Yellow kiwi instead of an orange
While traditional, green kiwis, are high in fiber and rich in potassium and vitamin C, the yellow or SunGold kiwi, a smart food swap, has three times more vitamin C than an orange and a smooth, not fuzzy, skin that you can eat, which provides even more fiber. Yellow kiwis also help you relax because they contain serotonin, your body's natural "chill pill," explains Rebecca Scritchfield, RDN, and author of Body Kindness. "At night before bed, it's better to reach for a kiwi instead of a cookie—it is a light snack that will help you feel calm." Kiwis are also low in calories—just 90 calories in two kiwis.
Monk fruit extract instead of sugar or sweetener
"You don't have to go to extremes and give up added sugar," says Scritchfield. "Have ice cream on a summer day and enjoy cake at a birthday party, but if you are worried about eating too much sugar, you can limit your intake by sweetening your beverages or cereal with monk fruit extract instead of the real thing. Cultivated in the mountains of southern China, the small melon produces a juice concentrate that is 20 times sweeter than other juices and its extract can be made into a concentrated powder that is up to 200 times sweeter than sugar with just two calories per teaspoon. "The sweet taste in this fruit comes from antioxidants called mogrosides," says Ginger Hultin, RDN and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Monk fruit is a natural alternative to sugar and is already being used in products such as Chobani yogurt and in Lakanto chocolate bars. It's important to keep an eye out for products that use added sweeteners such as dextrose, which has calories, says Hultin, and inulin and sugar alcohols such as erythritol, which can cause stomach upset.
Golden pea milk instead of non-dairy milk
Coconut, almond, soy, and hemp milks are all dairy-free food swaps to the real thing—cow's milk. While they serve as good alternatives for those who are lactose intolerant, have allergies, or just prefer to avoid dairy, they lack the protein found in cow's milk, explains Grace Derocha, RD, at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan. A new dairy-free alternative, made from golden peas, delivers eight grams of protein per serving, the same as dairy milk. "It tastes like any other milk substitute, but is a little thicker," says Derocha. "It's great in smoothies or in cereal and after a workout because it has protein." Golden pea milk also is free of soy, nuts, and gluten, has less sugar than dairy milk, and is high in DHA omega-3s from algal oil, a vegetarian oil sourced from algae which research has shown to have benefits over krill oil.
Matcha instead of green tea
Green tea is loaded with antioxidants and polyphenols that can provide many health benefits such as lowering cholesterol, reducing the risk of stroke and diabetes, and improving memory. Matcha, a powder made from green tea leaves, is even more potent and is one of the best food swaps you can do. Matcha is made from pulverized tea leaves, so you get about 30 times the amount of antioxidants that you would get in green tea, says Derocha. "It has a naturally sweet flavor on its own so it's great for adding to smoothies, to golden tea milk, or to add sweetness in baked goods." Matcha's caffeine content is higher than green tea, but comparable to a cup of coffee.
Sweet potato slices instead of toast
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Sweet potatoes are rich in the antioxidant beta-carotene, vitamin C, magnesium, B complex vitamins, iron, and phosphorous, and research shows that all of these nutrients contribute to health benefits for your body such as reducing your risk of cancer and helping to reduce inflammation and to lower blood pressure and cholesterol. "Sweet potatoes are a good source of healthy carbs and fiber," says Derocha. She recommends cutting them into thin slices and putting them in the toaster oven or toaster until they are brown and crunchy like a chip. "You can top them with peanut butter or avocado. They are also a great way to get your kids to eat their vegetables—kids love them."
Roasted chickpeas instead of veggie chips
A good source of protein, fiber, and carbohydrates, chickpeas (also called garbanzo beans) can be drizzled with olive oil and baked into a crunchy snack. "Rinse and drain them and let them sit awhile to get the moisture out—that helps them get crunchy when baked," says Derocha. Chickpeas can be seasoned with salt and pepper or ingredients that mimic popular chip flavors—such as salt and vinegar, barbecue, or maple cinnamon. "The chickpea is a legume so it is a well-rounded food that offers carbs, protein, and heart healthy fat," says Derocha. Chickpeas are also high in fiber, which means they can aid in weight loss by helping to satiate your appetite and keep blood sugar levels under control. Plus, it's probably best to remove vegetable chips from your diet either way.
Mushroom jerky instead of beef jerky
Mushrooms have the same chewy, savory texture and flavor as meat, and are commonly mixed into burgers and alternative meat products such as mushroom jerky, says Hultin. "Meat has no fiber while mushrooms have plenty, including a unique source called beta glucans, which are known to support the immune system and heart health," she says. An average serving of mushroom jerky contains no fat or cholesterol and has four grams of fiber and three grams of protein while beef jerky has one gram of fat, 30 milligrams of cholesterol, no fiber, and 14 grams of protein per serving. "If you need an umami vegetarian snack, try mushroom jerky." Here are other tasty jerkies that aren't beef.
Quinoa instead of oatmeal or cereal
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Oatmeal is a breakfast classic any time of year but a bowl of cooked quinoa provides more protein and fiber, explains Hultin. One cup of cooked quinoa has more than eight grams of protein while oatmeal has just over five grams. Quinoa is also slightly higher in fiber, offering five grams compared to oatmeal, which has four grams. "Both options are rich in nutrients, but quinoa contains more magnesium and iron than oats," says Hultin. You can add more flavor and nutrients by stirring in raisins, cinnamon, and nuts.
Spaghetti squash or spiral zucchini noodles instead of traditional pasta
According to the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion (ODPHP) only about 10 percent of Americans meet the recommended daily dietary goals for vegetables. Substituting spiraled zucchini or spaghetti squash for some or all of your pasta is a good way to get more veggies, says Scritchfield. Using squash instead of spaghetti also lets you eat more, as squash (42 calories per cooked cup) is lower in calories than traditional pasta (221 calories per cup). Squash also lacks the carbs when compared to pasta, containing 10 to pasta's 43 grams and contains vitamins C and A, and antioxidants lutein and zeananthin, which help fight age-related eye diseases. While squash doesn't pack the protein found in pasta, adding meat sauce, chicken, or fish helps complete the meal. For those who don't want to give up their noodles, Sccritchfield suggests replacing half of the pasta on your plate with veggies or if you have pasta twice a week, make one meal with the veggie noodles. "Veggies incorporated into sauce tastes delicious and bulks it up—you might not even miss the noodles." Here are 12 other new (and wacky!) healthy alternatives to pasta.
Peanut powder instead of peanut butter
Compared to peanut butter, which has 200 calories and 17 grams of fat in 2 tablespoons, peanut powder has just 50 calories and 1.5 grams of fat. "Peanut powder is versatile and still maintains many of its nutrients, protein, and flavor," she says. You can reconstitute it with water to make a paste, but it is best when mixed into in hot or cold oats, chia pudding, yogurt, or a smoothie.