Five simple food swaps you can make to be healthier this year

If you want to make positive changes to your diet, an easy place to start is introducing small but effective adjustments to the food groups that form the base of many people’s daily intake. Read on to discover our top five ideas for the simple swaps you can make to be smarter and healthier in the kitchen.

1. Pasta
Pasta has long been labelled as the bad guy when it comes to food staples, largely due to the misbelief that carbs = evil. In fact, carbohydrates are a hugely important part of our diets, as they give our bodies their main source of energy. Where pasta goes wrong is not down to the fact that they are high in carbs, but because refined pasta (i.e. white pasta) has been stripped of all its natural nutrients in the production process.

The simplest way to turn your pasta dishes into healthy meals full of nutrients like fibre, protein and iron is to replace white pasta with wholemeal options such as buckwheat, spelt and brown rice, or pulse variations like chickpea or lentil pasta. You could also take things a step further by using ‘zoodles’ instead, like in this Courgette Pasta with Avocado and Pesto, creating an extra serving of nutrient-dense vegetables.

2. Rice
Like refined pasta, white rice has also been stripped of its natural nutrients, creating a staple that is rich in calories but not much else. While this makes it ideal as a quick-digesting meal (good for, say, a post-workout snack or for people with digestive issues), there are easy swaps you can make to boost the nutritional benefits of your rice dishes.

Brown rice is a wholegrain option that contains about three times as much fibre as white rice, as well as higher levels of protein, making you feel fuller for longer. It makes a delicious addition to rice salads or stir fries – try it in this Satay Pork and Broccoli Stir-fry. Or experiment by replacing rice with quinoa, which has earned itself a ‘super food’ title due to being jam-packed with nutrients such as protein, fibre and minerals.

3. Bread
It’s an all-round classic when it comes to breakfast, soups and quick lunchbox fillers, but this ancient staple is not always a winner in terms of its nutritional benefits. Without wanting to sound like a broken record, that’s because white bread is made with – you guessed it – refined flour.

Try switching white bread out for a wholegrain loaf, which includes extra fibre and protein to keep you feeling full for much longer than white bread. You can also get wholegrain varieties of wraps and pita bread, if that’s more your style! For even more vitamins, minerals and healthy fats, you could even opt for seed bread – which is a delicious and often gluten-free alternative.

4. Potatoes
Potatoes are a fantastic dinner addition, as they provide great levels of carbohydrates, fibre and resistant starch (which supports the good bacteria in your gut). However, there are a few tricks to making sure you are getting the best out of your spuds. Most of their nutrients are held in the skin, so resist the urge to peel your potatoes. Also, when it comes to choosing your cooking method, baking, boiling and steaming will help you see more health benefits than if you fry them – if you want chips, try baking them instead!

If you’re looking for an alternative to potatoes to mix up your diet, try replacing it with kūmara, which is actually higher in fibre than potatoes and can be used in exactly the same ways. Or if you are trying to reduce your carb intake, give Lotatoes a go, which are a new type of naturally cross-bred potatoes with 40% less carbs in each serving.

5. Snacks
When it comes to snacks, it’s easy to fall into a trap of grabbing whatever’s closest, yummiest and most convenient. To avoid bad snacking habits, ensure you’ve always got healthy, convenient options on hand – that are also delicious enough to break the cravings.

Keep a tub of natural (or homemade) hummus in the fridge to pair with wholegrain crackers and vegetable sticks for a snack that is a cinch to prepare and will keep you satisfied until your next meal. A handful of nuts is another tasty idea that will fill you up with healthy fats and protein, or keep a jar of popcorn kernels in the pantry to be turned into a snack that is wholegrain and fibre-rich. Just make sure you keep it healthy by popping only with a small amount of olive oil and flavouring with a sprinkle of cinnamon, sea salt or mixed herbs!