Healthy food substitutions: what worked for me

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, there’s no possible way you could’ve missed social media and news messages of the universal need to start eating a healthier diet. Without question, this means that healthy food substitutions are a must.

However, substituting unhealthy foods for equally bad, or (UGH!) even WORSE foods will never promote healthy eating habits – and I’m living proof.

Nearly 30 years ago when I decided to stop eating meat, I promptly increased my carbohydrate intake.

I conducted no research on the health hazards (not to mention stupidity) of that – not even when my clothes started getting tighter. A whole (HIGHER!) dress size later, and I was still in denial that eating more sandwiches, pancakes, rice, spaghetti, cornbread, biscuits, oh, and pizza (yum) was a problem.

A happier me today at 57 subbing collard green leaves and cucumbers for bread. πŸ™‚

Ok so yep, a MAJOR diet bomb for me – eating worse AND gaining weight. I could’ve just kept meat in my diet!

But giving up meat was, at least, a giant health leap forward, particularly with red meat.

Even before nutritional studies like this recent one by the Harvard T. H. Chan School and published on the Science Daily news site which shows that “replac[ing] red meat with healthy plant proteins” leads to lower risk factors for cardiovascular disease, I knew that continuing to eat hamburgers and steaks didn’t feel healthy.

So no, I wasn’t about to keep doing it. But my mind had yet to focus on what plant-based protein resources I could substitute for the animal-based protein I was no longer eating.

But that was then.

Today I know that substituting an unhealthy eating style for a healthy one needs a bit more attention than just cutting out the food offender in question.

For example: Do you believe that substituting fruit smoothies – either store-bought or home-made – instead of sodas, cookies, cakes, donuts, and other sugar-laden foods are a good choice? (I’m frowning over here)

Nope, don’t toast to your healthier lifestyle just yet. Fructose – the sugar in fruits – is still sugar, and just as unhealthy if you eat too much of it. How about the meat substitutes on the market? Eating meatless has never tasted so delicious – and added so much sodium and fat to your diet.


Making healthy diet substitution changes doesn’t have to be a chore though. It’s easier for me to put the substitutions into four categories: sodium, fat, sugar and protein and then remember that whole, natural foods instead of processed foods is the best healthy food substitution you’ll ever make. Check out these changes that have worked for me.

  • Protein: After I denounced my carb queen status, I focused on healthier substitutions of homemade bean burgers (especially black bean burgers and lentil burgers), lentil soups, quinoa (delicious raw in smoothies, salads, or cooked as a great rice substitute), tofu, chickpeas (garbanzo beans), homemade nut butters, and plant milks.
This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 20190326_090727-14833307296165763362.jpg
Frozen bananas and a bit of orange juice offer plenty of sweetness to my homemade spinach-collard green-avocado smoothie.
  • Sodium: A biggie for me! I don’t crave chocolate; I crave salty foods. But I gave up McDonald’s fries (drooling right now), potato chips, crackers, Cheese Nips, pretzels and Doritos for homemade popcorn and tortilla chips that are under 180 mgs of sodium per serving. I also gave up my salt shaker for Mrs. Dash seasonings and other spices and hot sauce. I do however keep garlic salt for my popcorn, I just watch my portion size.
  • Fats: Avocado is my fave healthy fat sub for mayo, butter, margarine, salad dressings, or gravy. Coconut oil is running a close second to avocado. Popcorn popped in coconut oil is dee-lish!
  • Sugar: I gave up table sugar in my teens and chose to go sugar-free rather than substitute. But fresh or frozen fruits are the best substitute – kept under control.

Now I’m a firm believer in listening to my body. So when I crave Munchos (the best potato chip ever!) I go get a bag, eat a portion, throw the rest away and don’t make it a habit! πŸ™‚ So, watch your substitutions! It’s way too easy to get caught up in labels that scream “healthy! vegan! vegetarian! low carb!” and think you’re healthy if you eat them.

Here’s to your health! πŸ™‚

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