Finding healthy food swaps may seem impossible when you’ve already established eating habits. However, for improved health, simple and easy food swaps for weight loss can help you achieve your goals without sacrificing flavor or requiring a kitchen ingredient overhaul.
Shopping smarter, not harder, can help you select healthy substitutes that make sense for your lifestyle. Read on for healthy food swaps to lose weight, including plenty of heart-healthy ingredients.
What Are Healthy Food Swaps to Lose Weight?
When you’re trying to lose weight, healthy swaps can be a lifesaver. Making easy substitutes can allow you to boost nutritional content while also reducing calories.
Although all foods can fit into a balanced diet, healthy swaps allow you to enjoy your favorite foods without any of the guilt. Plus, healthy swaps can help you meet your nutritional needs and even be appropriate for those with certain food allergies. In other words, nutrient-rich substitutes can help you with several health goals beyond weight loss!
12 Healthy Food Swaps
There are many food swaps out there, but not all of them are manageable. Plus, some can significantly change texture and taste.
Fortunately, the following swaps can be made easily with items you likely already have at home. Try these simple healthy food swaps today!
We are not affiliated with any of the linked products and simply believe they could be great additions to support a healthy lifestyle.
1. Greek Yogurt for Regular Yogurt (& Cream-Based Concoctions)
Did you know that most fruity, flavored yogurt is loaded with added sugar? A great swap for regular yogurt is Greek yogurt, which contains plenty of protein and a fraction of the sugar. When losing weight, protein-packed foods can also help you feel full for longer.
Reduced fat varieties are also available, making Greek yogurt a great swap for those watching both fat and sugar levels. Surprisingly, many homemade sauces, dips, and baked goods can be made by substituting Greek yogurt for milk, sour cream, heavy cream, and mayo.
From breakfast parfaits to homemade fruit dips, Greek yogurt can be a healthy way to satisfy your craving for something creamy.
2. Dark Chocolate for Milk Chocolate
The difference between dark and milk chocolate may not seem that important until you’re looking to lose weight. Surprisingly, dark chocolate can sneak some health benefits into your favorite snack or dessert.
Dark chocolate is actually considered a functional food, meaning it is thought to provide benefits beyond regular nutrition benefits. For example, dark chocolate contains compounds like flavonoids and polyphenols that are associated with improving health.
In particular, dark chocolate has been studied by experts and proven effective for weight management. As mentioned above, it can be added to a well-balanced snack or dessert to move health markers (such as your lipid profile) in the right direction.
When swapping for milk chocolate, seek out dark chocolate that’s been processed as little as possible. This way, it will retain the nutrients you need. Additionally, look on the label before buying and do your best to limit added sugars whenever possible.
Looking for a recipe to get you started? Try dark chocolate homemade peanut butter cups to satisfy your cravings! Each nutrient-rich, protein-packed cup contains a little over 100 calories. Plus, the recipe only requires just three ingredients that are probably already in your pantry.
3. Frozen or Fresh Fruit for Sugary Desserts
Fruit contains natural sugars, which means they can be surprisingly sweet! With some spices and seasonings, naturally sweet desserts can support you in your weight loss journey. For example, baking apples with a sprinkle of cinnamon and nutmeg can create a sweet treat you can enjoy any time of the year.
In its frozen form, fruit can also be especially refreshing. For example, “nice” cream (which is a healthier version of ice cream) can be created using a single ingredient, blended frozen bananas. Alternatively, you can add an avocado, some milk, and a splash of vanilla to make an extra-creamy avocado ice cream packed with healthy fats.
Homemade strawberry gelato is another guilt-free option. Although some agave nectar is added for sweetness, most of the recipe is made from strawberries. And the best part? It’s only 4 ingredients!
4. Dried Fruit for Fruit Snacks & Fruit-Flavored Candy
Some fruit snacks contain more added sugar than actual fruit. Many fruit-flavored candies contain no fruit, just artificial flavors.
