth thinking about.
This could all be due to the fact these these industrialized oils are way too rich in Omega-6's throwing off our balance of a perfect omega 6 to omega 3 ratio.
The better choice:
Coconut oil, Extra Virgin Olive Oil, and avocado oil are types of oils that are good for you. Always look for the words unrefined, cold-pressed, or virgin on the bottle which indicates that the oil is not extracted using chemicals.
Of course, these oils come with a higher price tag than the heavily refined oils but the way I like to think of it is... it is much cheaper in the long run to stay healthy than it is to live a life with chronic illness. Hospital bills, doctor's appointments, and pills ain't cheap!
Switch cow's milk for a plant-based alternative such as almond milk, coconut milk, or oat milk.
This one might come as a shock to you but indeed, I do believe that cow's milk is not as healthy as we've been made to think.
For starters, dairy cows are loaded with antibiotics and artificial growth hormones (to increase milk production) ... that then end up inside your body when you consume cow's milk. There isn't enough research yet to tell us what the long-term effects will be from this.
Excessive consumption of cow's milk could potentially be linked to certain cancers, like prostate cancer in men, and possibly ovarian cancer in women due to excessive calcium intake from dairy.
It has also been linked to acne, increased bone fractures in women (surprising right? Weren't we taught to drink milk for strong bones?!), and gastrointestinal issues as well.
Harvard's School of Public Health and Medicine even goes as far as recommending that people limit their milk and dairy intake to one to two servings per day, and that "less than that is fine", as long as you get your calcium elsewhere - because calcium IS important, but it doesn't have to come from milk.
Now please note, you might be thinking, "well I'm good, I only drink one glass of milk a day" .. which is fine, however, most processed and pre-packaged foods contain dairy in their ingredients and it adds up.. so keep an eye out on your ingredient lists as well for hidden diary.
Some non-dairy calcium rich foods include:
- green leafy vegetables
Also, make sure to supplement with Vitamin D and get outside to get some sun so that your body can produce enough natural vitamin D as well.
Cow's milk has vitamin D added to it, so if you're not drinking cow's milk you want to make sure you're getting this essential nutrient elsewhere.
If you do choose to drink cow's milk, it's best to choose organic milk from grass-fed cows that are free of antibiotics and growth hormones. Pay attention to your labels!
The better choice:
Some delicious non-dairy plant-based alternative milks include:
- almond milk
- cashew milk
- oat milk
- hemp milk
- coconut milk
I love making my own almond milk at home, it's so easy.. all you need is a blender and a nut milk bag and you can make delicious creamy fresh almond milk right at home.
Cashew milk is also another great plant-based milk that you can make at home using only a blender, no nut milk bag necessary, and it works great as a coffee creamer!
Switch refined wheat flour for ancient grains like spelt OR gluten-free flours like almond, coconut, tapioca flour and others.
The thing with wheat is that, the wheat we grow today in the United States is very different than what our ancestors use to enjoy.
Our wheat today is lacking in many nutrients and minerals because of refinement processes in place to increase crop production and reduce cost.
Mono-crop farming (meaning that only one type of food is grown in a specific field) leads to soil that is not diverse and lacks important nutrients and minerals, leading to crops that also lack these nutrients.
Then there's the issue of the use of glyphosate (round up) as an herbicide on wheat crops. Residual glyphosate has been found on wheat flour and end-products, and then this is ingested by humans.
A non profit organization called the Environmental Working Group (EWG) tested 12 wheat based products, including cereals and pastas, and found that glyphosate was detected on ALL 12 samples! I don't know about you, but round-up in my breakfast cereal does NOT sound appetizing.
And then of course, there's the problem with gluten. Gluten-free foods have become all the rage in recent years, and although some people argue that only those with Celiac disease or an intolerance to gluten should avoid gluten-containing-foods, there are other who believe everyone should eliminate or drastically reduce gluten-consumption.
The most obvious signs of gluten-intolerance is gastrointestinal distress, but there are other less obvious signs that can go undiagnosed like headaches, fatigue, brain fog, and joint pain.
The better choice:
If gluten is not an issue for you, and you can tolerate it well without any side effects then consider opting for organic ancient grain flours. Spelt is my favorite ancient grain. I make these delicious yeast-free pita breads using spelt flour that will blow your mind.
For gluten-free alternatives some of my favorites include:
- almond flour
- coconut flour
- tapioca flour
- cassava flour
I always have these four flours on hand for a variety of different recipes including these chocolate chip banana chunky vegan cookies, cassava flour vegan paleo banana bread, cassava flour paleo tortillas, and more.
Switch out refined white salt for pink Himalayan salt
Refined white table salt is heavily processed to remove impurities. It is also bleached to get that white color we're all familiar with. It also contains additives to prevent clumping.
By the time white table salt reaches your table, it has been stripped of most of its minerals and nutrients.
The better choice:
A much better alternative is pink Himalayan salt, which is extracted by hand, and left alone in its most natural state.
It is believed that Himalayan pink salt contains up to 84 minerals. In one study, where they compared pink Himalayan salt to regular white table salt the results showed that pink Himalayan salt had more calcium, potassium, magnesium, and iron (which gives it the pretty pink color).
Switch out sugary soda for water, teas, kombucha and other natural carbonated beverages
Honestly, this one is a no-brainer.
We all know soda is not good for you. It is literally water, high fructose corn syrup, and artificial colors and flavorings. It is void of any nutrition whatsoever – it literally has no vitamins, minerals, nor fiber – nothing!
It is literally sugar and water with a few other things added to it. and filled with toxic chemicals. It has also strongly been linked to weight gain, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease.
If you only ditch one item off this list – I'd start with ditching soda.
