Eating better doesn’t have to mean making drastic changes to your diet. Instead, make small changes, like swapping in healthier options when you can. These easy swaps all add up over time, moving you toward a healthier lifestyle one step at a time.
Swap Out: Butter
Swap In: Olive or Canola Oil
Not all fat is bad. Opt for unsaturated (e.g., olive or canola oil) over saturated fats, such as butter. Here’s a nutrition breakdown: 1 tablespoon of olive oil has 14 grams fat, 2 of which are saturated; 1 tablespoon of canola oil has 14 grams fat, 1 gram saturated; 1 tablespoon butter has 12 grams fat, 7 of which are saturated. But because all fats are loaded with calories (119, 124 and 102 calories respectively), use even good ones in moderation.
Swap Out: Refined Grains
Swap In: Whole Grains
Refined carbohydrates, such as white bread and sugary sweets, may also be high in saturated fats and added sugars—that’s one reason to limit them. But there are more reasons to pick whole grains over refined grains: people who eat plenty of whole grains tend to have less abdominal fat and lower risk of heart disease than those who don’t. What’s more, whole grains—like brown rice and bulgur—have their bran intact and thus have more fiber, B vitamins, magnesium, zinc and other nutrients.
Appealingly brown-colored bread or crackers labeled “multi-grain” or “cracked wheat” are sometimes made mostly from refined white flour. The only reliable guide to ensuring that your choice is a true whole grain is to check the ingredients list: the term “whole” or “whole-grain” should precede the grain's name, such as “whole-grain rye.”
Swap Out: Salt
Swap In: Fresh or Dried Herbs and Spices
Whether you have high blood pressure or not, it’s wise to watch your sodium intake. The USDA’s Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that people with diabetes consume less than 1,500 mg sodium (about 2/3 teaspoon salt) daily. While not always a perfect replacement for salt, chopped fresh or dried herbs and spices can distract your palate and help ease the transition to lower-salt cooking by waking up other flavors. Get creative with seasoning blends, found in any spice aisle; just make sure they’re labeled “salt-free.” Not ready to go salt-free? Get started with this easy tip: don’t add salt if you can’t taste it. A little salt goes a longer way if it’s sprinkled on a food just before serving; skip it while you’re cooking.
Swap Out: Full-Fat Dairy
Swap In: Low-Fat Dairy
Dairy products like milk, sour cream and yogurt are a good source of calcium—a bone-strengthening mineral—and most of us don’t get enough dairy. Choosing low-fat dairy products and nixing the full-fat versions is an easy way to cut saturated fat in your diet (saturated fat may increase risk of heart disease).
Swap Out: Steak
Swap In: Salmon
Yes, red meat is a great source of protein and iron (a mineral essential for getting oxygen from the lungs to cells throughout the body), but it can also be a source of unhealthy saturated fat. You don’t have to give up your steak all the time, but trading one 3-ounce serving of rib-eye steak for the same-size serving of salmon will save you about 7 grams of saturated fat. That serving of salmon also delivers heart-healthy omega-3 fats. (Omega-3s have also been linked with better eye health and hearing as you age and may even help boost your mood.)
Check with your doctor about the right diet for you.