When it comes to nutrition, we're often faced with an incredible amount of options. And although we like to have choices when making decisions about health, studies have shown if given too many options, we choose nothing.
For example, one consumer study found that when supermarket customers were offered samples of six different types of jam, 30% of them purchased a jar of the jam. But when they were offered 24 different choices, only 3% ended up purchasing a jar.
Maybe this isn't such a bad thing when it comes to jam (or when we find ourselves in a toy store with small children for example), but when we're trying to be healthier and improve our diets, too many options can be confusing, misleading and overwhelming to the point of paralysis. And this isn't a good thing.
That's why at SmartyPants, we've made it our mission to simplify health so you can make positive changes. That's also why we've created this list of very simple, yet more nutritious, swaps we can make to our diets every single day.
1. Choose blueberries instead of dried fruit.
Blueberries are high in antioxidants and phytoflavinoids, along with potassium and much-needed vitamin C. Plus, their anti-inflammatory properties are excellent. If we had to choose one fruit to label as the perfect superfood, blueberries would be it. (Although there are several alternatives with many of the same health benefits such as purple grapes, cranberries, boysenberries, raspberries, strawberries, blackberries, black currants, and cherries.)
Tip: Try keeping your blueberries in the freezer for a cool treat in the summer. It's also easy to add to add blueberries (frozen or fresh) to yogurt that's not pre-sweetened … and you can add a touch of maple syrup to make it even sweeter.
2. Enjoy avocado instead of cheese or mayonnaise.
Avocados can be polarizing — people either love or hate them. While the phrase “full of fats” may be frightening to some, relax! Avocados are full of mono saturated fats (healthy fats) that help boost good (HDL) cholesterol and lower bad (LDL) cholesterol.
There are 10 grams of fiber in one medium-sized avocado, two grams of fiber in one serving (one-fifth of a medium avocado). Avocados contains both insoluble and soluble fiber. Insoluble fiber (which speeds up the passage of foods) accounts for 75%, with the remaining 25% as soluble fiber (the fiber that makes you feel full).
Tip: If you're still finding it too hard to part with mayo, try Miso Mayo, a vegan, gluten-free, sugar-free, cholesterol-free alternative to mayonnaise. It's low in saturated fat and so delicious we use it on everything!
3. Load up on legumes instead of potatoes.
Beans are an all-around excellent superfood. They're packed with protein, fiber, antioxidants, iron, folates and, in the case of soybeans, omega-3 fatty acids. In addition, they contain an amino acid called tryptophan, which can help regulate your appetite, aid in sleeping, and may even improve your mood.
While potatoes (with the skin) are a good source of fiber, vitamin C, B6 and potassium, they are still a starchy food that produces an insulin reaction, so if you overindulge, they can drive blood sugar levels down and leave you hungry again in a couple hours. And most people peel, fry, or smother them in butter, cheese, or sour cream. So we recommend legumes over potatoes.
4. Choose garlic instead of garlic salt.
Garlic is one of our favorite superfoods. Not only does it add a ton of flavor, but it also has significant anti-inflammatory properties and may help cholesterol levels. Garlic is also full of antibacterial and anti-fungal properties.
Using garlic salt (instead of garlic) likely adds at least 320 mg of sodium (per only ¼ teaspoon!) to your meal without any of the nutritional benefits of this magical and medicinal herb.
Tip: If you're looking to keep it super simple, try buying a jar of the diced or minced garlic (in olive oil) available at Whole Foods.
5. Opt for kale or spinach instead of leaf lettuce.
Spinach is also full of iron and those Omega 3s that support a healthy brain.
While leaf lettuce and spinach are both great sources of vitamin A and thiamin, spinach and kale offer twice the amounts of other vitamins such as riboflavin, niacin and vitamin B-6 and four or five times more folate and vitamin K than leaf lettuce.
While you may find spinach and kale to be a bit pungent or bitter, so we recommend trying it with some apple cider vinegar (another fantastic health food) or blend them into a smoothie. Unlike leaf lettuce, you can also prepare spinach and kale in the form of “chips.”
Simply line a cookie sheet with wax paper, lay out a single layer of fresh spinach or kale leaves, spray with a tiny bit of olive oil, and sprinkle with a touch of sea salt. You can either put them under the broiler for a short time or bake them in a 350 degree oven. (Make sure you watch them closely as they tend to burn quickly!)
6. Eat quinoa instead of rice.
Quinoa is considered a superfood because it's one of the few whole grains that has enough amino acids to be considered a complete protein. It's also high in antioxidants and provides 5 grams of fiber per serving. It can be eaten cold as a salad (by adding it to a variety of vegetables such as tomatoes, green beans, spinach) and topping it with your favorite low-calorie dressing. Or it can be eaten hot, cooked in chicken or vegetable broth and served as a nutritious side dish.
Rice and quinoa have about the same amount of calories, but quinoa has more fiber and almost 50% more protein. Quinoa also has more riboflavin (vitamin B2), folate, iron, zinc and B3, which is why we love it!
7. Choose coconut oil instead of butter.
Although coconut oil is high in saturated fat, it has been found that the type of saturated fat in the coconut oil does not react the same in the body as the saturated fat found in animal products. It may actually raise HDL (good) cholesterol, reducing risk of cardiovascular disease.
Even a small amount of butter, as we all know, contains cholesterol and high levels of saturated fat because it's made from animal fat--the simple fact that keeps up choosing coconut oil. And unlike butter recipes that call for large amounts, one small teaspoon of coconut oil can go a very long way.
We also love olive oil but it should never be used in high heat cooking because when oil begins to smoke, it releases carcinogens into the air and creates free radicals within the oil.
8. Use whole, fresh tomatoes instead of canned tomatoes or canned sauce.
Fresh tomatoes are packed with antioxidants and contain nearly 40 percent of the recommended vitamin C daily intake. They're also loaded with vitamin A. Making a great marinara sauce for your whole wheat pasta!
If you want an alternative to tomatoes or want to mix it up a bit, try watermelon or pink grapefruit (before you eat grapefruit, make sure that it doesn’t interfere with any of the medications you take). Both of these are equally as delicious and contain most of the same cancer-fighting antioxidants, while making a great marinara sauce for your whole wheat pasta!
Canned tomatoes are highly absorptive and since 99% of cans still contain Bisphenol A (BPA) that can easily leak into, and be absorbed by, the foods they contain, these should definitely be avoided.
9. Pick plain yogurt with organic whole fruits instead pre-mixed yogurt with fruit.
While many yogurts are packed with calcium and serve as delicious alternatives to straight cow's milk (which can cause problems for some), pre-mixed yogurts with fruit often contain excess amounts of unnecessary sugar, counteracting much of the nutritional benefits of the product.
We suggest buying plain yogurt and adding organic fruits such as blueberries or blackberries yourself. And for an extra sweetness, try adding a touch of maple syrup to make it extra yummy.
Tip: Kefir is an excellent alternative to yogurt and some kefir has even more live, active cultures than the average store bought yogurt.
10. Drink water with lemon instead of fruit juice or soda.
When you're looking for extra taste in your water, simply adding a lemon is fantastically healthy. Lemons are high in vitamin C and potassium. Once metabolized they are also an alkaline food which have been shown to assist in weight loss. They also help flush out toxins.
Sodas and fruit juices are packed with sugar and artificial flavoring, which lead to all sorts of issues like weight gain and diseases such as diabetes. According to the Mayo Clinic, people who consume sugary drinks regularly have a 26 percent greater risk of developing diabetes.
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