Because your tongue has feelings, too.

By Betty Gold
Updated March 31, 2020
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We could probably all stand to eat a little more healthfully, but so many traditional nutrition swaps are a bit of a bummer (no, rice cakes are not an acceptable substitute for rice pudding, thank you very much). And at the end of the day, the key to sustainably cleaning up your diet is adding in more healthy, plant-based foods that you actually enjoy eating. Here, you’ll find delicious food swaps alongside a selection of healthy recipes—precisely zero sad rabbit food suggested.

Jennifer Causey

Swap Coconut Water for Juice

Just a couple of decades ago, a glass of OJ was considered an essential part of breakfast, and too many of us still think of sugar-laden juice as a healthy drink or smoothie ingredient. A better choice: plain old coconut water. “It has electrolytes, including potassium, and a lot less natural sugar,” says Sharon Collison, RD, clinical instructor of nutrition at the University of Delaware. To compare, a cup of coconut water has nine grams of the sweet stuff, while a cup of apple juice has 25. “Just don’t grab coconut milk or coconut oil by mistake,” says Collison—you’ll get a lot more saturated fat than you bargained for. (Pro tip: You can also add a splash of coconut water to regular water for a little extra flavor and electrolytes.)

Try: Coconut-Kale Smoothie With Ginger and Mint

Victor Protasio

Swap Nutritional Yeast for Parmesan Cheese

Nutritional yeast (sometimes referred to as “nooch") is common in vegan and vegetarian dishes as a stand-in for cheese, thanks to its savory, umami-rich flavor. Like parm, it tastes delicious when sprinkled on everything from popcorn and baked potatoes to roasted cauliflower, kale salad, and pasta. The difference between them? Unlike parmesan cheese, nutritional yeast is packed with B vitamins, protein, minerals, and antioxidants.

Try: This recipe for Tofu "Halloumi" With Lentils and Burst Tomatoes.

Greg DuPree

Swap Homemade Dressing for Bottled Dressing

The salad dressing you pick up at the grocery store may contain much more sodium and sugar than you imagine. Luckily, salad dressings are easy to make yourself—and especially tasty. “If you want a vinaigrette, you can use healthier oils, like olive or avocado,” says Kelly Pritchett, PhD, RD, assistant professor in nutrition and exercise science at Central Washington University in Ellensburg, Washington. “And if you want a creamy dressing, you can use yogurt as a base.” Yogurt is packed with probiotics, protein, and calcium, and it also makes dressing taste extra decadent.

Try: Drizzling herbed yogurt dressing on salad or using it as a topping for grilled chicken, fish, and burgers.

Victor Protasio

Swap Homemade Jam for Storebought Jelly

Most storebought jams and jellies pack endless amounts of sugar—or worse, high-fructose corn syrup. Making your own is an excellent idea: you'll put your fresh fruit to work and cut way back on sugar content. The result? More vibrant fruit flavor; less saccarine sweetness and fake, flabby texture.

Try: This recipe for Raspberry-Chia Jam uses a combination of fresh raspberries and just a tablespoon of honey (in the whole batch) in place of the sugar or corn syrup that processed jellies contain. The chia seeds help thicken it, too.

Anna Williams

Swap Dairy Butter for Plant-Based Butter

Whether you're baking for someone with food allergies or practicing a vegan and/or plant-based diet, many dairy-free options, like Country Crock Plant Butter, taste like dairy butter and can be substituted one-for-one for dairy butter in your favorite recipes. You'll be cutting back on saturated fat by 25 to 40 percent, too.

Try: This recipe for Honey-Apple Galette with Pistachio Sugar. Simply use plant-based butter (in a one-for-one ratio) in place of the daily butter in the crust and filling for a flaky, delicious, and dairy-free dessert.

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Swap a BLAT for a Cobb Salad

A Cobb salad is always a colorful riot of flavor and texture, but by the time you’ve eaten the eggs, bacon, chicken, avocado, blue cheese, and creamy dressing, you’ve gone way beyond a healthy limit of saturated fat. Plus, there’s more protein than you probably need in a single meal, says Collison. Here’s a surprise: You can get a similar flavor combination by switching to a BLAT (bacon, lettuce, avocado, and tomato) sandwich on whole-wheat bread—and consider it a health win. Not only will you consume a more balanced amount of fat and protein, but you’ll also be more satiated. “The whole grains in the bread mean the sandwich will hold you over longer than the salad,” says Collison.

