Healthy Food Substitutions

If you vowed to eat healthier this year but are experiencing some dread because you have a tough time sticking to boring diet plans that leave you hungry, we've got great news for you! You really can improve your diet while loving the foods you eat.

fresh made peanut butter

Instead of giving your entire diet an overhaul, which can leave a bad taste in your mouth, choose a few key ingredients you eat every day and swap them with healthier, but just as delicious, options. Not only will you be satisfied with your diet, you'll be motivated to try even more better-for-you eating substitutions. Here are six of our favorite healthy food swaps.

Savor dark chocolate instead of empty-calorie desserts

Why waste your calories on vending machine candy bars or that habit-forming bowl of cheap candy at the office? Give yourself a healthy indulgence that delectably melts on your tongue while also delivering a yummy dose of antioxidants and reducing your risk of heart disease. Dark chocolate is a source of monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs), which have been shown to lower bad cholesterol, prevent hardening of the arteries, reduce rates of Type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome, lower body weight and reduce belly fat. Reach for a square of dark chocolate that is at least 85 percent cocoa, take small nibbles, and eat slowly.

Whittle your waist with quinoa instead of white rice

White rice may cook significantly quicker than brown rice, but the refined grain offers little more than calories. We're not going to ask you to spend an extra 30 minutes in the kitchen waiting for brown rice to steam. Instead, we recommend swapping in quinoa, a high-protein supergrain that cooks in 10 to 12 minutes. (That's even faster than white rice!) Quinoa is not only a tasty source of fiber, vitamins and minerals, it is gluten-free and ultra-versatile in the kitchen. Add quinoa to your "rice" pudding, serve it as a side dish and stir it into soups.

Go for Greek yogurt for your dairy cravings

Does your fridge have a shelf dedicated to yogurt for your breakfast and snack needs? Good for you! Yogurt is an excellent source of protein, calcium and probiotics. Many flavored yogurts, however, are teeming with sugar and artificial ingredients. Next time you stock up on your dairy treat, swap in plain Greek yogurt, which is even higher in protein and keeps you feeling full longer. For satisfying sweetness, add honey, fresh fruit or preserves. Plain Greek yogurt is also a fab substitution for sour cream.

Reach for convenient lean protein instead of deli meats

Packaged deli meat is a fast grab for lunch, but it is also loaded with sodium and other preservatives. Many types of deli-style meats are even made with sugar. Finding healthier options for your sandwiches doesn't mean spending hours in the kitchen roasting your own chickens, roasts and hams, it simply requires thinking outside the package. Swap out deli meats and swap in hard-cooked eggs, canned tuna, rotisserie chicken, mashed canned beans and tofu. Though these healthier choices take a few extra minutes for prep, you'll be bolstering your diet with fresher, more natural ingredients.

Slather on freshly ground nut butters instead of shelf-stable nut butters

Peanut butter, almond butter and other nut butters are a creamy, dreamy source of protein, healthy fats and fiber, but not all nut butters are created equally. Check out the jar of peanut butter in your pantry -- unless it is labeled "natural," there is a great chance the ingredients include hydrogenated vegetable oils. Hydrogenated fats are associated with high cholesterol and heart disease. A better option for your PB&Js and other nut-butter needs is freshly ground nut butters. Many health food markets have machines that allow you to grind your own peanut butter and almond butter, and you can use your handy-dandy food processor to make homemade nut butters with the nuts you have on hand. Fresh nut butters may be more perishable than their shelf-stable counterparts, but they are a truly natural and healthier swap.

Have fun with phyllo instead of pastry

Though phyllo (filo) has a high-fat rep because it is used for buttery, sweet baklava, the paper-thin sheets are actually fat-free and a healthy substitution for pie crust or puff pastry for many recipes. When whipping up mini-quiche as an appetizer, try ready-to-use phyllo cups (available in the freezer aisle). Top chicken pot pie or crust-topped casseroles with sheets of phyllo brushed modestly with extra-virgin olive oil or melted butter. Make sweet or savory "turnovers" by wrapping your favorite ingredients in phyllo and baking until crisp and golden. Once you get the hang of cooking with phyllo, you'll be eager to find many more uses for this versatile ingredient.

Read more:

5 Ways to increase antioxidants this year
Food label lingo: What you need to know
New year, new food: Healthy foods you haven't tried

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