Easy food swaps to try

August 10, 2021

The path to better health doesn’t always require drastic changes to your diet. There are simple ways to make our everyday dietary choices a little bit better. Oftentimes, that means being aware of foods that seem healthy but aren’t. The biggest culprits are often foods that contain high amounts of sugar and sodium, which can contribute to hypertension and obesity.

The American Heart Association recommends no more than 2,300 mg of sodium per day, and even less for those with high blood pressure (1,500 mg). Here’s a breakdown of table salt sodium equivalents:

1/4 teaspoon salt = 575 mg sodium

1/2 teaspoon salt = 1,150 mg sodium

3/4 teaspoon salt = 1,725 mg sodium

1 teaspoon salt = 2,300 mg sodium

One of the best food substitutions you can make is swapping salt for low-sodium salt. According to a former CDC director, switching to low-sodium salt could save millions of lives around the world. Why is salt so "bad"? Research shows that sodium is strongly associated with an increase in blood pressure and a decrease in cardiovascular health.  In fact, replacing salt with low-sodium salt can decrease your risk of death by 12% percent.

In addition to salt, here are a few more substitutions to try. Please note that although these recommendations provide healthier alternatives, some of the following suggestions are not considered to be foods meant for everyday consumption. For example, switching from burgers to chicken strips helps reduce red meat intake, but eating chicken strips every day probably isn't a great idea. Talk with your doctor or care provider about what diets or foods are right for you.

Easy food swaps for every meal


Whole or oat milk

Try: 1% milk or unsweetened almond milk

Why? Whole milk is high in fat and carbs while oat milk typically contains simple sugars and canola oil.

Yogurt with added fruit

Try: plain greek yogurt with fresh fruit

Why? One cup of mixed berry fruit on the bottom yogurt has about 200 calories and 36 grams of sugar.

Waffles and syrup

Try: whole-wheat waffles with fresh fruit

Why? Complex carbohydrates like whole wheat have been shown to decrease the risk of diabetes.

Bagel and cream cheese

Try: whole-wheat toast and peanut butter

Why? Bagels are carb-heavy and cream cheese contains high amounts of fat.

Iced latte

Try: cold brew with a splash of milk

Why? Lattes are mostly milk with a shot or two of espresso. Milk, especially whole milk, has a lot of fat and carbs. Switching up your coffee order is an easy way to cut back on extra fat and sugar throughout the day.

Instant coffee

Try: brewed coffee or tea

Why? Studies show that instant coffee, rather than coffee that’s brewed using a filter, can raise your LDL cholesterol. Brewed coffee or tea, which contains the cognitive-boosting nutrient flavanol, are healthier options.

Oatmeal with raisins

Try: Oatmeal with frozen blueberries

Why? Raisins and other dried fruit are like sugar pills. Although the sugar is naturally occurring, a 1.5-oz box of raisins has about 24 grams of sugar – the equivalent of a Snickers bar.


Sandwich bread

Try: pre-sliced bread from the bakery

Why? Many of the breads we buy at the store – even those that look healthy – contain soybean oil, an ingredient that’s been linked to obesity and diabetes.

Tuna sandwich

Try: open-faced tuna sandwich

Why? Using one piece of bread instead of two is an easy way to cut back on carbs.


Try: a rice bowl or tacos on corn tortillas

Why? Flour tortillas typically contain refined white flour, additives and lots of sodium.

Cheddar cheese

Try: goat cheese or feta

Why? Goat and feta cheeses contain conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), a type of fat that reduces heart disease and cancer risk and may help your body burn more fat.


Try: chicken strips

Why? We didn’t promise all of these recommendations would be conventionally healthy! But if you’re dining out and wanting to forego the burger, choose chicken over beef.

Bottled dressing

Try: homemade dressing

Why? Bottled salad dressings often contain high amounts of sugar and sodium. Here’s a recipe for a simple vinaigrette dressing.

Snacks & Dessert

Potato chips

Try: air-popped popcorn

Why? Popcorn has fewer carbs, fat, and protein than chips do. Plus, popcorn is less calorie dense so you can eat more than you would if you were eating the carb equivalent of chips.

Ice cream

Try: popsicles

Why? Popsicles containing natural fruit are a great way to satisfy your sweet tooth without all of the added sugar and fat from ice cream.

Cheese and crackers

Try: chips and salsa

Why? Cheeses often contain high amounts of fat and cured meats contain high amounts of sodium. Both can increase your risk for hypertension .

Granola bar

Try: protein bar

Why? Protein helps you stay full longer while many granola bars contain simple carbohydrates that are digested quickly.

Trail mix

Try: walnuts

Why? Commercial trail mixes often contain a lot of sugary ingredients like chocolate and raisins. Studies show that a handful of walnuts a day can lower your cholesterol up to 7.9 percent.


Iceberg lettuce

Try: Romaine lettuce

Why? Iceberg lettuce is low in nutritional value. Some restaurants are even banning iceberg lettuce their menus.


Try: Olive oil

Why? Butter is high in saturated fat, which is linked to heart disease. If you like spreading butter on your bread, try dipping in a tablespoon of olive oil instead.

Side of bread or rice

Try: baked potato

Why? If you typically serve bread or white rice as your starchy side, maybe try a baked potato. They’re chock full of nutrients and contain resistant starches, which help regulate blood sugar.

Alfredo sauce

Try: red sauce

Why? Alfredo sauce contains butter and heavy cream, which means it's high in sodium and fat. Tomato sauce on the other hand tends to have more nutrients.

White or yellow potatoes

Try: sweet potato

Why? Sweet potatoes are digested slowly and keep you full.

Hot dog

Try: chicken skewers

Why? A 2021 study found that eating a single hot dog can reduce your lifespan by 36 minutes.

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