10 Simple Food Swaps for Healthier Eating

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10 Simple Food Swaps for Healthier Eating

There’s so much more to food than calories—carbs, protein, fat, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and phytochemicals, all of which play important roles in our health. But it’s a well known fact our bodies only need a certain number of calories each day, therefore it’s important to get the most nutrients we can from the foods we eat. As a lover of everything from cheeseburgers burgers to kale salads, I’m always on the lookout for simple food swaps that give me more nutritional bang for my buck—whether that’s cutting calories, upping protein, or getting in some extra B-vitamins. To help you do the same, here are 10 of my favorite simple substitutions for healthier eating:

1. Instead of using butter in baked goods… Use avocado Avocados can increase the nutritional value of baked goods by contributing nearly 20 vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients, along with heart-healthy unsaturated fats. Avocados work particularly well in cookie, cake, and muffin recipes in one-to-one substitution for butter.

2. Instead of white rice… Use brown rice Milling and polishing brown rice to make it white removes most of the B-vitamins, magnesium, phosphorus, and iron, and all of the fiber. In addition to providing more nutrients, brown rice is slower to digest, which is better for your blood sugar.

3. Instead of traditional bread crumbs… Use Panko bread crumbs Panko varieties are crispier and contain less sodium and fewer calories. When pan-frying, these also seem to soak up less cooking oil than the traditional types.

4. Instead of sour cream… Use plain Greek yogurt Add a dollop to tacos and baked potatoes, or use it as a base for a creamy dip. Greek yogurt will provide the same creamy, tangy goodness with significantly more protein and less fat than sour cream.

5. Instead of potato chips… Choose vegetable chips Ounce-for-ounce, root vegetable chips have more fiber and vitamins than standard potato chips. Just keep in mind they provide about the same calories and fat so enjoy them in moderation.

6. Instead of croutons… Sprinkle roasted chickpeas on your salad Crutons add little more than empty carbs and calories to a bowl of greens, and packaged varieties typically contain additives, like preservatives and flavorings. Homemade roasted chickpeas are packed with protein and fiber, contain less fat and fewer calories, and are great to have on hand if you like a salad with crunch.

7. Instead of a hamburger bun… Use a 100% whole grain deli flat Also referred to as “deli thins”, these slim buns will give you the satisfaction of biting into a juicy burger with fewer calories and refined carbohydrates. If you can’t find them in the grocery store, you can make your own by slicing off some of the “fluff” from a standard burger bun.

8. Instead of a bagel… Grab a 100% whole wheat english muffin Or try two thin slices of pumpernickel toast. These alternatives mean fewer calories and refined carbs and more nutrients from whole grains. I highly recommend topping them with a pice of smoked salmon, a little cream cheese, and capers for a healthier version of bagels with lox.

9. Instead of milk chocolate… Have dark chocolate Touted for containing more health-boosting antioxidants, dark chocolate also has about half the sugar of it’s lighter counterpart, and it will still satisfy your sweet tooth.

10. Instead of granola and milk… Have plain yogurt topped with granola Crunchy and sweet, granola makes a better yogurt topping than cereal when you’re counting calories. Granola is typically made with honey, maple syrup, or other types of added sugar, and you’ll use less if you sprinkle it over yogurt. And compared moo-juice, yogurt contains 5 more grams of protein per cup, which will keep you satiated longer.


  • blossy

    I love those Deli flats; my husband has diabetes and the carbohydrate count is so much lower.

  • Akimajuktuq

    It would be really lovely if the nutritional experts at MFP could start dispelling food myths instead of continuing to perpetuate them.

    • firststeps

      I am fairly new to getting healthy Akimajuktuq, what myths is this article perpetuating? Thanks. 🙂

  • Dana

    What are your thoughts on Keifer?

    • Mel

      I like him in 24

    • KMB

      Very good for you. More good strains of bacteria for your digestive flora. I make smoothies with it and have one almost every day. 0% kefir 1C, 1C frozen raspberries, 1 small frozen banana =1 super delicious breakfast apx. 260 cal. I play with the ratios and sometimes add vanilla protein.

  • April Stevens

    For the avocado, does it alter the taste of the baked goods? I am assuming you would need to purée the avocado to match the consistency of butter??

    • lauire fre

      I was curiousc about that too?? I love avocado and they r so amazing for u. would love for my kids to eat!!

    • tlars699

      The article says 1:1 ratio, so i think it means by cups. 1/2 cup=1 stick of butter= 1/2 cup mashed avocado.

  • April Stevens

    Overall, I think they sound like okay swaps, that make sense….

  • lauire fre

    I love my fitness pal ideas without food shaming and incorporatING MODERATION without shunning entire food groups bc of some extreme health fad. THANK YOU FITNESS PAL FOR NOT BELIEVING ALL THE HYPE AND BEING SMART &SENSIBLE &! Thank you for smart moderate exercise tips as well! your articles are always balanced and I LOVE IT!

