Because your tongue has feelings, too.
We could probably all stand to eat a little more healthfully, but traditional nutrition swaps are kind of a bummer (no, rice cakes are not an acceptable substitute for rice pudding, thank you very much). And, really, the key to sustainably cleaning up your diet is adding in more healthy foods that you actually enjoy eating. Ahead, you’ll find delicious food swaps and a few healthy recipes—precisely zero sad rabbit food required.
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.)
Make It: Coconut-Kale Smoothie With Ginger and Mint
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.
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.
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.
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.
Make It: Bison Burger
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. How to get the same satisfying texture without the nutritional drawbacks? Look no further than pepitas (a.k.a. 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.
Make It: Arugula and Apple Salad With Spiced Toasted Pepitas
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.
Swap Tahini for Mayonnaise
A smear of chipotle mayo on a sandwich may taste zingy, but it’s low in health benefits and tends to be high in calories and fat. Instead, 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 then there’s the amazing taste. “People tend to use a smaller amount of a tahini spread than mayo because it has so much flavor,” says Collison.
Try: Spicing up tahini with minced chiles and/or herbs and using it as a spread.