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8 Savvy Food Swaps for a Healthier Plate

16 July 2017
by Giada De Laurentiis
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Power up your diet with savvy substitutions that boost your nutrition, without maxing out your calories.

Most of us know the basics of eating right: seeking out whole, natural foods – fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins – while limiting salt, fat, and too-large portion sizes. But those guidelines can leave a lot to interpretation. How do you make sure you're eating the best you can, filling your body with quality fuel and satisfying your taste buds at the same time? How do you, well, upgrade your food?
While it's true that most seasonal, unprocessed foods are good for your body, some are naturally even better for you. Certain ingredients just pack in more of the good stuff – health-promoting vitamins, minerals, fiber, "good" fats – and it's smart not only to work them into your meals and snacks, but to use them as substitutes for foods that are not as virtuous. Read on for easy ways to up your nutrition without sacrificing your satisfaction.

Almond Butter: Instead of covering your toast with or dipping your apple slices into the usual peanut butter, try almond butter instead. The heart-healthy fats in almonds help lower "bad" cholesterol, while their vitamin E works against inflammation and may even prevent signs of aging.

Quinoa: This easy-to-prepare grain (actually the seed of a spinachlike plant) is packed with protein and filling fiber. Try it instead of rice, couscous, or small pasta in pilafs or cold salads. Or work it into your day earlier by mixing a bit of cooked quinoa into pancake batter or adding it to your morning oatmeal.

Extra-Virgin Olive Oil: Rather than buttering your bread, dip it in olive oil instead. It has heart-healthy "good" fats that lower "bad" cholesterol, and the extra-virgin variety has more disease-fighting antioxidants. Because cooking can degrade the healthful ingredients, it's best to eat the oil at room temperature; in addition to using it as a condiment for your carbs, try it in salad dressings or as a finishing touch to soup.

Wild Salmon: Salmon's omega-3 fatty acids are thought to lower blood pressure; they and other nutrients are also believed to have anti- inflammatory properties. (And it's missing something that some other seafood has: high-mercury levels, which have been associated with birth defects.) Farmed salmon has fewer of these health benefits, so it's worth it to upgrade your steak or fillet to the wild variety.

Sweet Potatoes: Everybody loves french fries, but plain old deep-fried spuds transform into a more nutritious side dish when made with sweet potatoes. The orange tuber is packed with beta-carotene, an antioxidant thought to protect vision, bolster immunity, and help prevent some forms of cancer.

Avocados: Yes, avocados are pretty high in calories (an average-size one has almost 300 calories), but their fat is the beneficial variety that increases "good" cholesterol while lowering the "bad." They also have lots of fiber, which helps keep your tummy feeling satisfied. Try mashed avocado as a sandwich spread in lieu of less-nutritious mayonnaise.

Kale and Spinach: Salad is a go-to light lunch for anyone wanting to up their veggie intake while watching calories. But it's important to make those greens earn their keep in your salad bowl. Packed with vital nutrients – including vitamin K, key to blood clotting and healthy bones – these greens outperform more pallid greens and taste delicious cooked, too.

Fresh Herbs: Bursting with flavor, not to mention helpful antioxidants, fresh herbs are an easy upgrade over the dried variety. Try them chopped in salads and in cooked dishes. To prolong their life, stand them in a glass of water – like flowers in a vase – wrapped loosely in a plastic bag and store in the fridge


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