Try: Experimenting with arugula or watercress in place of lettuce for a peppery kick.

Caitlin Bensel

Swap Farro for White Rice

Unfortunately, white rice is not among the healthiest grains. In fact, it offers approximately zero nutritional value. A quarter-cup serving of farro, on the other hand, has seven grams of heart-healthy fiber and seven grams of protein. You'll love its deliciously nutty, toasty taste, too.

Try: A farro-based grain bowl, like this beautiful one that combines farro, sweet potatoes, feta cheese, fennel, and pomegranate vinaigrette.

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Swap Cacao Nibs for Chocolate Chips

Cacao nibs are bits of unsweetened, unprocessed cacao (the seed used to make cocoa and chocolate), so they have the health benefits of dark chocolate and a chocolatey flavor but no added sugar. “Cacao is a rich source of magnesium and has tons of antioxidants, phytochemicals, and flavonoids, which boost your mood and cognitive function and may even help lower blood pressure,” says nutritionist Beth Warren, RD, author of Living a Real Life with Real Food. Because cacao nibs are slightly bitter, they pair well with sweet things.

Try: Mixing cacao nibs into trail mix, granola, or yogurt.

Ralph Smith

Swap Tahini for Sour Cream

Instead of using sour cream in dips and sauces, get the creaminess and flavor punch with a spread containing tahini—a paste, made from ground sesame seeds, you can find in the grocery store. “Tahini has fiber, calcium, magnesium, and protein and is a great source of healthy, monounsaturated fats, which help lower cholesterol,” says Warren. And there’s the deliciously nutty taste.

Try: Spice up tahini with minced chiles and/or herbs and mix it into Greek yogurt or tzatziki—the result makes a delicious, heart-healthy dip.

Victor Protasio

Swap Silken Tofu for Mayo

Tofu—particularly the silken style, which has a softer consistency—is a great sub for mayonnaise in creamy sauces or dips that require a thickening agent, like ranch dressing. Tossing it into the blender will smooth it out into a velvety consistency. Unlike mayo, tofu is vegan and packed with protein, too.

Try: This recipe for Vegan Ranch Dressing.

Jennifer Causey

Swap Ground Bison for Ground Beef

Whenever people want a healthier meat to use for burgers, meatballs, or tacos, the natural tendency is to reach for ground turkey. No shade to turkey, but if you miss the hearty taste of beef, a better idea might be ground bison. Compared with 80 percent lean beef, bison meat contains less total fat and saturated fat, and it even has a few extra grams of protein per patty.

Try: Bison Burger

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Swap Corn Tortillas for Flour Tortillas

Corn tortillas have fewer calories than flour tortillas and are lower in total fat and saturated fat. “They’re also high in fiber, which can help balance blood sugar levels and keep you feeling full while lowering cholesterol,” says Warren. They taste rich in corn flavor and have a satisfying bite. These tortillas are a little less pliable than their flour cousins, so make sure to heat them up (either in the microwave or on the stove) before you add your fillings.

Try: Using them for quesadillas or baked tortilla chips.

Victor Protasio

Swap Cashew Cream for Heavy Cream

Cashew cream is a rich, creamy, dairy-free dip that works as a delicious replacement for heavy cream-based sauces like Alfredo. It's truly magic when paired with nutritional yeast and garlic or lemon juice. Slightly-sweetened cashew cream can take the place of whipped cream in non-dairy desserts, too.

Try: This recipe for Vegan Cauliflower Alfredo Sauce

Jennifer Causey

Swap Pepitas for Croutons

Croutons might be your favorite way to add crunch to your salads, but you’re mostly topping your veggies with a bunch of refined carbs and oil. To get the same satisfying texture without the nutritional drawbacks, look to pepitas (aka pumpkin seeds). “Pepitas are a great source of heart-healthy monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, and ounce for ounce they have as much protein as meat,” says Collison. “They are also a great source of fiber, magnesium, and iron, which women run the risk of being deficient in.” And when you toast them with some spices, they’ll add a punch of flavor and crunch to every bite.

Try: Arugula and Apple Salad With Spiced Toasted Pepitas.