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10 Healthy Food Swaps That Aren’t Worth Your Time

by Greatist
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10 Healthy Food Swaps That Aren’t Worth Your Time

Whether a self-proclaimed health junkie or kitchen newbie, you’re likely familiar with the ever-popular food substitution trend. Swap sour cream for Greek yogurt; use almond milk instead of full-fat dairy milk; try turkey bacon instead of beef! Sound familiar?

As health becomes more of a hot topic, food swaps grow in popularity. In fact, nearly every health publication posts content with suggestions for healthier options to popular, high-calorie bites. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Being able to enjoy indulgent flavors without worrying about negative health consequences (like the dreaded ‘beetus) is awesome! Why not sub spaghetti squash for pasta when it cuts out a significant amount carbs and calories? Plus, it really doesn’t taste that different—especially when covered with a delicious pesto sauce.

But in the never-ending quest to make healthy eating more appealing, it also seems people are losing sight of what delicious really means—and what cheese really tastes like. So much so that some of these suggestions deserve false advertising warning labels. “May actually taste like cardboard” rice cakes or “Bring a change of pants” baked chips are two that come to mind.

This isn’t to say that all healthy substitutions are subpar (these 83 are actually pretty amazing!), but instead that a better approach may be embracing foods for their all-around deliciousness. After all, bacon has health benefits, as does practicing a well-balanced lifestyle that doesn’t expect perfection and leaves room for reward. So let’s ditch the guilt that’s often associated with eating and kiss those unworthy, bland swaps goodbye.

Here are some of the worst offenders, and some seriously delicious solutions for those who really want to kick up their health a notch.

Healthy Swap Hilarity

Lemon Juice Instead of Salad Dressing

There are several ways to make a healthy and delicious salad dressing that don’t involve a single splash of lemon juice. Sure, using lemon juice as part of the salad dressing is a great idea, but don’t forget to whisk in the heart-healthy extra-virgin olive oil, red wine vinegar, diced shallots, Dijon mustard, and a pinch of salt and pepper.

Low-Fat … Anything

A majority of the time, low-fat labels are a red flag. Why? Because the products that tout this usually remove fat and add sugar (or artificial sweeteners) in its place. This is neither tastier nor better for you. So anytime someone suggests opting for low-fat yogurt or cream cheese, feel free to respond, “Nope, gimme all the fats, thanks!” Or you can go the polite route of rattling all the various health benefits of fat. Plus, a little full-fat dairy goes a long way when it comes to flavor—the key is a little!

Nutritional Yeast Instead of Cheese

Did you know that the origins of cheese actually pre-dates recorded history? Think of all the centuries of cheese development and recipe perfecting that you’re negating by using nutritional yeast in its place! Sure, the yeast flecks are a great option for those who are vegan or lactose intolerant, but when you’re looking for creamy, dairy-filled goodness, it simply won’t do. Instead, mix cheese with grated cauliflower or butternut squash to cut down on the cheese volume but not the flavor.

Getting Warmer

Kale Chips for Potato Chips

This popular snack emerged during the peak of kale craze. They’re consumed like chips (i.e. eating the entire bag in one sitting is standard procedure) and they taste like chips too. But the light, almost-too-airy texture of cooked kale doesn’t quite feel the same as eating crunchy, carb-filled potatoes that are tossed in salt and often fried. And packaged kale chips can pack on the fat and calories with the addition cashew and sunflower seed flavoring. Luckily there are various potato chip substitutes that extend far beyond roasted greens. Our go-to homemade chip: salt and vinegar sweet potato chips.

Dried Fruit for Candy

Unless in a trail mix, dried fruit won’t cure a serious case of sweet tooth. Sure, it’s fruit, but packaged, compressed kinds often have added sugars galore, and it can be tough to stop at a small serving. (Consuming a full bag of dried mango can be a whooping 1,000 calories!) If a healthy sweet is what you’re after, try dark chocolate, baked apples, cookie dough Greek yogurt, or a nutrient-packed dessert option.

Mushrooms for Meat in Sauces

Mushrooms are awesome and a popular option for vegetarian eaters and meat lovers alike. But when you actually do eats the meats, suggesting a substitute that is anything but can sometimes feel like slap in the face—and not so satisfactory to your taste buds. So unless practicing Meatless Monday, opt for the real, meaty deal. Just choose healthier options like lean ground turkey instead of beef and chicken sausage instead of pork.

Apple Slices for Crackers

If you’re craving carb-rich cracker goodness, this is not the swap for you. Instead, try all-natural nut or rice crackers, which tend to be lighter and more nutritious. But if you’re looking for a healthier vehicle to get a cheese and nut butter fix, apple slices earn an A+. Their sweet, crispy bite is the perfect complement to creamy, rich dips.

OK, Fine…

Pureed Cauliflower for Mashed Potatoes

This is a thumbs-up substitution for the times you’re craving soul food but don’t want to suffer from inevitable post-meal bloating and discomfort. Plus, most recipes still call for goodies like cream, butter, and loads of garlic—making them just as drool-worthy as classic mashers. If hankering for carb-heavy options, try sweet potato or turnip mash.

Ground Turkey for Beef

In the game of ground meat, much of the flavor is created in the preparation process. And many preparations include a variety of spices and sauces that take the spotlight and mask even the meatiest of flavors. Burgers may be the exception to this rule, but it’s nothing a few creative condiments and toppings can’t solve.

Sweet Potato for White Potato

Just 10 years ago, sweet potatoes were still (mostly) associated with the overly sweet holiday side dish made with a crust of marshmallows—not exactly what one would classify as healthy. But more recently, these not-so-ordinary orange starches have emerged on the food scene as a delicious alternative for all kinds of traditionally white potato-based dishes, including French fries, loaded potatoes, potato chips, tots, potato pancakes, breakfast hash, and even gnocchi!

