How to upgrade your diet with nine easy swaps

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pieces of toast with fruit

If you want to eat a little healthier but don’t know where to start, worry not, these tips will get you on the right track!

A plant-based diet tends to be healthier than others in general but it’s not a given. Potatoes and biscuits may be vegan but if you base your diet around them, your body will suffer. No matter what your motivation for going plant-based or vegan – ethical, health or environmental – safeguarding your health is important, not just to be heathy but also to make you a good role model, and more knowledgeable in conversations with family, friends, doctors and even strangers.

Making healthy food choices is about creating new habits – and they take about three weeks to stick so give these healthy swaps just a month for them to become your new normal.

1. Sweetened cereal for unsweetened muesli

Sweetened cereals pack an unnecessary dose of sugar and often only pretend to be wholegrain, so all you’re getting is sugar and some processed cereal stuff that also turns into sugar in your belly. Try natural muesli that’s made from oats, dried fruit, nuts and seeds. It packs a lot more nutrients and gives you longer-lasting energy than a bowl of sugar. If you’re thinking that muesli is too pricey, there’s an easy solution – buy a big bag of oats and mix it with raisins, cinnamon and some nuts and/or seeds and you have a healthy muesli for a fraction of the shop price!

2. Juice for a fresh smoothie

If you’re used to having a glass of juice, swap it for a home-made smoothie. A shop-bought juice doesn’t offer many nutrients and is little more than sweet water – unless it’s fresh and unpasteurised. You’re much better off with throwing your favourite fruits in a blender to make a delicious drink to have straight away or take with you.

3. Toast with jam for toast with nut butter and fruit

Jam tastes great but it doesn’t provide much of what you need. Try swapping it for a layer of nut butter (almond, peanut, cashew) sprinkled with chopped dried fruit and fresh fruit on top or alongside it. That way you’re getting healthy fats, protein, vitamins, minerals and fibre!

4. White rice and bread for wholegrain versions

This is a predictable one but also one that some of us stubbornly refuse. White rice and white bread have lost most of their nutrients in the refining process while brown rice and wholemeal bread offer healthy carbohydrates, fibre, some vitamins and minerals – protein too! Take a wholegrain plunge for a month and you might be surprised how much you’ll like it.

5. TVP for tofu sausages

TVP is textured vegetable protein, also called soya protein isolate. It’s made by hard-core processing of soya beans so only the protein is left and that’s then shaped into various forms – from mince to big chunks. Soya sausages or Sosmix (a dried mixture that you make sausages or sausage-filling from) made from TVP are usually cheap and a good source of protein but lack all the other great nutrients that soya contains, such as healthy fats, fibre, B vitamins and some minerals. Tofu sausages are a better choice because they offer all these nutrients. An easy swap!

6. Mock meat for tofu, tempeh, beans, chickpeas or lentils

Just as with TVP, try swapping some mock meats for less processed foods. No need to avoid them altogether but if you have mock meat every day, it’s time for a change. The good old beans, chickpeas and lentils are nutritional powerhouses and work well in curries, chillies and pasta dishes. Tofu and tempeh are both made from whole soya beans and so contain all their nutrients – a little bit of seasoning is all it takes to make them a star of your meals.

7. Vegan cheese for cashew cheese or home-made parmesan

This may be a tough one if you’re used to eating a lot of vegan cheese, especially the one based on coconut oil as they are fairly addictive. Vegan cheese tends to be very fatty and nutrient-poor – ok once in a while but not on a daily basis. Have some cheese-free days and then treat yourself to a more expensive but more nutritious cashew-based cheese. For parmesan-like sprinkles, mix equal parts nutritional yeast and ground almonds, then add salt to taste. If you don’t overdo it with salt, this vegan parmesan is actually a healthy, quick and cheap addition to your meals!

8. A pack of biscuits for a medley

Biscuits are sweet and fatty and that’s exactly why our bodies crave them and make us want to eat the whole pack. Try this – put a couple of biscuits in a small bowl, add some dried fruit, fresh fruit and a few nuts and browse between them. It satisfies the biscuit craving but fills you up with healthier food. You can also add a couple of squares of dark chocolate!

9. Crisps for nuts and olives

Just as with sweet and fatty, the savoury and fatty combination is also a trap for our taste buds. It’s so easy to just keep reaching into that crisp bag or to constantly have them with your meals.  It’s a habit worth breaking because crisps are essentially just empty calories, offering nothing good to your body. Keep them for Saturday nights or for an occasional treat. Satisfy your crisp cravings with olives and nuts, which offer healthy fats and savoury taste but are free from added oils. Of course, there are also various chickpea, lentil and pea snacks which are healthier than regular crisps but pricier. If you come across wholemeal breadsticks, those are certainly a good option and go well with veggie dips!

Eating healthier doesn’t mean munching beansprouts! All it takes are some tweaks and your food will be nourishing, delicious and make you feel good!


About the author
Veronika Prošek Charvátová
Veronika Prošek Charvátová MSc is a biologist and Viva! Health researcher. Veronika has spent years uncovering the links between nutrition and good health and is an expert on plant-based diets.

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