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Want To Lose Weight? Here Are 5 Healthy Food Substitutions That Will Help

by JJ Virgin
healthy food substitutions - sweet potato fries

As you’re tempted to reach for another gooey pecan pumpkin torte your pastry chef best friend lovingly made, you suddenly remember you have a must-attend office party next week where you’re sure to be photographed, and a pang of regret surges through your veins.

Healthy eating during the holidays doesn’t mean deprivation or puritanically abstaining from delicious foods. Rather than tell people not to eat something, I’ve developed what I call lateral shifts: healthier satisfying substitutes for your favorite foods without the sugar or lingering guilt.

healthy food substitutions - sweet potato fries

Whether it’s oatmeal or a protein smoothie, for instance, many people start their day with cow’s milk. Even if you’re not lactose intolerant, cow’s milk can trigger acne, rosacea, and other skin conditions, not to mention stalling fast fat loss.

Unsweetened coconut milk, which is loaded with fat-burning medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs), makes the perfect lateral shift. Coconut milk can give you all of dairy’s satisfaction without the problems of cow’s milk. Unsweetened almond milk makes another smart lateral shift. I have both milks for my protein shake every morning.

Related: Why Size Matters…For Your Salad

Yogurt fan? Many fruit-on-the-bottom yogurts have as much sugar as a candy bar. Instead, I recommend stirring organic berries into coconut milk yogurt. (If you’re not dairy sensitive, you can use unsweetened Greek yogurt.)

Every meal can become an opportunity for a healthy lateral shift. Load your sliced turkey and avocado, for instance, on a Romaine wrap rather than wheat wrap to save calories but spike your nutrient and fiber intake.

And who needs high-fructose corn syrup loaded condiments like ketchup or barbeque sauce when you can use flavorful salsa or marinara?

Think creatively and you can lateral shift just about any food. Once you get the hang of this, it can even become fun. Five of my favorite lateral shifts include:

5 Healthy Food Substitutions & Lateral Shifts

1. Swap peanuts and peanut butter for raw almonds and almond butter

Peanuts are legumes, not nuts, and can accrue mold as well as a fungus called aflatoxin. Many commercial peanut butters also come loaded with trans fat and high-fructose corn syrup. Besides being more nutrient-rich, almonds and almond butter just taste better than peanuts and peanut butter.

2. Swap potatoes for faux-tatoes or sweet potatoes

Kids insisting on mashed potatoes with your grilled chicken and Brussels sprouts? Make a healthier switch to pureed cauliflower and coconut milk, also known as faux-tatoes. Or make baked sweet potato fries if you (or they) crave guiltless French fries.

Related: 12 Ways to Make Healthy Choices When Eating Out

3. Swap pasta for spaghetti squash

Spaghetti squash is rich in fiber and nutrients without regular pasta’s empty carbohydrates. Quinoa pasta (look for a certified gluten-free one with no corn) makes another nutrient-rich pasta alternative.

4. Swap hot chocolate for a healthier homemade version

Everyone loves hot chocolate during the holidays, but those coffee shop hot cocoas can wrack up over 600 calories. An easy switch is plant-based (but not soy) chocolate protein powder or unsweetened cocoa powder with warm unsweetened coconut or almond milk.

Related: Coffee Nutrition Facts – 7 Things You Didn’t Know

5. Swap flour for almond or coconut flour

Kids love chicken strips, but frozen and fast food varieties contain gluten and damaged fats. Almond or coconut flour provides that same crunch with nutrients you can feel good about.

With just a little planning and creativity, you can make healthy food substitutions and lateral shifts. Give these 5 a shot, and tell us what your favorites are!


jj virgin

Celebrity nutrition and fitness expert JJ Virgin is author of The New York Times Bestseller The Virgin Diet.

Featured photo by stevendepolo

Originally posted 10/13 and updated 11/14.

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1 comment

Sherry Hooker October 21, 2013 - 5:34 pm

I found a lateral shift that I actually enjoy. I use ground quinoa for a crispy, southern fried fish that is far tastier than using cornmeal. I also use quinoa for a rice or hot breakfast cereal replacement. And what’s really great, is my husband likes it, too.

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