For seven more healthy swaps we’re not so sure about, click here.

About the Author


Greatist helps you find what’s good for you. Not like “eat your vegetables, they’re good for you.” More like “here are some choices you can realistically make, stick with, and feel really good about.” Because in the end, you don’t have to choose between being happy and being healthy; they’re really the same thing.




19 responses to “10 Healthy Food Swaps That Aren’t Worth Your Time”

  1. Avatar JJ says:

    But white potatoes are nutritious too

  2. Avatar Gossamer says:

    I don’t understand how lemon juice on a salad is bad. I dislike dressings as a general rule, but a bit of lemon juice… mm, mm, delicious!

    • Avatar Jen says:

      they aren’t saying it’s bad, just not necessary to limit yourself to just lemon juice. if you like it better, then go for it!

      • Avatar Gedrick Lee says:

        Having the self control to not just go for it all the time is kind of important when it comes to maintaining or creating a new healthy lifestyle.

        “Hey, do you feel like a double deep-fried rolled up pizza? Then just go for it!”

        Or you could, you know, have some discipline.

  3. Avatar Too legit to quit says:

    As someone who is trying to work towards a macronutrient split of 50% carbs, 30% protein, and 20% fat, I am still going to opt for the low fat/ zero fat cottage cheese and greek yogurt as well as stick to my skim milk. Okay I guess just when it comes to dairy products. Haven’t given it much thought for other food groups though.

    • Avatar Paul Stefanini says:

      That’s my split too. Lost 60 pounds so far and I OCCASIONALLY opt for ‘lite’ or lower fat items.

  4. Avatar protisystem says:

    Superb dish! I like it.Its takes very less time and low calorie food.It is good for health.Thanks for sharing.

  5. Avatar Mo says:

    Pureed Cauliflower is great and all to swap for mashed potatoes to avoid the calories, but it is extremely bloating. In fact, cauliflower is often recommended to avoidwhen you want to avoid stomach bloat.

    I prefer mashed sweet potato or even mashed or roasted red potatoes!

  6. Avatar Red says:

    I have no clue where the idea that mashed cauliflower is a substitute for mashed potatoes came from. The only thing mashed cauliflower is a substitute for is some other kind of cooked cauliflower. No similarity to potatoes. Extremely bloating and the fats tend ride the surface giving them a greasy mouthfeel.

  7. Avatar elizablair says:

    I have trouble taking nutrition advice from a blog that uses the term “the dreaded ‘beetus.” It’s both rude and unnecessary. Despite what pop culture will lead you to believe, diabetes isn’t all that funny to people who have it or have loved ones with it. It’s a serious chronic illness that can come with scary complications. Next time please consider skipping this particular joke. It did not add anything to the blog and frankly it’s just not that funny.

    • Avatar Gedrick Lee says:

      I agree. People who eat themselves into oblivion and then want sympathy for getting diabetes isn’t funny. Because we all have to pay more in healthcare to support them.

  8. Avatar Veggie Skeptic says:

    This blog post is full of excuses.

    Sometimes you have to push through unfamiliarity. I agree with a few examples (“low fat food”), but you shouldn’t replace meat because it doesn’t taste exactly like meat? Dont use nutritional yeast because cheese making is a very old art and it won’t taste exactly the same? Don’t bother with kale chips because it’s a fad and it’s not potatoes?

    What about building a healthier palate and having some discipline? You don’t need to be perfect, but damn is this an overly permission- giving post.

  9. Avatar Paul Stefanini says:

    Stupid excuse of an article seems bent on giving you excuses to not eat things that are actually healthy because what…? It’s not as ‘easy’? Microwave a burrito if you can’t be bothered to this level. Damn.

  10. Avatar Plantgirl says:

    In the first paragraph—-Bacon is not made from beef—-Seriously!

  11. Avatar Real Food says:

    Worst article I’ve ever read on here.

  12. Avatar Malice in Wonderland Productio says:

    Pretty sure it should say “turkey bacon instead of pork” in the first paragraph. Bacon is made of pork, not beef!

  13. Avatar Candy says:

    I think this is a good article – it’s not telling you NOT to eat the alternatives, it’s merely telling you that some of the alternatives people go on and on about aren’t actually any better than what you were eating to start with. Many foods that say 50% less fat etc, are misleading. You need to use an app like My Fitness Pal where you can input everything you eat (bad good or just boring foods) and then you can look at the numbers and you’ll be surprised at how high in fat some supposedly healthier options are. I find that is a better way to limit fat intake and salt and sugar too.
    Be a conscious eater, not an unconscious one – have a Coke if you want one, but take ownership of that decision and make sure you have a balanced diet 90% of the time.
    And FYI, many of these fad, so called healthier foods are way more expensive than just eating the regular foods you liked – so just eat in moderation people, and if you know you cannot do that, then don’t bring your trigger foods into the house at all!

  14. Avatar Bethany Larson says:

    Wow, I’ve never bashed an article before, but I’ve never been quite so unimpressed with one either. Having studied nutrition, I am almost embarrassed to have read this, and worried for those who think this advice is anything worth heeding.

    There’s absolutely nothing wrong with dried fruit. Whoever heard of someone saying fruit was bad for you?! And not substituting mushrooms for meat? So much of the research nowadays is saying to eat less meat and to consume low fat dairy products–animal fat is not good for you! And if you don’t like mushrooms, pick another vegetable! There’s so many out there to choose from!

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