“You are what you eat.” It may be a tired, old cliché, but it’s the truth. Your diet affects your physical, mental, and emotional health. Your energy level, your skin, your immune system, even your state of mind–they are all directly affected by the foods you consume. When you eat a healthy, balanced diet, you get just what your body needs for long-lasting energy and a good mood.

But life is all about moderation. Such is the key to experiencing greater pleasure and fulfillment while maintaining our physical well-being. We can’t afford, for the sake of our sanity and happiness, to live solely by rigid dietary rules and limitations. We’d drive ourselves berserk if we never cut ourselves some slack and indulged a little. But neither can we sustain a healthy, happy life if we indulge all the time.

So while we just discussed how to throw our diet-related inhibitions out the window by cooking everything with bacon grease simply because it’s delicious, we also sincerely encourage you to be conscious of your overall fitness and maintain a healthful diet most of the time.

Eating healthfully means making healthy choices. There are tons of ways to make the real foods we love healthier. We just have to learn to compromise sometimes. Making healthful substitutions is easy to do, and while said substitutions may sometimes seem less pleasing than their traditional counterparts, they are by no means bland, or gross, or whatever other excuses we may have for not making the right decision.

So go ahead and put some pig lard in your veggie sauté, but also eat your veggies. Here are some healthy food substitutions that don’t suck. Apply these easy changes to your daily life to redeem yourself and regain control of your health and happiness.

Food Substitutions that Don’t Suck:

Quinoa for Rice:

Quinoa has 150% more fiber and 100% more protein than white rice. As a seed rather than a grain, quinoa has all essential amino acids, making it a complete protein. Rice is not a complete protein on its own.

Plain Greek Yogurt for Sour Cream:

Sour cream has more than three times the calories of Greek yogurt and even more fat, respectively. Plus, you get a healthy dose of probiotics in Greek yogurt to aid with digestion. It’s naturally sour, but you can add a little lemon if you seek more pucker-inducing flavor.

Cottage Cheese for Ricotta:

Cottage cheese is packed with protein, and it has almost half the calories and one third of the fat of ricotta. To your Italian friends, the idea may seem sacrilegious, but serve up Grandma Maria’s famous lasagna with cottage cheese instead of ricotta, and they won’t even notice the difference.

Coconut Water for Sports Drinks:

Fun fact: coconut water can be used as I.V. fluid for severe dehydration. Sports drinks are saturated with sugar and chemicals. Natural coconut water has all the electrolytes and nutrients to properly hydrate you and none of the junk that destroys your insides. Drink it after your swim meet or during your basketball game with the boys. Keep it on hand as a hangover cure when you’ve had a little too much fun the night before, or drink it before you pass out, as a preventative measure.

Dark, Leafy Greens for Iceberg Lettuce:

Replace your empty iceberg with greens that provide a slough of essential nutrients. Dark leafy greens like kale and spinach provide more than lighter-colored lettuces like iceberg and romaine in the way of iron, calcium, heart-healthy vitamin K, and vitamin C, among other important vitamins and minerals. The darker the green, the more nutrient-dense it will be.

Avocado for Mayo:

Avocado is high in fat and should be eaten in moderation, but its monounsaturated fats curb bad cholesterol and help your heart. You’ll have all the creamy goodness you desire in your sandwich with about half the calories of mayo and less than half the fat, too.

Nutritional Yeast for Cheese:

The taste and texture of nutritional yeast is a bit different than cheese, but it gives you the salty, cheesy taste without all the fat and calories. Add it to your pasta instead of parmesan, and sprinkle it on popcorn for a satisfying, healthy snack. You can even use it for vegan mac and cheese!

Whole Wheat for White:

Whether you’re baking pastries or selecting your toast option during brunch, opt for whole wheat or whole grain instead of white flour-based foods. Whole wheat and whole grain options provide more fiber, vitamins, and minerals than white flour. In your baking recipes, you can substitute half of the white flour required with whole wheat to maintain proper texture.

Frozen Banana “Ice Cream” for Ice Cream:

You can make delicious, healthy soft serve ice cream by pureeing frozen bananas. It’s seriously tasty and totally satisfying. Throw in some chocolate chips and a natural nut butter for a killer dessert without the sugar and fat of ice cream.

Chia Seeds for Eggs:

Chia is higher in calories than eggs, gram for gram, but it also has more magnesium, calcium, iron, protein, and fiber, and way less cholesterol than eggs. Combine 1 tablespoon of chia seeds with 3 tablespoons of water. Let the mixture sit for a few minutes until it becomes viscous, like a raw egg. Use chia “eggs” in all your baking recipes.

Originally published at on April 6, 2015.


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