15 Food Swaps That Could Save Your Life
1. Pistachios > Pretzels
If you’re craving a snack that’s salty and crunchy, reach for the little green nuts. Eating 1.5 ounces of nuts a day may reduce the risk of heart disease. Those heart healthy benefits are due to the monounsaturated fats in the nuts, which lower LDL (“bad”) cholesterol and increase HDL (“good”) cholesterol. If you’re watching the scale, know that pistachio eaters lost more weight than those who snacked on pretzels, a study from UCLA found. The work that’s required to shell a pistachio makes it harder to munch mindlessly. And unlike carb-rich pretzels, pistachios contain filling fiber, protein, and energy-boosting B6 to keep you satisfied for longer.
2. Iced Green Tea > Diet Soda
Think diet is a smart sip? Know this: People who drank diet soda had a 70 percent greater increase in waist circumference after 10 years compared to non-cola drinkers, according to a recent study from the University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio. Researchers aren’t sure if a compound in cola causes people to overeat or if soda drinkers typically have poorer eating habits than those who down mainly water. What they do know: Abdominal fat is a major risk factor for diabetes, heart disease and cancer. The better choice: Iced green tea. Plant chemicals called flavonoids found in green tea leaves may help ward off cancer by targeting and eliminating cell-damaging compounds called free radicals.
3. Kale > Spinach
Next time your recipe calls for spinach, pick up a bunch of kale instead. Both leafy greens can be prepared the same ways — sautéed, steamed, or eaten raw — but kale has the highest antioxidant levels of any other veggie out there. It boasts more bone-building vitamin K than spinach, and because kale is a member of the cabbage family, it contains powerful phytochemicals that protect against colon, cervical, and breast cancers, thanks to a compound called sulforaphane, which may help stop cancer cell proliferation, according to a study in the Journal of Nutrition.
4. Greek Yogurt > Sour Cream
If you’re craving a creamy topping on a baked potato or quesadilla, go Greek. Both sour cream and greek yogurt have a rich, tangy taste, but 1 cup of yogurt provides more bone-strengthening calcium (20 percent of your daily value versus 1 percent in sour cream), filling protein (20 grams versus 8), and digestion-supporting probiotics. Studies show that probiotics also ease gastrointestinal illnesses and can even boost immunity. University of Michigan researchers found that probiotics stimulate the immune system by increasing disease-fighting microbes and minimizing disease-causing ones.
5. Cocoa Powder > Peanut Butter
Cocoa tastes great with everything from bananas to berries, plus one tablespoon of chocolaty goodness will add only 12 calories to the blender (the equivalent amount of peanut butter adds 100 calories). Plus, cocoa is loaded with compounds called flavonoids, which prevent fat from clogging the arteries, reducing the risk of heart attack and stroke. To swallow the maximum antioxidant benefits, look for a cocoa percentage of at least 60: A study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that flavonoids found in the dark stuff can decrease blood pressure and improve insulin resistance in healthy adults.
6. Panko > Italian Breadcrumbs
Panko, Japanese breadcrumbs made from crustless bread, contain less than one-tenth the sodium of Italian breadcrumbs. This is critical since excess sodium can cause high blood pressure, one of the leading risk factors of heart disease. And though the two coatings are calorically equivalent, “you can use less panko and still get the same crunch,“ Newgent says. “Panko breadcrumbs are coarser, and therefore absorb less oil, which translates to way less fat in every forkful.” For an even healthier coating, reach for whole-wheat panko to add fiber and protein to whatever you’re cooking.
7. Chicken Thigh > Chicken Breast
White meat chicken breasts do contain less fat and fewer calories than the darker thighs (2.5 grams of fat and 115 calories in a 4oz chicken breast, and 7.5 grams of fat and 146 calories in a thigh) — but dark meat also packs a bigger nutritional punch. Chicken thighs beat out breasts in: iron, which your body needs to move oxygen to your organs; zinc, which helps your body fight cold and flu bugs; and vitamin A, which promotes eye health.