On the contrary, when you consume dried fruit, your body can make better use of naturally occurring sugars because they come along with vitamins and minerals. Instead of chomping on fruit snacks or candy, try adding dried fruit to your snack rotation. For example, you can add unsweetened dried banana chips, dried pineapple, and coconut flakes to a tropical-inspired trail mix.
If you’re missing your favorite candy while trying to lose weight, you may be able to control cravings with a naturally-flavored dried fruit alternative. For example, Sun-Maid makes Sour Watermelon Fruit Raisin Snacks which can be a much healthier replacement for Sour Patch Watermelon Soft & Chewy Candy.
5. 100% Whole-Wheat or Whole Grain Bread for White Bread
One easy swap to make is choosing wheat bread instead of white bread. Most of the time, both of these breads are available in the same aisle, making it easy to grab a loaf of wheat instead of a loaf of white.
White bread often contains added sugar, and loses many vitamins and minerals during processing. Although some nutrients are added back during processing, they aren’t always in the most bioavailable form. This means they may not be in the easiest form for your body to absorb.
On the other hand, 100% whole-wheat or whole-grain bread retains nutrients. Not only are these nutrients great for weight loss, but they may help lower the risk of heart, metabolic, and chronic diseases—like cardiovascular disease, certain cancers, and diabetes.
6. Sweet Potatoes for Regular Potatoes
Potatoes are often demonized as a root vegetable too rich in starches (carbohydrates). While both regular and sweet potatoes can fit into a healthy diet, sweet potatoes may offer marginally more vitamins and minerals. When losing weight, making this switch may give you that extra bit of nutrients you need.
In particular, one nutrient sweet potatoes contain in abundance that is low in regular potatoes is vitamin A. This vitamin plays a vital role in many functions, and can help support weight loss at the cellular level since it’s involved in many aspects of metabolism. Interestingly, the average sweet potato also contains fewer calories and carbs than the regular white potato.
Swapping sweet potatoes for regular potatoes is easy, since most recipes calling for potatoes work just as well with sweet potatoes. You can mash them, bake them, and roast them just like you would a regular white potato.
Sweet potatoes also contain more natural sugars than regular potatoes, meaning (as their name suggests) that they taste slightly sweet. This makes them versatile, and they can be incorporated into both savory and sweet recipes—like sweet potato pancakes, sweet potato salad, and sweet potato pie.
7. Olive or Canola Oil for Butter
Although butter can be a delicious and nutritious form of dairy, it’s easy to overdo it. Consuming too much butter can counter your weight loss goals, since butter is almost 70% saturated fat (“unhealthy” fats).
Alternatively, plant-based oils contain more healthy, or unsaturated, fats. Canola oil consistently ranks as one of the most heart-healthy oils, with less than 10% saturated fat.
For cooking, olive oil is also a favorite, thanks to its neutral flavor and versatility. With only 15% saturated fats, it’s another healthy option. There’s a reason it’s used liberally in diets that support weight management, like the Mediterranean diet or the DASH diet.
8. Avocado or Nut Butter for Spreads Rich in Saturated Fats
Spreads like cream cheese can contain saturated fats, and eating too many of these “unhealthy” fats can make it difficult to lose weight. To make matters worse, flavored cream cheeses and similar spreads can contain unnecessary added sugars.
As an alternative, nut butter or mashed avocado can add nutrients without sacrificing flavor. Both of these alternatives contain healthy unsaturated fats, which can help you feel full while still supporting weight loss. These swaps also pair well with both savory and sweet flavors, making them the perfect companion for most breads, bagels, and crackers.
9. Grilled Protein for Fried, Breaded or Battered Dishes
If you opt for fast food, try and find a grilled option on the menu. In most cases, battered, breaded, or fried dishes contain more calories and less nutrients. Typically, grilling is a way to cook and heat meat that doesn’t require extra ingredients.
For example, Chick-fil-A offers grilled nuggets as an alternative to their breaded chicken nuggets. This grilled contains 100+ calories less than its breaded counterpart. It also contains more protein, less fat, and fewer carbs. In other words, it’s an overall healthier choice.
