Trying to change all our eating patterns at once is overwhelming. But you can make major nutritional improvements to your diet with a tweak or two. This article offers nutrition swaps that make a huge difference. Read on to see which will be easiest for you to try!
Most of Us Have Nutrient Deficiencies
Many of us realize we need more nutrient-dense food. We recently discussed the typical American diet and how it lacks the nutrients our bodies need. Over 90% of us have a mineral or vitamin deficiency. We want to eat healthier but don’t know how to start. These swaps will help.
Before we adjust our diets though, it’s good to assess our diets to see if we have any nutrient deficiencies. Bloodwork at your doctor’s or an at-home test can help pinpoint vitamin and mineral deficiencies.
You can also find out your daily nutrient needs by entering your personal information into this USDA calculator. It provides daily nutrient recommendations established by the Health and Medicine Division of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine. It’s incredibly helpful to know the calories, macro-nutrients, vitamins, and minerals recommended for your body.
Then, to find foods high in specific nutrients, compare foods, or check the nutritional values of your favorite foods, check out FoodStruct, an encyclopedia of food and nutrition focused on comparison. The site is a treasure trove of nutritional information on foods and spices!
Change May be Easier than You Think
Now that you know the nutrients your body needs daily, let’s look at some simple eating adjustments that can help you get them! Try one or two for a week using SMART goals – (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound). Change may be easier than you think!
Food swaps and add-ons are great ways to improve your nutritional intake. Before your next grocery run, plan the swap you’ll try so you have the provisions you need.
Healthy Food Swaps:
Good fats for unhealthy fats – Good fats help us have healthy brains, skin, and hair. They also reduce the risk of heart disease, diabetes, dementia, and cancer. We want to avoid hydrogenated oils and highly processed oils (including “cold pressed” oils). Instead, cook with minimally processed oils like virgin coconut oil and extra-virgin olive oil.
To get the good fat our bodies need and crave, eat foods like avocado, olives, raw nuts and seeds, oil-rich fish and seafood, whole eggs, and whole milk dairy products like aged cheese, butter, yogurt, and kefir. Avoid fat-free dairy foods.
Whole grains (usually brown) for refined grains (often white) – Unprocessed grains in their natural form like rye, wheat berries, and quinoa are packed with nutrients and linked to reduced risk of illness and disease. Moderately processed grains (chopped, crushed, or rolled) including cracked wheat, whole-grain cornmeal (polenta), and steel-cut or Scottish oats are also very nutrient rich. Conversely, processed grains in breads, crackers, and cereals offer little nutritional value and are usually just empty calories. It makes sense that eating whole grains instead of processed grains helps us drop belly fat!
Great swaps include steel-cut or Scottish oats for quick oats, whole grain flour for white flour, and whole grain bread for other breads. Home-baked bread is best. Good Food, Great Medicine: Mediterranean Diet and Lifestyle Guide has easy recipes for a hand-mixed loaf and for a bread machine.
At the grocery store, hunt for whole wheat bread with just five ingredients – wheat flour (stone ground is best), water, honey, salt, and yeast. Dense, whole-grain pumpernickel-style rye bread is also a fantastic choice!
Natural sweets (fruits) for processed sugar – We know sugar is bad and hiding in most processed foods. High sugar diets are linked to higher blood pressure, inflammation, diabetes, fatty liver disease and weight gain – which all increase the risk of heart attack and stroke.
That news may not shock you, but the acceptable amount of sugar we can eat daily might! The max for women and children is approximately 100 calories, six teaspoons, or 24 grams. For men, the max is about 150 calories, nine teaspoons, or 36 grams. Sugar is added to so many foods that even if we avoid desserts, we may be eating too much! Common culprits include yogurt, instant oatmeal, cereal, crackers, granola bars, bread, sauces, salad dressings, non-dairy milk, and peanut butter. Sigh. Avoiding sugar requires planning and sleuthing. (New to sugar sleuthing? Watch for these 56 names for sugar.)
One of the most power swaps you can make is drinking water, unsweetened tea, or black coffee instead of sweetened drinks. Soda isn’t the only bad guy. A 12-ounce cup of lemonade has over six teaspoons of sugar; orange juice has 13! Be aware that sugar detox may bring some temporary unpleasant symptoms including headaches, muscle aches, irritability, nausea, and depression. The good news is that these symptoms don’t last and cutting sugar also reduces sugar cravings.
All sweet foods aren’t bad though. Plus, we need to satisfy the sweet tooth sometimes. Curbing that craving with fresh fruit or a small amount of dried fruit is a fantastic swap. Frozen banana ice cream is an excellent swap for traditional ice cream! (Here’s a quick recipe.) Dark chocolate, with at least 70% cocoa, has several health benefits, but only eat one or two ounces a day.
Crunchy nuts and veggies for chips/crackers (we need crunch!) – It’s proven – we crave crunchy foods. Our mouths like the feel and our brains like the distraction. Studies have shown that the crunchier the food is, the more we like it. Yet, we don’t need more science to tell us that chips, pretzels, and crackers usually aren’t healthy choices no matter how crunchy. If we can find whole wheat options with little added sugar, we can enjoy these treats sparingly.
Instead, try crunching on veggies like snap peas, carrots, celery, or jicama. Apples, grapes, pickles, or raw nuts can also satisfy a crunch craving. If homemade, popcorn, granola, crispy chickpeas, kale chips, and sweet potato chips are excellent crunchy snacks. They key, of course, is to have the healthy crunch options on hand and leave the chips at the store!
Boost Nutrition with These Add-Ons
Making one of these swaps can vastly improve your diet. In addition to these healthy swaps, nutrient dense add-ons help us get the vitamins and minerals we’re lacking.
For example, seeds add fiber, protein, healthy fats, vitamins and minerals! Adding seeds like chia, flax, sunflower, pumpkin or hemp hearts to your salads, oatmeal, shakes, granola, or yogurt really boosts your micro-nutrients for the day.
Protein is another powerful addition to meals and snacks. The USDA calculator above will tell you how much protein you need daily. An active 40-year-old woman needs 55 grams of protein, it says. This doesn’t necessarily mean eat more meat. Meat and dairy provide protein, but so do seeds, nuts, whole grains, beans and other legumes, and vegetables!
Lastly, dark green vegetables are high in fiber, vitamins and minerals – and low in calories. It’s recommended we eat a least a cup and a half a day. While you can enjoy them sautéed or in salads, we don’t all like raw greens and some of us can’t eat them. Luckily, it’s easy to sneak them into other foods. For example, you can add greens to a smoothie, omelette, pesto, or soup in the last minutes of cooking. You’ll get all the nutrients without overpowering the dish.
Any of these food swaps and add-ons can hugely improve your nutritional intake. Eventually, you can try them all. But to avoid overwhelm, start with one that seems easiest and try it for a set time. Your body will thank you.