14 Healthier Food Swaps for Every Meal of the Day from 14 Healthier Food Swaps for Every Meal of the Day

14 Healthier Food Swaps for Every Meal of the Day

No matter what your goal is — whether you’re aiming to lose weight, boost your athletic performance or simply improve your overall health — you might find, like many people do, that improving your eating habits is one of the most difficult parts of the process. There are several different reasons why many find changing their diet is a challenge, but mostly what it boils down to is the fact that we’re only human. In other words, changing any type of habit, including the way we eat, simply isn’t easy to do.

For this reason, when it comes to building healthier eating habits, so many experts recommend approaching the process one small step at a time. Instead of clearing out your entire kitchen and declaring you’ll eat nothing but salad from this day forward, it’s more effective to progressively add nutritious foods into your meals, while at the same time, slowly phasing the less nutritious foods out. The former strategy usually leads to feelings of overwhelming frustration and deprivation, and ultimately a crash-and-burn type of failure, while the latter teaches us to embrace a balanced diet by reinforcing healthy eating habits that we can sustain over the long-term.

Billy Polson, a C.S.C.S. trainer and owner of DIAKADI Fitness Performance Facility in San Francisco, explains this idea in simple terms: “Making a few small changes in our daily diet can make a big difference in the long run,” he said.

Here, he shares some of his favorite “healthy food swaps,” providing suggestions for more nutritious and satisfying options for each meal of the day. In addition to maintaining a regular exercise routine, getting adequate amounts of sleep and effectively managing your stress, by including these healthier selections in your diet more regularly you’re sure to see more progress towards all your health and fitness goals. Just remember, plan to phase these swaps into your diet gradually, instead of trying to tackle all of them at once. 

Breakfast — Swap Out: Oatmeal or Any Type of Cereal

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“Although oatmeal and whole-grain cereals have great health benefits such as fiber and carbs that can boost your metabolism, these packaged foods are typically full of sugar which can make you gain weight and make you crash later on in the day,” Polson explains. 

Swap In: A morning meal with more protein and veggies.

Swap In: 1 or 2 Scrambled Eggs and a Homemade Green Smoothie 

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“Having one or two scrambled eggs in the morning will stave off hunger longer than oatmeal or cereal due to the high amount of protein,” says Polson. “Adding in a healthy green smoothie — which offers many more beneficial nutrients and antioxidants — is also a great alternative to high-fiber foods like oatmeal. Green smoothies also keep you hydrated due to the high amount of water found in the fruits and vegetables.” 

AM Snack — Swap Out: Any Pre-Packaged and Processed Protein Bar

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“Protein bars are great for lean muscle building, but when you're in a rush and need some energy to get you through the day, you should avoid them,” Polson suggests. “Consuming too much whey protein is known to cause liver damage and dehydration.” Not to mention, many packaged protein bars are also filled with excessive amounts of added sugar.

Swap In: A whole foods snack with more protein and nutrients.

Swap In: Pasture-Raised Boiled Eggs, Fresh Fruit

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“This is the best protein bar there is,” says Polson. “Pasture-raised eggs and fruit make it easy to keep you satisfied. Try to shop local and organic for ultimate freshness and flavor.”

Hydration — Swap Out: Any Type of Diet Drink

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Drinking diet soda is a given no-no but due to the dangerous ‘zero-calorie’ psychological effect it often has on the mind, many tend to drink them on impulse,” says Polson.  

Swap In: A back-to-basics version of your favorite drink.

Swap In: Sparkling Water

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“Sparkling water and plain soda water are the best alternatives to any zero-calorie, carbonated drink,” says Polson. “By adding a squeeze of lemon or lime, this refreshing drink can trick your mind by curbing diet soda cravings.”

Lunch — Swap Out: 'Useless Lettuce' Salad and Fat-Free Dressings

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Polson recommends skipping light-colored lettuces like iceberg, butter and romaine. “A light-colored salad with chicken isn't necessarily bad to eat, but adding in processed, fat-free dressing will leave your body with a lack of nutrients and healthy fats, making this dish a poor choice,” he explains.

Swap In: Darker leaves and healthy toppings with more nutrients.

Swap In: Kale, Arugula or Spinach and Olive Oil-Based Dressing

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 “Dark, leafy greens offer more nutrients than lighter greens and are packed with vitamins A, C, E and K,” says Polson. “Also, keeping the salad dressing simple with a healthy fat, like olive oil and vinegar, will digest all fat-soluble vitamins in the greens. This will also bring out the rich flavor of your clean-source meat. For example, top the salad off with fresh, wild caught salmon or white fish and you'll notice that "fat-free" dressing is uncalled for.” 

PM Snack — Swap Out: Reduced-Fat/Baked Organic Corn Chips & Salsa/Guacamole

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“Guacamole and salsa are full of healthy fats and vitamins, but dipping the empty-calorie, processed chips into them will do your body no favors,” says Polson. “And the salt will most likely cause you to eat more than the recommended serving amount.”

Swap In: A veggie and creamy dip.

Swap In: Organic Carrot Sticks or 'Chips' with Hummus

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“Since carrots are packed with vitamin A, K, B and C and are low in calories, they make great alternative to tortilla chips,” Polson explains. “Dipping the carrots into any flavor of protein-rich hummus can help lower cholesterol and manage weight.” For a chip-like texture, Polson personally recommends trying “Bunny-Luv Organic Carrot Chips.” 

Dinner — Swap Out: Take-Out or Delivery Meals

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“This new trend of instant delivery is great for people who don't have the time or energy to cook, but you typically won't know what you're getting calorie-wise and ingredient-wise,” says Polson. “By eating out or getting take-out on a regular basis, you are losing the awareness of what foods you are consuming and where it comes from.”

Swap In: A nutritionally balanced, homemade meal.

Swap In: Clean-Source Meat, Seasonal Vegetables & 1 Serving of a Minimally Processed Starch

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 “Ask your local butcher for recommendations of fresh meat and choose fresh vegetables that are in season when shopping at the grocery store,” says Polson. “Adding in your favorite starch like a baked potato or quinoa makes this meal balanced, filling and rich in flavor.” Other nutritious starch sources include brown rice, sweet potatoes or bulgur.

Dessert — Swap Out: Reduced-Fat Ice Cream

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“Any ice cream labeled ‘fat-free,’ ‘reduced-fat’ or ‘sugar-free’ causes the exact same psychological effects as diet soda,” says Polson. “It is true that these labels have less calories than regular ice cream, but it is not a significant amount — about 25 percent less. However, research has shown that people who eat these foods eat significantly more than they would if it was regular ice cream, which can ultimately cause weight gain.”

Swap In: A protein-rich sweet treat.

Swap In: Low-Fat Plain Organic Greek Yogurt with Chopped Seasonal Organic Fruit

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“Plain, low-fat Greek yogurt is an exception to the ‘low-fat’ labeling rule since it provides so many health benefits compared to low-fat ice cream,” Polson explained. “Plain Greek yogurt is packed with protein which means it takes longer to digest and you’ll stay full, curbing late night cravings. The calcium in Greek yogurt is also very beneficial for bone health.” 

14 Healthier Food Swaps for Every Meal of the Day