Food Swaps to Help You Eat Better

Medically Reviewed by Kathleen M. Zelman, RD, LD, MPH on March 04, 2024
3 min read

Whether you've got a serious sweet tooth or are a chip-aholic, food cravings can be hard to resist. Swapping a more nutritious choice for a not-so-healthy food, especially if the swap is just as tasty, is an easy way to help yourself eat better. You may not miss a thing.

If you’re craving a certain kind of food or drink, try one of these better-for-you swaps.

Instead of cookies or cake, eat:

A square of dark chocolate. Bakery treats sure do taste good, but they tend to be full of:

  • Sugar
  • White flour, which has been stripped of fiber
  • Butter or hydrogenated oils, which contain saturated or trans fats that can hurt your heart

Dark chocolate, which is made with more cocoa solids than milk chocolate, can be just as satisfying. A square or two a few times a week can cut your chances of chest pain, heart attack, or stroke.

Instead of chips, try:

Nuts. Who doesn’t love a salty snack once in a while? But that bag of potato or corn chips is full of salt and, often, unhealthy saturated or trans fats. These can raise your odds of heart disease. Nuts like cashews, walnuts, or almonds provide heart-healthy unsaturated fats. They also have satisfying protein and fiber, along with vitamins and minerals. But they are high in calories. Stick to 1-ounce portions.

Popcorn. It isn’t just for movie lovers. Popcorn is a high-fiber whole grain that fills you up with fewer calories than chips. It also has antioxidants, things that can help lower your odds of diabetes, heart disease, and high blood pressure. Your best bet is to make it in an air popper or with a heart-healthy oil, skip the butter, and go easy on salt. Avoid theater popcorn, which can be a calorie, fat, and sodium bomb.

Instead of fatty cuts of beef, eat:

Seafood. Steaks and burgers are great on the grill, but most have lots of saturated fat. This can raise your cholesterol level and lead to heart disease. Fish such as salmon or tuna is high in omega-3 fatty acids, which can lower "bad fats" in your blood and stop plaque from forming in your arteries. Grilled shellfish, like crab and lobster, are another tasty way to get protein and minerals.

Mixed lentils and mushrooms. When cooked, lentils look something like ground beef. Mushrooms have a meaty flavor and texture. Combined and well-seasoned, they make a meatless sloppy joe that’s a worthy swap for burgers. This is great for vegans, who don’t eat meat or fish.

Instead of your usual sandwich, try:  

Whole-grain bread, tortillas, or wraps. This simple switch replaces your not-so-nutritious bread with wholesome whole grain. Look for "100% whole grain" on the label.

Refined grains like white flour lack key nutrients, including fiber, B vitamins, magnesium, and iron. The fiber in whole grains can help lower cholesterol levels along with your risk of heart attack, stroke, and diabetes. It also fills you up, which helps you control your weight.

Instead of frozen desserts, try:  

Greek yogurt with fresh fruit. Creamy and sweet -- and bursting with fat, sugar, and calories. That’s ice cream. Just a half-cup of vanilla, with no added goodies, can have 140 calories and 14 grams of sugar. The same portion of nonfat Greek yogurt, which is creamier and thicker than regular yogurt, has only 73 calories and a fraction of the sugar. It also offers plenty of:

  • Protein
  • Calcium
  • Magnesium
  • Vitamin B12

Toss in some berries, sliced bananas, or other fruit for sweetness and a health bonus. The fruit and yogurt work together to lower risks for heart disease and type 2 diabetes.

Instead of your usual bubbly, drink:

Tea or coffee. The energy boost from sodas and other sugary drinks doesn’t last long. Plus, drinking soda on the regular is linked to higher odds of type 2 diabetes and heart disease. Tea and coffee don’t contain sugar, but they do offer a caffeine boost. They also have antioxidants that could help lower your cholesterol and protect you from heart disease and stroke.

Just don't overdo it. Caffeine can upset your tummy or make you jittery. And ask your doctor about drinking it if you're pregnant. Be careful about what you add. It's easy to overdo sugar and cream. Amp up the flavor with citrus slices and spices like cinnamon or mint.