Updated: May 28, 2020
How to lose weight (and get healthier) by making a few smart trades.
Eating healthier doesn't have to mean overhauling your diet. Making simple adjustments to the meals you eat every day can be an even better way to reach your wellness or weight-loss goals.
Case in point:
When researchers at the University of Colorado asked study participants to shoot for cutting just 100 calories a day, most ended up cutting out more like 300 calories over time, ending up with better results than following what the researchers called a more rigorous diet plan from the get-go.
That could be because making, and keep, small diet changes can also help you feel successful so you're motivated to do more over time. And even easier than subtracting things from your diet: replacing one or two of your less nutritious go-to foods with better-for-you ones.
Here are some trades to try:
Instead of mayo … try mustard
Mayo and mustard are both classic sandwich toppers. That's where the similarities end, though. Mayo supplies a lot of calories — one tablespoon has nearly 100 calories — and not much in the way of valuable nutrients.
Then there's mustard. Made mainly of mustard seeds along with a liquid like water or vinegar and some spices and seasonings, prepared mustards provide around 10 calories per tablespoon.
The condiment also supplies important nutrients like cell-protecting selenium; yellow mustards are made with the anti-inflammatory spice turmeric. If you're not ready to switch from mayo to mustard, try blending the two in equal parts to cut calories and saturated fat in half while adding nutrition to your sandwich.
Instead of pretzels … try popcorn
It's not unusual to crave a salty, crunchy snack. And there are plenty of healthier-looking options on the market, from sweet potato chips to veggie straws. You may have even switched to pretzels from a higher-fat choice like potato chips in an effort to do better.
But the clear winner when you've got the munchies is homemade popcorn. Air-popped popcorn is a high-volume food with only around 120 calories per 4-cup serving, meaning you get a plentiful snack. You'll also get nearly 5 grams of filling fiber in that serving, making the choice satisfying, too. Spray it with a bit of olive oil followed by your favorite savory or sweet herbs and spices, such as Trader Joe's 21 Seasoning Salute or any flavor of Mrs. Dash.
Don't have an air popper? You can prep your popcorn on the stove in a pot with 2 tablespoons of oil per half-cup of popcorn kernels (just skip the spritz of oil after). Microwave and bagged popcorn can also be good choices; just look for one that has up to 150 calories and no more than 150 milligrams of sodium per serving.
Instead of a flavored latte … try a plain one
You probably know by now that experts recommend limiting the added sugar in your diet, both to stave off excess pounds and to protect your health. But what many people don't realize is how little added sugar authorities suggest we have. The American Heart Association says to keep added sugar intake to no more than 6 teaspoons per day for women, 9 teaspoons for men. Our average intake? More than double that amount. Drink one 16-ounce Starbucks Cinnamon Dolce Latte and you've nearly hit your limit for the day.
Luckily, there's a an easy fix for that one. Keep the latte; skip the flavored syrup. You'll get the same creamy mouthfeel and warmth with none of the added sugar. For subtle sugar-free sweetness, try adding a sprinkle of cinnamon or nutmeg instead.
Instead of sour cream … try Greek yogurt
The creamy tang of sour cream can taste great on a baked potato, contrasted with the sweetness of fruit, or in baked goods. But that flavor comes at a cost if you're looking to scale back on calories; each half-cup serving has around 230 calories along with nearly 6 grams of saturated fat.
Full-fat Greek yogurt has a similar flavor to sour cream, but 100 fewer calories and half the saturated fat per serving. It's also a better source of bone-building calcium and blood pressure–lowering potassium than sour cream. You can generally use them interchangeably in recipes, though baking pros may notice a slightly drier texture when using the yogurt.
Instead of granola … try fiber cereal
For something that has a reputation as a health food, granola is a lot higher in added sugar and lower in valuable nutrients than you might think. And while many breakfast cereals provide a great opportunity to meet your recommended daily fiber goal — something an estimated 95 percent of Americans don't meet, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture — a half-cup serving of granola has only around 4 grams of it.
Granola is also an energy-dense food; each half-cup has around 210 calories, making a great place to start if you're looking to cut back.
For a similar crunch with far less sugar, nearly 100 fewer calories per serving, and more fiber, you can opt for a bowl of a high-fiber cereal like All-Bran. Most have a surprisingly sweet flavor and will get you much closer to your daily fiber goals — a ª-cup serving packs almost 12 grams, for only 103 calories and 6 grams of added sugars.
Instead of rice … try cauliflower rice
No, uber-trendy riced cauliflower is not a doppelganger for white rice. But it comes pretty darn close. There are a number of reasons those bags in the produce section and the freezer at your supermarket are worth a try.
Just 9 percent of adults in the U.S. meet the recommendations for vegetable intake, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. At the same time, we're eating too many refined carbs. Swapping a serving of white rice for a serving of riced cauliflower can help you do a little better on both counts. It can also help you cut calories and carbohydrates. Pick up a bag and use it to make healthier twists on typically carb-y foods like fried rice, rice and beans, and more.
Instead of ground beef … try a mix of beef and mushrooms
You may not be open to trading your regular burger for a veggie version. But you can cut back on the amount of red meat you're eating by replacing up to half the ground beef in your recipe with chopped raw or roasted mushrooms — all without diminishing the flavor of your favorite Friday-night meal. Not only will you cut back on saturated fat and calories; you'll also add nutrients like fiber, riboflavin and more.
Using the chopped mushroom trick provides more than just nutrition benefits, it turns out. The umami or savory taste in mushrooms actually enhances the flavor of meat dishes, according to research published in the Journal of Food Science. Mushrooms also add moisture, keeping even lower-fat ground beef from drying out. Use this trick with any meat-based burger, meatball or meat loaf recipe.