8. Red Peppers > Yellow or Green Peppers
Reach for peppers with a rosy hue: “Red peppers have three times more fiber and eight times more vitamin A than yellow peppers, plus 60 percent more vitamin C than green ones,” says Tonia Reinhard, program director of the Department of Dietetics at Wayne State University in Detroit and author of Superfoods. And unlike the other varieties, red peppers contain the cartenoid beta-cryptoxanthin: People who eat a diet rich in cryptoxanthin-containing foods have a 27 percent lower risk of developing lung cancer, according to a study published in Cancer Epidemiology Biomarkers and Prevention.
9. Avocado > Mayonnaise
The green fruit will give you the creamy texture you crave, plus lots of other good stuff. “Avocados are high in omega 3 fatty acids, which have been shown to boost heart heath and brain function and reduce inflammation,” Forberg says. And even though they’re high in fat, it’s the good monounsaturated fat, which actually lowers cholesterol. In one Mexican study, 45 people who ate avocados for a week saw a 17 percent drop in bad cholesterol and a boost in good cholesterol.
10. Quinoa > Couscous
Plain couscous contains protein, but not much else, Newgent says. Whereas a half cup of quinoa gets you almost 8 grams of iron–much more than any other grain. It also offers a hefty 5 grams of fiber, important for protection against breast cancer. “Fiber binds and eliminates excess estrogen, thereby leading to a potentially lessened risk of estrogen-sensitive breast cancer,” Newgent says. In fact, researchers found that diets rich in fiber from whole grains like quinoa offered significant protection against breast cancer in pre-menopausal women, according to a study in the International Journal of Epidemiology. In another study, black women who ate quinoa and other magnesium-rich whole grains reduced their risk of diabetes by 19 percent.
11. Trout > Cod
Salmon gets all the credit for omega-3 action, but rainbow trout holds its own: One 3.5-ounce serving of trout will give you 240 percent of your daily omega-3s. You’d have to eat 23 times that amount in cod to get anywhere close. Farm-raised trout also contain one of the highest levels of omega-3s EPA and DHA, which have been proven to reduce the risk of heart disease, stroke, osteoporosis, and may slow the progression of Alzheimer’s disease.
12. Raspberries > Strawberries
Raspberries possess almost 50 percent higher antioxidant activity than strawberries, according to research published in the journal BioFactors. Most come from ellagic acid, a compound that helps cells neutralize free radicals, thus reducing your cancer risk and prohibiting the growth of tumors. Plus, one cup of raspberries provides 8 grams of dietary fiber, making them one of the highest-fiber foods out there. Studies show that high-fiber diets can reduce your risk of diabetes and heart disease. Buy a few pints when they’re in season and freeze what you don’t eat in an airtight container. Studies show that freezing won’t diminish their antioxidant levels.
13. Real Maple Syrup > Fake Pancake Syrup
Sorry Aunt Jemima. Pure maple syrup has you beat. Unlike imitation syrups that usually include a long list of ingredients (starting with high fructose corn syrup), the real stuff contains only one ingredient: pure maple syrup. It also comes with a long list of health benefits. University of Rhode Island researchers found more than 20 antioxidant compounds in pure maple syrup that have anti-cancer, anti-bacterial and anti-diabetic properties. Sweet!
14. Parsley > Gum
Does your breath need a little freshening? Chew on a sprig of parsley. The chlorophyll it contains freshens your breath—and the rest of your system, too, says Jonny Bowden, Ph.D., author of The 150 Healthiest Foods on Earth. Studies show that the herb deactivates cancer-causing compounds in the body called carcinogens. In fact, apigenin, a compound found in parsley can stop certain breast cancer tumor cells from multiplying and growing, University of Missouri researchers found.
15. Whole Eggs > Egg Whites or Beaters
The paradox: Most people avoid egg yolks because they’re afraid of the cholesterol, however egg yolks are one of the best sources of the nutrient choline, which actually helps prevent the accumulation of cholesterol and fat in the liver, Bowden says. Eggs are also the perfect source of protein, containing nine essential amino acids, which your body needs to boost energy, absorb calcium, build connective tissue, increase concentration, and protect against disease.