Starting and maintaining a journey towards a healthier lifestyle doesn’t necessarily mean saying Sayonara to all the culinary pleasures you once loved.

Instead, it may involve adopting simple yet impactful swaps that can elevate the nutritional value of your favourite meals.

Shifting towards a healthier diet is not about deprivation but rather about making smart choices that contribute to an overall improvement in the nutritional profile of your meals.

By incorporating easy swaps, you can enjoy the flavours of your favorite dishes while simultaneously enhancing their health benefits.

Portioning

My first tip is a relatively easy way to reduce energy intake. An easy method of  portioning is to use a smaller plate.

A smaller plate makes the food portion look larger and thus satisfies the visual need to fill up the plate with food. We tend to put more on our plate the hungrier we are when serving. Which leads me to point 2.

plate and serving sizes
Healthy snack

Have a healthy snack before main meals.
Doing this will reduce your hunger levels at meal time and enable you be more strategic in portioning.

A hungry tummy often does not make smart choices. It also helps to reduce the brains signals to load up on calories – which is what often drives the desire for energy dense, less healthy, but quick and easy fast food. A handful of nuts or a piece of fruit will often help take the edge of hunger. Top it off with a low calorie drink, like water.

Soda or Mineral Water

If you are a fan of bubbles and want to reduce soft-drink intake, an easy swap is to a soda water or mineral water. You can get them mildly flavoured, or if you feel a need for more flavour  add a small amount of cordial.

Regular coke is around 600-700kJ.

If you add a tablespoon of cordial syrup to fizzy water you are looking at around 225kJ.

If you are happy with less flavour then try the plain sparkling or infused sparkling options. I have also recently tried the cold water infusion tea bags. They make a refreshing flavour boost to water or sparkling water at only 35 kilojoules and no artificial sweeteners involved.

fruit flavoured tea infusion
Swap from Mayonaise to Greek Yoghurt

I love this swap as the yoghurt is lower in kilojoules and has the added health benefits of beneficial bacteria.

If you want to make it more like mayonaise add some garlic and dijon mustard. I have to admit, I haven’t worked out the perfect proportions of these ingredients yet, but it is on my “must do” list! If you have a guide you would like to share please comment at the bottom of this post!

As an example: Praise Traditional Mayonaise is ~460kJ/tablespoon or 20g vs ~110kJ/tablespoon or 20g for Jalna Greek yoghurt.

Swap from white breads, rice, pasta to wholemeal or multigrain

Wholemeal pasta increases the fibre and lowers the absorption of the carbs in pasta. An easy swap!

I know for the fussy eaters out there, this is a difficult option. If that is you and you would like to have a healthier diet, try gradually swapping. For example if you want to swap to a multigrain bread, start with your current bread and have half with the new bread and half with your regular. Gradually reduce the amounts of the old bread and increase the new variety you are trying to adopt.

pasta and meat

You can do this with rice as well. Cook some brown rice in with your white rice. It will need longer to cook though, so you will need to put the brown in earlier. Brown basmati rice is a nice easy swap as it looks a lot like white rice when cooked, and is quite soft, but higher in fibre than regular basmati or white rice.

chickpea salad
Swap some meat for legumes

Adding legumes like lentils or chickpeas to your regular diet is a plus for fibre, protein and gut health. They can also help you feel full for longer and have benefits in weight management.

Many people eat way too much meat and not enough vegetables. Adding legumes to a meat dish can reduce the amount of meat eaten and increase the veg. You can also get small tins of chickpeas or black beans and corn to throw on a salad.

Three tips to make legumes more digestable:

  1.  cook them at high temperatures
  2. soak them overnight
  3. ferment them
Swap your oil to Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO)

There is a good amount of research that addresses the benefits of EVOO.

It is high in antioxidants and contains one of the lowest amounts of trans fats out of many oils.

It is good for reducing inflammation and good for your heart.

Also regular olive oil or lite olive oil, is not as healthy as the extra virgin olive oil. It is usually refined and the oil is extracted using chemicals, while EVOO should be cold pressed. The fresher the oil, the more health benefits.

Cooking with EVOO

One of the main questions around EVOO is if you can cook with it. The answer is yes. The smoke point is between 200ºC and 215ºC, which is higher than most home cooking temperatures.

avocado smash
Swap butter on bread for avocado, or just leave it out

Butter is delicious, but it is best saved for occasional use if you are watching your heart health, mental health and weight.

A nice swap is avocado for the lovers of this fruit. I have also found using mustards or relish on a sandwich a tasty swap.

You may not notice that it doesn’t have butter. The only time I still have butter on bread is for vegemite toast or crumpets. But I do save it for occasional use, not regular.

Swap butter in cooking for EVOO

Most meals and some desserts, cakes and biscuits can easily swap out butter for EVOO.

Obviously this is not universal. but it is worth considering when cooking meals and sweets. You will be adding a health benefit rather than a health trap to your meals by doing this.

I have also found that using EVOO in béchamel sauce, rather than butter works just as well. I’m not sure it will be great for Butter Chicken though.

oat milk
Swap dairy cream for oat cream in meals and some desserts

Oat cream is a newish discovery for me.

It boasts a tiny 600kJ/100ml and 1.2g saturated fat, versus 1420kJ/100ml and 25.3g saturated fat for thickened cream and 800kJ/100ml and 12.5g saturated fat in light dairy cream.

Coconut cream is not really a good comparison cream due to the flavour, but light coconut cream is around 860kJ/100ml and 19g saturated fat.

So the oat cream is a winner if it works for your purpose. I don’t believe it whips well, so don’t attempt that! You can now buy whippable oat cream, but the kilojoule (1045kJ/100ml) and saturated fat load (22g) is a lot higher due to added oils.

Making a few easy swaps in your choices can be a game-changer for your health, and the best part is, some of them won’t even mess with the taste (unless you are a super taster).

So, go ahead, make those tweaks, and watch the health perks roll in.

It’s like a secret mission for your well-being, and the best part is, you’re the superhero in this flavour-packed adventure!