Healthy Food Substitutions: This or That
My new video "Healthy Food Substitutions: This or That" on Instagram >>
There are a lot of mixed messages, and false advertising in the world of “dieting” and the marketing of products that make a lot of inaccurate claims. Personally, I like to stick with the very simple logic of move every day and eat healthy. Eating healthy can be interpreted in several ways and can widely differ based on people's personal taste and preference. One positive and simple step that can be taken, that doesn’t require drastic changes to the things you like to eat, is by making healthier substitutes to your dishes.
There are things you eat on a day-to-day basis that you can substitute out for healthier alternatives that can have major benefits on your health and wellness journey. Below are some examples that you can implement in your routine:
High sugar intake is one of the biggest dietary factors that contributes to negative health and long-term the consequences can include the likelihood of having a life-changing medical condition. There are many substitutes for the typical refined sugar, and which one works best can depend on whether you are baking, cooking, or simply wanting to add some sweetness to your tea/coffee.
- Raw Honey: this is a natural solution that firstly requires a lower amount to get to your preferred level of sweet tooth and comes with great anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties that have health benefits. If your budget allows, you can use Manuka honey (food grade manuka not medical grade) which has even more health benefits and doesn’t differ too much in flavour but is expensive. Here is a great outline of the Benefits of Manuka Honey >> by Joseph Saling (medically reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD)
- Dates: This is a fruit from the date palm tree and can be used in baking or mixed into smoothies (see my previously shared raspberry smoothie recipe >>) to still get a sweet flavour or blended to create a paste which can be used 1-for-1 the same as regular white sugar. Although dates are higher in calories than regular sugar, they are extremely nutritious and naturally include potassium, magnesium, fibre, vitamin B6 and antioxidants.
Alternatively, if you want to stay with something more “normal” or convenient to consume when not at home, please opt for raw brown sugar which is slightly better than white sugar with higher calcium, iron, and potassium values.
Note: These substitutes (and others, such as maple syrup are still high in sugar and should still be eaten in moderation but provide numerous benefits to normal sugar
White Pasta Substitute
Buckwheat pasta, more commonly known as soba noodles, are simply made with buckwheat and water and are an amazing alternative to high calorie, high carbohydrate white pasta. Soba noodles are classed as ‘intangible cultural heritage’ in Japanese food culture - they are rich in plant-based protein, high in dietary fibre, low in calories and provide an abundance of minerals. If you are looking for a thinner noodle texture for your dish, you can also get buckwheat ramen, which has all the same benefits.
Note: be sure to check the packaging, especially if you are choosing soba noodles due to their gluten-free aspect, as some companies combine with whole wheat.
There are also plenty of other options out there including your more traditional whole-wheat pasta, something more uncommon like red lentil pasta, or introducing more vegetables into your diet and making noodles from veggies such as zucchini or butternut squash. Beyond pasta, white flour in general can also be substituted in cooking for buckwheat flour, spelt flour or rice flour. See what works best for you and your personal palette.
White Rice Substitute
White rice is not a bad thing to eat by any measure, and is the most commonly consumed grain on our planet, but if you want to mix up flavour and texture and have a great alternative that have great benefits, these are some good options:
- Quinoa: this is my personal favourite accompaniment with a salad or fish. Then as the icing on top there are lots of benefits to swapping rice with quinoa that includes fewer calories, lower carbohydrates, lots of minerals, and the quinoa fibres help lower cholesterol and blood sugar levels. This is a great article by Dr. Anita Dhanorkar (insert link: www.medicinenet.com/is_quinoa_better_for_you_than_rice/article.htm) that digs deeper into the health benefits of integrating quinoa into your diet.
- Couscous: this is actually a type of pasta that is widely used in Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cuisine, although I personally find that it more closely relates to rice and is a closer substitute for rice dishes. Couscous is extremely rich in fibre and protein and is a great source of B vitamins, iron, and magnesium. You can try many different filling combinations in your couscous dishes, so it never gets boring :)
Whole Milk Substitute
There are a variety of non-dairy milk alternatives on the market and personal preference will be based on your specific nutritional goals (all alternatives have pros and cons), preferential taste and if you have any food intolerances.
- Almond Milk (unsweetened): this is a nut milk that consists solely of ground almonds and water, and consequently is a great low-calorie option filled with vitamins and nutrients. Almond milk’s low number of calories predominantly come from healthy, unsaturated fats. However, there is one downfall - there is only a small amount of protein in a regular serving, which is why it is important to pick the right milk alternative for your personal goals i.e., almond milk would not be a good fit for someone wanting to build muscle
- Coconut Milk: commonly known to be used in Thai curries, this is a great cooking alternative to milk and creams in any dishes that are meant to be creamy and sweet. Coconut milk is low in protein and calcium and has the same amount of saturated fat as whole milk but provides 30 percent of your daily recommended values of Vitamin D and 50 percent of vitamin B12.
- Oat Milk: this is my personal favourite for coffee, it’s made from oats that have been soaked in water, blended, and then strained which creates a creamy texture with high fibre and protein characteristics. Oats naturally contain many vitamins and minerals that your body requires, including vitamin B, magnesium, zinc and many more, and these nutrients are transferred to the milk in the straining process. On the flip side, oat milk contains less protein than whole milk but is the best out of the non-dairy options.
I hope it goes without saying that the healthy eating journey cannot be made by eating gummy bears, fries, and burgers every day, but good food substitutions can contribute to both weight loss and helping you achieve new fitness heights, whichever your goal may be.
So, make good choices, research the foods you are putting into your body and always check if there are better alternatives. As always, keep me up to date with your health journey, everyone is different, and I look forward to hearing about different experiences!