This same idea applies to vegetables and fish dishes as well. Most often, grilling foods with herbs and seasonings can provide plenty of flavor without going overboard on calories, saturated fat, and carbs. Choosing grilled options can get you closer to your weight loss goals.
10. Veggie- or Legume-Based Noodles for Pasta
One sneaky swap you can make is to switch out regular pasta noodles for protein-packed or vegetable-based varieties. For example, brands like Banza make pasta from alternative flour and legumes (such as chickpeas). Often, these flours produce beige-colored pasta noodles, meaning you could switch them out for regular pasta and no one would know!
Some alternative pastas are also packed with veggies. For example, the brand Veggiecraft creates pasta made from cauliflower, sweet potato, and zucchini. These veggie-based alternatives (along with some legume-based pastas like red lentil rotini) often add color to your dish, turning pasta into fun shades of red, orange, or green.
If you’re feeling creative, you can also use a handheld spiralizer (or spiralizer attachment on certain kitchen equipment) to create your own noodle-like foods. Spiralized zucchini noodles and butternut squash are popular pasta substitutes. Carrots and cucumbers that have been spiralized also make a delicious salad if you’re looking for something other than pasta salad to eat for lunch.
If you’re having trouble with alternative pastas, play around with flavors! For example, a sesame ginger dressing on a spiralized carrot and zucchini salad can elevate an otherwise boring vegetable dish. Sauces you have on hand, like pasta sauce or pesto, can also be a perfect pairing in a pinch.
11. Fresh or Dried Herbs for Salt
If you’re managing high blood pressure and working to lose weight, switching from salt to herbs and other seasonings can be just the trick for flavor. Excessive salt use can contribute to chronically high blood pressure, which is a complication that often accompanies weight gain.
On the other hand, herbs offer various health benefits and have been used for centuries in both culinary and medicinal settings. When losing weight, seasoning with herbs can both improve flavor and help keep your health parameters in check.
Wondering where to start? Create your own homemade spice mixes.
12. Sparkling Water for Sugary Drinks
Lessening liquid calories is a crucial part of weight loss, as many people can be stuck in a soda habit. Instead of sugar-sweetened drinks, try sparkling water, which contains carbonation without all the calories.
It’s important to examine the label before buying since not all sparkling water brands are sugar-free. If you’re feeling fancy, you can purchase your own SodaStream which will allow you to make sparkling water at home.
Just like regular water, sparkling water can be fruit-infused. You can also add a splash of 100% fruit juice for flavor while still keeping your drink at a fraction of the calories contained in sugary beverages.
The Last Word Food Swaps for Weight Loss
Food swaps can make your healthy eating journey much easier and can make weight management feel effortless. Simple swaps, like choosing wheat bread instead of white bread, can help you make small but meaningful changes that contribute to weight loss over time.
Luckily, many healthy swaps are delicious and nutritious, meaning you won’t have to compromise on flavor.
Cleveland Clinic. Potato or Sweet Potato: Which Is Healthier? Health.clevelandclinic.org. Published January 2022.
Cox J. Healthy Baking Alternatives. Eatright.org. Published October 2019.
Ellis E. What Is a Whole Grain. Eatright.org. Published August 2021.
National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. Which Fats and Oils Should You Use? Nhlbi.nih.gov. Published December 2013.
Samanta S, Sarkar T, Chakraborty R, Rebezoc M, Shariati MA, et al. Dark chocolate: An overview of its biological activity, processing, and fortification approaches. Curr Res Nutr Food Sci. 2022;5:1916-1943.
Sawicki CM, Jacques PF, Lichtenstein AH, Rogers GT, Ma J, et al. Whole- and Refined-Grain Consumption and Longitudinal Changes in Cardiometabolic Risk Factors in the Framingham Offspring Cohort. J Nutr. 2021;151(9):2790-2799.
U.S. Department of Agriculture. Cut Back on Added Sugars. Myplate.gov. Accessed April 2023.
U.S. Department of Agriculture. Rethink Fats. Myplate.gov. Accessed April 2023.