And yes, you CAN do it. I believe in you!
I was a coke zero addict for years. I use to drink 2 to 3 cans a day easily! But in 2015, after learning about ingredients and the detrimental effects soda had on my body, I quit.
It's been almost six years now and I've never drank another can of coke. Or pepsi, or sprite or any soda for that matter. You can do it. Trust me. Trust yourself.
And no, diet sodas are not better. If anything, they are worse because most of them contain artificial sweeteners which have been linked to certain diseases.
The FDA has labeled these artificial sweeteners as “safe” but it bases that assumption off of studies that use way smaller amounts of soda consumption compared to what the average individual drinks in a day. We really don't know what effect these chemicals have in our bodies with increased and long-term consumption.
We are the experimental trials. I'd rather play it safe and just avoid them altogether.
the better choice:
Increase your water intake. Thirsty? Grab some water. I know, it's probably not what you want to hear but water is so good for all of the cells in your body and your organs. Do yourself a favor and drink more water.
But also, you can try teas. Lately I've been on a chamomile tea kick. I love brewing it the night before and letting it sit in the fridge so that it's nice and cold the next day - so refreshing.
Hibiscus tea is also delicious. Add a little bit of lemon and a drop or two of maple syrup and you've got yourself a super tasty and refreshing drink on hand.
Kombucha and sparkling probiotics drinks, like Kevita, also hit the spot and are super good for you and your gut.
Flavored sparkling waters are also great - but pay attention to the ingredients and make sure you are choosing a brand that uses real natural foods for flavoring, not artificial chemicals. I believe Trader Joes has some good organic sparkling waters on hand.
If you're really really into carbonated drinks, you can even buy your own soda stream or something like it, so that you can make your own naturally flavored bubbly drinks at home. I use this with teas and it's pretty tasty!
Last but not least, you can try out Zevia which in my opinion is the best tasting natural and clean "soda" out in the market. This brand uses natural straightforward ingredients, no added food coloring, and it is sweetened with stevia.
Switch out store-bought coffee creamers for healthier homemade alternatives
I just quickly googled the ingredients of one of the most popular coffee creamer brands out there (rhymes with toffee-nate) and this is what you are putting in your cup of joe every time you use that..
SUGAR: Most likely white refined sugar or high fructose corn syrup from gmo corn. I've already said enough about sugar so you can revisit #1 up above.
SOYBEAN AND/OR CANOLA OIL: Both of these are industrialized refined oils which I have already spoken about as well. See #2.
NATURAL AND ARTIFICIAL FLAVORS: When you see these words in ingredient lists, most of the time these “flavors” are chemically derived. Even if it has the word “natural” in it, the process used to derive those “natural” flavors usually involves some sort of chemical.
the better choice:
Make your own coffee creamer at home! I make an insanely delicious cashew-based coffee creamer that only requires a blender and five ingredients - cashews, water, dates, vanilla, and cinnamon! I promise you, you won't want to go back to storebought.
If you can't tolerate cashews you can also try making homemade almond milk, just use a little less water to make it thicker/creamier for coffee. Canned coconut milk is also a great alternative.
Switch out pancake syrup for a natural sweetener instead
Just like soda, pancake syrup is loaded with high fructose corn syrup. When you drench your beautiful Saturday morning healthy pancakes in Aunt J's pancake syrup, what you are doing is pouring pure sugar, with a little bit of water, and some artificial caramel color all over those pancakes. Not so healthy anymore.
the better choice:
Instead of pancake syrup, try using a natural sweetener like maple syrup, coconut nectar, a bit of agave or even make your own date-sweetened pancake caramel sauce.
Switch out unhealthy chips like Doritos and Cheetos for healthier, less processed options.
Most chips available on the shelves today are made using a gazillion ingredients. Seriously, grab a bag of chips and read the ingredient list. It is usually more than 10 and most of them you cannot even pronounce correctly.
Where is the real food!? It's not listed – because these chips are not made up of real food, that's why.
Traditional chips are also usually made with industrialized vegetable oils – you know those inflammatory oils we talked about a little earlier – because soy and canola oil is cheaper than extra virgin olive oil. These chips also contain artificial flavors and preservatives.
the better choice:
You can still enjoy store-bought chips, just pay attention to the ingredients. Now a days there are a ton of healthier options on the market. Look for brands that have simple and straightforward ingredients that sound like real food. Choose chips that don't have added sugars, and if they do, opt for ones that use natural sweeteners instead of high fructose corn syrup.
Some of my favorite store-bought chips lately are these Banana brand plantain chips (which literally only have THREE ingredients - plantains, coconut oil and salt!) and these Lesser Evil Cheezy Paleo Puffs (they taste like cheetoh puffs but much healthier for you)!
Switch out store-bought desserts and sweets for healthier homemade versions.
I feel like I'm cheating with this one because it's not one specific food item that I'm recommending you swap out, but it's more of a general recommendation.
Whenever possible, ditch store-bought sweets and desserts (unless you can find a really clean one) and opt to make your own at home.
Ice creams, cookies, cakes, donuts, and cupcakes are all easily done at home with many of the clean whole food ingredients that I've mentioned in this post.
The store-bought stuff like twinkies and snickers, are loaded with sugars, preservatives, refined oils, and artificial ingredients.
Once you get used to making sweet desserts at home, you'll never go back to store-bought. The best part is you can eat these homemade goodies guilt-free because they're usually good for you and not toxic like the stuff in the stores.
So there you have it.
My TOP TEN healthy food swaps you should implement as soon as you can, little by little, for better health.
You don't have to do it all at once.
I know it can be overwhelming.
Small steps towards the bigger goal is always a sure way to be successful.
I believe in you!!!
Until next time,
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with love + gratitude,
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