cacao honey quinoa healthy food swaps A\J AlternativesJournal.ca Photos © Elena Moiseeva, al62 & bzanchi \ Fotolia.com

Eating healthy doesn’t necessarily mean completely overhauling your diet. Small changes can add up. Keep these eight better choices in mind when you plan meals.

INSTEAD OF low-fat products, CHOOSE full-fat products
Yes, it sounds counterintuitive, but as real-food guru Michael Pollan says in his book Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual, “The forty-year-old campaign to create low- and nonfat versions of traditional foods has been a failure: We’ve gotten fat on low-fat products. Why? Because removing the fat from foods doesn’t necessarily make them nonfattening. Carbohydrates can also make you fat, and many low- and nonfat foods boost the sugars to make up for the loss of flavor. Also, by demonizing one nutrient – fat – we inevitably give a free pass to another, supposedly ‘good,’ nutrient – carbohydrates in this case – and then proceed to eat too much of that instead.” Extra sugars and extra processing? We’ll pass.

INSTEAD OF refined sugar, CHOOSE natural sweeteners
Canadians certainly have a sweet tooth – the Canadian Sugar Institute estimates that we consume about 16 teaspoons of added sugar daily. Refined sugar (also known as sucrose) has no nutritional value other than carbs. Sugar has been linked to several health issues, from cavities and love handles to more serious problems such as heart disease and cancer (tip: watch Sugar: The Bitter Truth on YouTube). Opt for natural sweeteners instead. We love raw honey, pure maple syrup and coconut sugar. Like all sugars, they’re high in calories, so consume them in moderation.

INSTEAD OF rice, CHOOSE quinoa
While brown rice is still an excellent choice (and much more nutritious than refined white rice), quinoa contains about twice as much protein. It’s a “complete protein,” meaning that it contains all nine essential amino acids, and it’s loaded with fibre, magnesium and iron. It’s no wonder the United Nations declared 2013 the International Year of Quinoa! Try delicious recipes for Quinoa Tandori Black Bean BurgersQuinoa Egg Bake and Cocoa-Almond Baked Breakfast Quinoa.

INSTEAD OF potatoes, CHOOSE sweet potatoes
You say potato, we say sweet potato! Sweet potatoes have a much lower glycemic index than regular potatoes, so your blood sugar won’t spike after you eat them. Not only will you get an appealing pop of colour on your plate, but you’ll also benefit from a boost of antioxidant beta carotene (vitamin A). Did we mention that sweet potatoes are versatile? Try this oh-so-sweet recipe for Coconut Gingersnap Sweet Potato Pie.

INSTEAD OF soft drinks, CHOOSE mineral water with fruit
Trying to kick the pop habit? Opt for mineral water with seasonal fruit instead. Sure, there are a lot of pricey flavoured waters on the market, but many still contain added sugar or artificial sweeteners. For a healthier version, just add slices of your favourite fruits, herbs and veggies to a jug of water and chill it overnight. Our favourite combos: raspberry, lemon and lime; cucumber and mint; and watermelon and rosemary.

INSTEAD OF chocolate, CHOOSE raw cacao
Raw cacao is chocolate in its pure, untainted form. Unlike cocoa, its roasted and highly processed cousin, cacao is not heated above 45 degrees Celsius, keeping its nutrients, antioxidants and enzymes intact. According to Ecologist, cacao is highly nutritious, with 300-plus nutrients including antioxidants, flavonoids, fibre, iron and other minerals. If that weren’t already enough, cacao also contains mood-boosting substances, including tryptophan, which eases depression, and anandamine and phenylethylamine, which “simulate the feeling of falling in love.” Perhaps the best part: “Oh, and it’s an aphrodisiac.” What’s not to love?

INSTEAD OF lettuce, CHOOSE kale
Kale is like a darker green version of the lettuce leaves you know and love (though it’s actually in the same family as broccoli, cabbage and Brussel sprouts). It’s a nutritional superstar that will help you become a lean, green fighting machine. Kale is packed with vitamins B6, C and K, fibre, iron, copper, calcium, potassium and the antioxidant lutein (which supports eye health). It’s no wonder there’s a new National Kale Day!

INSTEAD OF the grocery store, CHOOSE farmers’ markets
Buying from farmers’ markets not only supports your local economy and reduces food miles, but the food is often more nutritious, since produce shipped over long distances can lose nutrients over time. At farmers’ markets, you can usually find fresh, organic fruits and vegetables, and you can ask vendors how the food was grown or created. Find a market near you.

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