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14 Easy Swaps To Make All Your Meals Healthier

Men's Health logo Men's Health 6/9/2018 By Max Lugavere

Cut calories, sugar and fat with a few simple replacements.: 14 Healthy Substitutes for Your Favorite Foods © Getty Images 14 Healthy Substitutes for Your Favorite Foods Cut calories, sugar, and fat with a few simple replacements.

  • Many meals like salad and spaghetti can be made healthier by swapping fattening toppings like cheese with tasty alternatives.
  • These replacements will help you cut extra calories and get in more nutrients.
  • Commercially made items like spaghetti sauce are easy to prepare at home and will be lower in sugar and oils.

In Genius Foods, my book with coauthor Paul Grewal, M.D., you’ll find an eating plan that’s both nutritious and delicious. Make these easy swaps and watch your weight drop, your brainpower surge, and your tastebuds rejoice.

On your salad

a plate of food on a table: Healthy Salad Toppings © Getty Images Healthy Salad Toppings Shake on

Salted pistachios to take in heart-healthy fats with a satisfying crunch.


Croutons. Many packaged croutons are made with refined flour and hydrogenated oils.

Drizzle on

DIY dressing. It’s easy. Just combine equal parts extra-virgin olive oil and an acid (lemon juice, vinegar, Dijon). Then, season to taste with salt and pepper. You get your

healthy fats without the sugar.


Commercial salad dressing. These are typically made with cheap oils. And beware of sweet ingredients!

At the coffee shop


Iced coffee. For minimal calories, you drink in a big antioxidant payload.


Frozen coffee drinks. They're brimming with calories, mostly from sugar. 

At breakfast

a pan of food on a table: Whole Eggs Healthier than Egg Whites © Getty Images Whole Eggs Healthier than Egg Whites Dig into

Plain, full-fat Greek yogurt. It’s protein-packed, so you stay fuller longer. Plus, research shows that people who eat full-fat yogurt have better metabolic health than those who eat low-fat varieties.


Regular yogurt, sweetened with “fruit.” You’ll consume less protein and often way more sugar. 

Fry up

Pasture-raised eggs. Compared to conventional eggs, they have more omega-3s and more beta-carotene, a pigment with antioxidant properties that protects your body from free radical damage. That’s why the yolks are often more orange.


Conventional eggs. Okay, so they’re not bad for you, but they could be even more nutritious. 


Whole eggs. They contain not only protein but also vitamins, minerals, carotenoids, and healthy fats.


Egg whites. They contain beneficial minerals but are mostly just protein.

For spaghetti

Cook up

“Spiralized”zucchini. Fiber, minimal carbs, and lots of vitamin C and potassium. Zoodles rule!


Spaghetti. The white stuff is mostly starch, and processing strips most nutrition.

On top of spaghetti


Homemade tomato sauce. Throw a pint of cherry tomatoes into a large skillet with a glug of extra-virgin olive oil and a sliced garlic clove. Heat on medium until a sauce

forms, about 20 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.


Commercial tomato sauce. Food manufacturers often jack up the sugar content and incorporate crummy processed oils, which affect flavor and nutrition.

Shake on

Nutritional yeast. True to its name, it contains protein, fiber, and B vitamins to help your cells produce energy. It tastes similar to the shake-on stuff you’d normally use.


Pregrated“Parmesan”cheese. Nutritionally, it doesn’t bring much to the table. The real stuff tastes better too!

To bookend a burger


Grilled portabello mushroom cap. You’ll score fiber, minerals, and antioxidants. Just brush it lightly with extra-virgin olive oil and grill over direct, high heat until tender.


White bread burger bun. It's often made from refined flour, which is empty calories.

On a burger

meat cooking on a grill: How to Make a Healthier Burger © Getty Images How to Make a Healthier Burger

Slather on

Hummus. Weird? Maybe. Nutritious? Heck yeah. You’ll receive a little protein and fiber, plus a luscious creamy texture.


Ketchup. It contains a whole lot of sugar. What are you, 12?

To build a taco

Wrap in

Romaine lettuce leaf. It has very few calories and contains some essential vitamins and minerals.


Flour tortilla. It’s typically calorie-dense and made with refined flour.

On a spoonful of peanut butter

Top with

Cacao nibs. They don’t have sugar. They do have disease-fighting flavanols.


Milk chocolate chips. You’ll just be adding sugar.

As a snack

a close up of food: 14 Healthy Substitutes for Your Favorite Foods © Getty Images 14 Healthy Substitutes for Your Favorite Foods

Scoop with

Cucumber slices. They’re mostly water, plus some fiber, and can handle a hefty load of guacamole.


Tortilla chips. They’re often oily, empty carbohydrates

You should also be aware that healthy snacks are actually just junk food in disguise. 

Here are five you should avoid:

  • Granola, and granola bars - you spelled "dessert wrong.
  • Commercial juices - they're a great way to mainline sugar. Better schedule a nap.
  • Packaged whole-wheat bread - most of it has added sugar.
  • Fake meat burgers - they're amazing if you want to eat a bunch of weird processed ingredients.
  • Gluten-free junk food - it's still junk food.

Gallery: 6 quick breakfasts that won't clog your arteries


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