  • fatdoob

    ERR No

  • victoria

    Avocado are so rich they make my reflux unbearable. PUMPKIN PUREE in anything chocolate I think would be a better sub idk whats the ratio 1/2 of avocado = a stick?

  • Jaz

    Isn’t potato a vegetable? So…swap a vegetable chip for vegetable chips? And you’re never taking my white rice away from me, quick and delicious!

    • Lduck76

      Potatoes have more starch than fiber which makes them act more like a carb. Corn is also very starchy so my family treats corn, potatoes and rice as carbs….only one per meal….though we used to eat two at a time!!!

    • Ruth

      The root vegetables increase the fiber content.

  • volunteersusan

    Swap milk yogurt for soy yogurt.

  • Tracey

    I changed to skim milk, can’t tell the difference anymore. No milk shakes ever, frozen yogurt instead of ice cream when I have a really bad craving, but it is only about once every month or two. Use low fat cheeses too.

    • debi1977

      I switched to skim milk also and now I don’t like regular milk. Seems too thick to me now. Lol

      • ClassyPancakes

        I love skim milk just keep an eye on the sugar.

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  • jtwizz

    been using greek yogurt in place of sour cream for quite a long time… recently also started using it where i would normally use mayo, or at least do a a 1/2-1/2 substitution. i just this afternoon made tuna salad with 2parts yogurt to 1 part mayo and can hardly tell the difference!

    • Jeanine Coakley

      It was recommended to me to use hummus mixed with tuna I tried it mixed with red onions and tomatoes and I loved it Also have it on whole grain English Muffins

    • prof6457

      Yes! I used plain, non-fat yogurt with an Uncle Dan’s dressing mix for our sandwiches at a staff party…you can’t tell the difference-and it was a hit! Makes a great veggie dip as well…

  • Brenda

    I think these are great ideas! I’m a bit hesitant on trying avocado instead of butter, but it doesn’t hurt to try!

    • tlars699

      Alton Brown did an episode on it on Good Eats-its on Netflix now. You can also make avacado ice cream.

    • Susan Russell

      I make myself avocado sandwiches on very thin bread, with no butter. Salt and pepper to taste (if you’d like). Some of my friends add a bit of hummus to it, I don’t. It is an acquired taste, but I don’t think you’d be that disappointed minus the butter.

  • Susan Russell

    Sorry, but there are a couple of those “swaps” that won’t work for everyone. First, dark chocolate is far less sweet and far more bitter than it’s milk chocolate counterpart. People who do not like dark chocolate can instead limit their intake, rather than eating the dark stuff. Also substituting Greek Yogurt for sour cream is a no-go for a lot of people. Not everyone likes Greek yogurt, and I’m seeing my friends over indulge at every turn with “healthy” alternatives. Nothing is good when not practice in moderation.

    • debi1977

      I despise dark chocolate and Greek yogurt! Yuck! Lol

    • tlars699

      Why does greek yogurt have that powdery taste to it?!?! I cut sour cream in half with the yogurt, but plain yogurt doesn’t work- you get a completely different texture! Count me in for dark over milk chocolate though. The milk stuff is too soft/sweet.

      • Susan Russell

        I agree about the Greek Yogurt. I haven’t found a way to get that taste/texture out of it. I tried to substitute on a baked potato and nearly gagged

        • RightSensible

          There is a brand called greek gods that will have a similar taste and texture. The only problem is that this brand of yogurt tastes as great as it does because it is full fat.

          • Susan Russell

            Sorry I didn’t reply right away, and then completely forgot to. Thank you. I tried it, and you’re right. I liked it a lot better, but have to eat far less because of the fat content.

          • prof6457

            I do find that different brands can taste differently. I’m a fan of the Fred Meyer plain, non-fat Greek yogurt, and use it in everything from taco soup (and all things Mexican) to omelets and just had my oatmeal/coconut-almond milk/Greek yogurt and fruit in a mason jar this morning. Tangy, no funny (or powdery) taste, and weighs in at 140 calories and 24 gr of protein per cup. Eating well is about choices-and this is one ensures that I don’t miss sour cream!

  • Ravini

    I’ve started using lowfat kefir not only on cereal but in cooking too (replacing half of the buttermilk in pancakes, etc). Also great in smoothies. Many, many more probiotics than yoghurt and some people say kefir lifts your spirits, too. It’s particularly good after a workout with a shot of dark chocolate syrup or agave.

    • Kathy Derench

      Love kefir – my new favorite food!

  • Do you have a suggestion for chocolate for those of us who can’t take the bitterness of things like dark chocolate, coffee etc? And I would love a suggestion to replace vanilla cream in desserts and baked goods

  • Steven LaRue

    Agree and appreciate all of these except for replacing white rice with brown rice. The milling process removes much of the arsenic that is in brown rice, so even though white rice is missing many of the vitamins in brown rice, it is also missing some of the more harmful substances.