The one food hack you'll need for better health

By Liz Meszaros, MDLinx
Published July 1, 2019

Key Takeaways

Often, a huge diet overhaul is the first thing we need to do to get healthier. But maybe just as often, a huge diet overhaul is the last thing we have the energy or willpower to deal with. So how can we resolve these conflicting states? All it takes is one simple hack: food substitution. With a few, easy-to-implement swaps to our diet, you’ll be on the fast track to improved health.  

Making small changes to your diet can sometimes be enough to get you on the road to a healthier you. These little swaps aren’t hard to make and stick to. They won’t test your resolve daily. And they won’t break the bank or require a total refrigerator/pantry overhaul.

With dedication and persistence, these small changes can add up to gradual, big changes in your overall health, and may even increase your willingness to more consistently make healthier eating choices.

Here are some simple swaps to try when you are just not up to making sweeping lifestyle changes but want to eat healthier.

Swap breakfast for a protein smoothie. Instead of a sugary doughnut, breakfast pastry, or cereal, try drinking a protein smoothie for breakfast. The protein will kick-start your metabolism, and help you burn more calories all day long. You control what you put in the smoothie, so make sure that the ingredients are not only healthy and protein-rich, but ones that you love, too. Consider adding chia seeds, flax, or wheatgrass for some added nutrients; peanut butter for a little boost of protein; and berries, mangoes, or pineapples for some sweetness and more vitamins. 

Swap conventional meat, fish, and eggs for optimally sourced meat, fish, and eggs. Opt for beef, chicken, pork, and eggs that are pasture-raised, grass-fed, and free of antibiotics, hormones, or pesticides. For any fish, choose the ones that are smaller, wild-caught, or sustainably farmed, rather than farm-raised.

Swap gluten starches for green veggies. The starchy carbohydrates found in the typical “white” side dishes, such as rice, pasta, and potatoes, all have high glycemic indices and can contribute to high serum sugar levels. Choosing green vegetables—like broccoli instead of risotto, for example—will give you as much flavor and a big dose of fiber to keep you feeling full. Vegetables like broccoli, spinach, collard greens, and kale are naturally low in carbs and are full of minerals and nutrients, not to mention vitamins K, A, and C. Eating green veggies can help lower your cholesterol levels; they have anti-inflammatory benefits as well.

Swap bad oils for good ones. It’s a good idea to use extra virgin olive whenever possible. Get rid of those bottles of corn, soybean, canola, or sunflower oil, which contain inflammatory omega-6 fats. Replace them with extra virgin olive oil, which has powerful anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties thanks to the polyphenols it contains. Anti-inflammatory fats like lauric acid give coconut oil anti-inflammatory abilities as well.

Swap unhealthy fats for healthy ones. Pro-inflammatory fats—like the naturally occurring trans fats found in dairy and meat products, and the artificial trans fats found in many snacks—fill the average American’s diet. Replacing these with anti-inflammatory fats such as those found in avocados, wild-caught salmon, nut butters (think almond butter), and extra virgin olive oil is just plain healthy.

Swap sugary or salty snacks for unsalted nuts. Nuts are chock-full of protein, fiber, minerals, and good fats. They also contain heart-healthy unsaturated fats. The best nuts to reach for include unsalted pecans, walnuts, almonds, macadamias, and hazelnuts. Because it’s easy to overdo nuts—they’re just so crunchy and delicious, but high in calories—try eating only a handful (10-12 nuts).

Swap soda for coffee or green tea. Filled with antioxidants, coffee and tea are much healthier than sugary, carbonated beverages. One to three cups of green tea per day, for example, will give you a healthy dose of antioxidants, which may lower cholesterol levels and reduce your risks of heart disease and stroke.

Swap pastries for dark chocolate. It’s no secret that the ingredients that make sweet treats like cakes and pastries so delicious—butter, sugar, and white flour—are absolutely horrible for your health. When the mood strikes, satisfy your sweet tooth with dark chocolate instead. The cocoa in dark chocolate contains flavanols, which can lower your blood pressure levels and improve vascular function.

Swap grilling meats for broiled or grilled fish. Hot dogs, burgers, and steaks are all high in saturated fats, which only serve to increase low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol levels. Both salmon and albacore tuna are great for grilling, and are high in omega-3 fatty acids, which work to decrease arterial plaque build-up and serum fat levels. So, grill up some fish, and remember to ask for a steak cut instead of a filet for easier grilling.

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