Sometimes the hardest part of eating healthier is letting go of the things you love. Or feeling like you have to throw away everything in your kitchen and will be left with nothing to eat but some leaves and ice cubes. Yaaaay!
If that’s how you feel about eating healthy, then either you’ve tried to take on too much at once, and/or you haven’t been given enough “healthy food swaps” to replace those cravings with something else.
I’m all about food swaps, but I think it’s important to start with the most painless, easy swaps at first. The ones you’ll barely notice and that will help you set up a strong foundation. Below is a starter list of swaps that make a huge impact, but cause far less pain and deprivation to begin with.
This is also how I got started on my healthy eating journey, until eventually this became my new normal!
Beginner’s Swap List
Item: commercial bread i.e. white bread, brown bread, multigrain bread (Dempster’s, Country Harvest, Wonder Bread)
Swap it with: 100% whole grain, organic, sprouted bread (Ezekiel), gluten-free bread (Silver Hills, Little Stream, The Essential Baking Company)
Commercial bread is mostly fluffy goodness; the grains have been refined to a point where little nutrition or fibre is left. Fluffy goodness = simple carbs = blood sugar spike which leads to weight gain, energy crash, cravings and hormonal imbalances.
- Brown bread is just white bread with a fake tan. Some caramel colour is added in to make it look healthier.
- Commercial bread has a laundry list of ingredients including added sugar. Bread should have around 5-6 ingredients.
- “Multigrain” bread or “whole grain bread” typically has some whole grains added in. It could be only 2% out of the entire loaf but touted as “made with whole grains”. If it’s not 100%, don’t buy it.
- Grains contain lectins and phytates which are difficult to digest and block nutrient absorption. Sprouted bread reduces this problem.
- Gluten is the protein in bread and means “glue” in latin. It is a sticky substance that leads to inflammation and also blocks nutrient absorption. Opt for gluten-free bread where possible.
Item: vegetable oil, canola oil, safflower oil, corn oil, sunflower oil
Swap it with: coconut oil, olive oil, avocado oil, ghee, butter
Vegetable oils are polyunsaturated fats, meaning they are fragile and very sensitive to heat and light. When you use them for cooking, they become rancid and damage your health, especially the arteries. This is why saturated fats (coconut oil, ghee, butter) or monounsaturated fats (avocado oil, olive oil) are much better for cooking. They are stable at high temperatures and will not become rancid.
Plus, vegetable oils in themselves are extremely refined and cut with solvents, bleach and chemicals in order to get to the final product. You just don’t want them in your body.
Swap it with: grass-fed butter
Margarine was first introduced in the late 1800s as an alternative to butter because it could last longer on shelves, was cheaper to make and could spread more easily. What’s it made out of you ask? Vegetable oils – the same rancid, deodorized, bleached variety I mentioned above. Here’s a flow chart I love that shows exactly how its made. Did you see it? Grossed out? Fantastic.
Butter on the other hand, is an amazing health food high in Vitamins A, D, E, K, B12 and CLA. Yes, it’s a saturated fat (but we’ve dispelled this myth by now correct?) and it plays an important role in brain health, immune health, weight management just to name a few.
When it comes to grass-fed vs grain-fed, the latter is higher in nutrients such as Omega-3, Vitamin K2 and CLA, which has anti-cancer properties. If you’re in Ontario, look for the Rolling Meadows brand.
Swap it with: non-dairy milk e.g. cashew, almond, hemp, coconut
Most of us stop producing the enzyme, lactase, to break down milk sugar (lactose) between the ages of 2-5. This is why so many people are lactose intolerant and find that milk causes bloating, indigestion, and skin issues.
- We don’t need milk for calcium. Ever wonder where cows get their calcium? From eating grass, which is why their milk has a lot of it. Just eat your dark leafy greens and you’ll be fine, I promise.
- Cows are milked when they’re pregnant, which means they have high levels of estrogen at this time. Estrogen makes things (like babies) grow. High estrogen in the diet causes things (like acne and tumours) to grow. We already have way too much entering our bloodstream.
- Grocery store milk is pasteurized (killing off all beneficial enzymes) and stripped of fat (needed to absorb fat-soluble Vitamins A and D)
Item: table salt
Swap it with: Himalayan pink salt, rock salt or celtic sea salt
While the sodium content is pretty similar between these two swaps, the key difference is that you actually receive trace minerals from the latter. For example, there are over 80 different trace minerals in Himalayan pink salt that help with electrolyte balance, circulation, metabolism, nerve function etc.
Item: white sugar
Swap it with: coconut sugar, maple syrup, raw honey
Item: pasteurized honey
Swap it with: raw honey
Raw honey is unprocessed, unheated and unpasteurized which means that it preserves all its vitamins, nutrients, enzymes and antimicrobial properties. While the sugar content between pasteurized and unpasteurized is the same, you can only get the health benefits in the raw variety e.g. sleep aid, alleviate sore throats, improve digestion, seasonal allergy relief etc.
Item: fruit juice
Swap it with: veggie juice or smoothie
Fruit juice is just sugar water. Seriously. Read a Tropicana label and you’ll see 42g (or 10 teaspoons) of sugar in a single serving bottle. If you have a craving for a sweet juice, opt for a fresh vegetable juice or smoothie that has a small amount of fruit mixed in. If you have a juicer at home, a good starter mix is carrots and beets, as both are on the sweeter side and will help you get over the fruit juice craving.
Item: fruit yogurt
Swap it with: plain yogurt topped or blended with fruit
Fruit yogurt is ridiculously high in sugar. A small serving can be a whopping 21g of sugar (or 5 teaspoons). If you miss it, simply top your plain yogurt with fruit, or better yet, blend it into the yogurt at home!
Once you’ve mastered this list, try your hand at more simple swaps included in my free eBook, “The Beginner’s Guide to Meal Prep“.