Most public health recommendations plead that we fill our plates with more whole grains over the refined stuff and limit our saturated fat intake to no more than 10 percent of total calories. While these guides have been in place for years, it appears we're still far from heeding them.
Indeed, a large study of nearly 44,000 adults found that 42 percent of our calories each day are coming from low-quality carbs (think: French fries, soda and baked goods) and 12 percent of our calories are coming from saturated fat (like red meat, butter and full-fat dairy), per September 2019 research published in the Journal of American Medical Association (JAMA).
Researchers noted that while they did see slight improvements compared to previous years, we're still far from scoring an A on this report card. So how do we bump up our healthy eating GPA?
Instead of totally cutting out the foods we love and have grown accustomed to, consider making healthy swaps instead. Here are some ideas to help you cut down your intake of low-quality carbs and saturated fat — without sacrificing too much.
5 Healthy Swaps for Sugary, Refined Carbs
Substitute Soft Drinks for Sparkling Water
There's nothing redeeming about soft drinks — they're loaded with added sugars. While some might think diet soda would be a healthier swap, this hasn't proven to be the case. Diet soda has been linked to heart disease, diabetes, altered gut microbiome and no improvement when it comes to kicking the sugar habit. Switching from a 12-ounce can of soda to a 12-ounce bottle of sparkling water saves you 39 grams of added sugars.
Go for Plain Yogurt Over Flavored
Fruit-on-the-bottom, sugary mix-ins and the like are what make a lot of yogurts a lot less healthy than you think. For example, a standard 5.3-ounce cup of low-fat, vanilla-flavored yogurt usually packs in 22 grams of sugar while the same serving of plain, low-fat yogurt has only 10 grams of sugar. That might still sound like a lot — but keep in mind that lactose, a sugar naturally found in dairy, is also lumped into that total sugar count.
Try a Healthier Ice Cream
This one is a double-whammy because ice cream is high in added sugar and saturated fat. But the good news is that the ice cream market has been booming with innovation recently — resulting in healthier options so that we can still have our ice cream, and eat it, too.
Many of the newer products use monk fruit or stevia to cut down on added sugars or they feature milk alternatives which helps to reduce saturated fat while keeping them plant-based. For instance, a half-cup serving of traditional, dairy-based vanilla ice cream contains 14 grams of sugar while the same serving size of Halo Top Vanilla Bean boasts 6 grams of sugar. Another option is to DIY your own at home with your favorite no-added-sugar "nice cream" recipes.
Swap White Bread for Sprouted Bread
White bread might bring back those nostalgic childhood memories, but that's exactly where it should be left — in the past. Not only is white bread typically stripped of all of the grain's nutrients like when fiber, vitamins and minerals, but it frequently sneaks in added sugar, too.
Case in point? A slice of classic white bread typically serves up about 2 to 3 grams of sugar and little to no fiber. Instead, opt for a sprouted grain bread, which usually boasts around 0 to 1 gram of sugar and 3 to 5 grams of fiber. Plus, sprouting the grains also boosts the amount of B vitamins, vitamin C, fiber and amino acids, according to the Whole Grains Council.
Opt for Low-Sugar Breakfast Cereals
Breakfast cereals are quite often high in added sugar and refined grains. Instead, make your first meal of the day count by choosing a lower-sugar, whole-grain option. For example, although Honey Nut Cheerios is touted as a healthy, whole-grain cereal, one cup will cost you 12 grams of sugar. However, similar picks from different brands contain half the sugar — which is why reading labels is key!
5 Healthy Swaps to Cut Down on Saturated Fat
Enjoy Part-Skim or Low-Fat Cheese Over the Full-Fat Varieties
Full-fat cheese is just that: full of fat. But you can still enjoy cheese as long as you choose wisely. Shop for low-fat cheeses made with non-fat or low-fat milk, with no more than 3 grams of fat per ounce and no more than 2 grams of saturated fat per ounce, the American Heart Association recommends.
Cottage cheese is a perfect example. A half-cup of full-fat cottage cheese clocks in at 3 grams of saturated fat while the same serving size of the low-fat version steals the cake with 1.5 grams of saturated fat.
Swap Cheese Pizza for a Veggie Slice
To slash your saturated fat intake, you don't have to cut out pizza altogether. Instead, choose a veggie-topped slice with tomato sauce and skip the cheese. You'll not only cut down on unhealthy fat but you'll also add fiber and nutrients to your plate thanks to the vegetables.
Case in point? A third of Amy's Cheese Pizza pie has 5 grams of saturated fat while the same serving of the brand's roasted vegetable pizza only provides 1.5 grams saturated fat.
Make Turkey and Chicken Your Go-Tos
Sausage and burgers are typically made with a high-fat beef or pork. Instead, look for a leaner cut of meat made of lean beef, turkey or chicken. A great example is switching from a pork sausage like Aidell's Cajun Style Andouille sausage with 4 grams of saturated fat to a chicken sausage that boasts just 1.5 grams of saturated fat.
And don't fret, these lower-fat versions aren't lacking in flavor. Many of the store-bought options incorporate a slew of herbs and spices.
Swap Whole Milk for a Reduced-Fat or Dairy Alternative
A cup of whole milk has 5 grams of saturated fat, but you can cut that by more than half if you go with a low-fat (1.5 grams saturated fat) or fat-free (0 grams saturated fat) milk. Another option? Plant-based milks (not including coconut milk) typically have little to no saturated fat whether you go almond, oat, flax or soy. Just be sure to look for an unsweetened carton to avoid added sugars.
Cook With Plant Oils Instead of Butter
While they're pretty comparable when it comes to calories — one tablespoon of butter contains 100 calories while one tablespoon of plant-based oil has around 120 calories — the same cannot be said for their saturated fat contents.
- USDA MyPlate: "10 Tips: Make Half Your Grains Whole Grains"
- 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines: "Appendix 7. Nutritional Goals for Age-Sex Groups Based on Dietary Reference Intakes and Dietary Guidelines Recommendations"
- Whole Grain Council: "Sprouted Whole Grains"
- American Heart Association: "Dairy Products - Milk, Yogurt, and Cheese"
- USDA Nutrient Database: "Whole Milk, Vitamin D"
- USDA Nutrient Database: "1% MilkFat Milk"
- USDA Nutrient Database: "Fat Free Skim Milk"
- USDA Nutrient Database: "Unsalted Butter"
- USDA Nutrient Database: "Olive Oil"
- USDA Nutrient Database: "Avocado Oil"
- USDA Nutrient Database: "Grapeseed Oil"