Waking up at the crack of dawn to go to the gym or not giving into your nagging brownie craving is easier said than done. Leading a healthier lifestyle, however, doesn’t need to be about making huge changes. In fact, you’ll likely have a better chance of success if you start off small with goals you’ll actually be able to reach. We turned to leading nutritionists to find out some easy diet tweaks that make a big impact. Their recommendations are so good, virtually everyone can follow them.
“Instead of croutons use Manitoba Harvest Hemp Hearts,” suggests Ashley Koff, RD, founder of The Better Nutrition program. “They will give you plant protein, fiber and omegas and allow you to skip the extra carbs (you can enjoy those in the form of beans, grains or starchy veggies on your salad or as your soup).”
Opt for Spaghetti Squash Instead of Spaghetti
When you crave comfort food or want spaghetti, use spaghetti squash instead. “It feels like a hearty meal, but one cup only has only 40 calories — more than 75 percent fewer calories than a cup of plain pasta,” say The Nutrition Twins. “Plus, you’ll avoid refined white flour and the squash is packed with antioxidants and vitamin C, which promotes collagen formation to keep your skin looking youthful while also mopping up free radicals that harm the body and age it.”
Note, it’s important to make several cuts throughout the squash to prevent it from exploding in the microwave or pot! Once your squash is soft to the touch, cut it into spaghetti-like strands and top it with a low-sodium tomato sauce and Parmesan cheese. (Parmesan is a medium-fat cheese, but packs a lot of flavor, so remember, a little will go a long way!)
Mix Some Mushrooms Into Your Meatballs
One of the best ways to lighten meatballs is to swap half of the meat for ground mushrooms, instead of the usual breadcrumbs or rice, both of which are commonly used as bulking fillers, especially in restaurants. “Mushrooms have a really meaty texture and they also are low in calories, so this can be an effective method for reducing daily energy and fat intake while still keeping you feeling full and satiated after meals,” say The Nutrition Twins. “Doing this swap can also boost your immunity — mushrooms are a rich source of selenium and they are one of the best dietary sources of ergothioneine, two antioxidants known for their roles in helping to maintain the immune system.”
Cauliflower Instead of Banana (Really!)
Here’s one we bet you never considered. Koff suggests reducing your banana to half when you make your smoothie and making the other half frozen cauliflower. “When you use frozen cauliflower you still get the creaminess and you get the added plant nutrients (antioxidants).” You’ll also cut down on starch.
Swap Lemon in Place of Salt
Instead of adding salt to your food, squeeze lemon on it. A salt-heavy diet not only contributes to bloating, but to a long list of medical ailments. The Nutrition Twins also point out added bonuses: the vitamin C in the lemon enhances the absorption of iron, so if you squeeze it over fish, chicken, meat or beans, you’ll get an even bigger benefit and lemon helps to promote the activity of a liver enzyme that converts harmful, toxic substances to less harsh chemicals (via the liver through a compound called d-limonene).
Opt for Light Beer
If you typically have two beers a week, you’ll save 1.5 pounds per year opting for light over regular beer, according to The Nutrition Twins. “Not a beer drinker? Go for the wine spritzer instead of the wine and you’ll reap the same benefits.”
Be Smart With Condiments
Deciding between condiments? Instead of mayo, tartar sauce or sour cream, go for ketchup. “You’ll not only save as much as 100-plus calories per serving and spare your heart from artery-clogging saturated fat, but you’ll also get a powerful antioxidant boost as ketchup has four times the lycopene of regular tomatoes, so it actually helps to destroy free radicals so that they can’t damage your cells and weaken your immune system. Lycopene also helps stave off lung, stomach, prostate and other cancers and protects against inflammation and disease.”
Use a Microplane
For chocolate and high-calorie cheese, use a microplane to make portion control much easier. “A 1-ounce chunk of Parmesan cheese or chocolate becomes a large and puffy pile after using a microplane, so it makes it easier to not feel like you’re eating a skimpy portion,” say The Nutrition Twins.
Use Fruit as a Natural Way to Sweeten
You don’t need to add calories and sugar to your recipes by sweetening them with sugar, honey or maple syrup. “I love to whip up breakfast eats that are sweet enough on their own like a Berry Almond Cocoa Smoothie made with a base of naturally sweet wild blueberries, also providing an antioxidant boost,” says Amy Gorin, MS, RDN, founder of Amy Gorin Nutrition. “You can also use defrosted frozen fruit as a topping for pancakes or French toast in lieu of maple syrup.”
Eat Greek Instead of Traditional Yogurt
“Compared with traditional yogurt, Greek yogurt provides a much larger supply of protein,” says Gorin. “The protein is important because it helps keep you full, meaning you may be less likely to have a post-meal nosh. I like to pair Greek yogurt with fruit and peanut butter. You can also use it in place of sour cream when eating tacos.”
Make a Thin-Crust Pizza
Just one slice of takeout pizza can be pretty high in calories — often over 300 per slice, which is why Gorin suggests making your own. “I use a Flatout pizza crust to make my Cheesy Wild Mushroom & Caramelized Onion Pizza, which is just 210 calories for half a pizza. Pair your pizza with a side salad for extra veggies or a broth-based soup and you have a complete meal.”
Pair Crudités With Dips Instead of Chips or Crackers
Gorin suggests pairing a Greek yogurt dip or salsa with sliced bell peppers, grape tomatoes and crinkle-cut carrots. “This provides a dipper that’s not only lower in sodium and calories, but one that provides filling fiber.”
Opt for Nonstarchy Veggies
Of course, both starchy and nonstarchy vegetables are healthy options, but if you’re looking to cut carbs and boost your fiber intake, opt for nonstarchy vegetables. Corn, peas, potatoes (including sweet) and beans are among the most popular starchy vegetables, while beets, carrots, onion, cauliflower, broccoli and leafy greens are some of the most popular nonstarchy options.