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3 Reasons to Beware of Healthy Food Swaps

Swapping out ingredients in traditional recipes for others that are “healthier” has been a very popular concept for years. I call them “healthified food swaps.”

The more I learned about nutrition and ingredients, the more excited I would get back in college when a new “Eat This, Not That” book would come out!

Healthified food swaps can be an awesome way to enjoy foods you love while getting an added boost of nutrients or avoiding certain ingredients you don’t want to consume, but they can also backfire if you don’t have a healthy relationship with food (see if you do here!).

Here are 3 important reasons to beware of healthy food swaps.

By creating a “healthier version” of something, it implies the original version is unhealthy/bad, and you should feel guilty for eating it.

Imagine you’re scrolling Instagram and you see an eat this vs. not that graphic or a healthified recipe vs. original recipe.

With an unhealthy relationship with food or a dieter’s mindset, it’s common to consider the not that and original recipe as unhealthy, therefore bad, therefore if you eat it – guilt will follow because you feel like you’ve been bad or broke a rule. We tend to moralize our choices when it comes to food.

Like if you eat regular pizza and not one with a cauliflower crust, or if you have regular pasta and not zucchini ‘noodles,’ or if you eat real ice cream and not a low-cal alternative.

That can be dangerous because once guilt is involved, usually so is emotional-based overeating, all or nothing thinking (“the day is already ruined!”) and a full tumble “off track” with promises of starting again on Monday.

But if you have a healthy relationship with food, you see food as just food. There are no moral connections to it. You don’t believe you’re bad if you eat the not that or original recipe. You have no guilt for eating what you want, when you want it. You make mindful, empowered choices, and own them, enjoy them, and move on!

You might be depriving your body of key nutrients making your health and happiness suffer.

With an unhealthy relationship with food, it’s common to drastically restrict intake of certain types and amounts of nutrients, especially fat and carbs. These are both key nutrients our body needs consistently to keep us happy and healthy. When we don’t get enough, we can suffer.

For example, these days there are SO many versions of foods and recipes utilizing vegetables in place of ingredients made up of carbs. Cauliflower is a popular one for rice, crust, cream sauces/soups, rolls/biscuits, and lots more.

It’s great that things like that are out there because cauliflower has lots of awesome health benefits, but say for example for dinner you are having chicken, rice, broccoli, bell peppers, mushrooms, and avocado. If you replace the rice with cauliflower rice, you’re missing out on carbs that your body needs.

Carbohydrates are your body’s primary energy source. When we don’t eat enough, it’s common to experience things like low energy, headaches, constipation or diarrhea, sleep issues, cravings for sugar/white carb foods, and weight loss resistance.

But if you have a healthy relationship with food, you can still enjoy things like cauliflower rice and zucchini noodles, but you enjoy them as what they are – vegetables. See examples below!

3 Reasons to Beware of Healthy Food Swaps

You might be missing out on pleasure and satisfaction leading to cravings and overeating.

With an unhealthy relationship with food, it’s common regularly deprive yourself from getting pleasure and satisfaction from not-so-nutritious things you eat. You could be restricting and avoiding certain foods completely, or be mentally checked out when you do eat them.

For example, I used to try to avoid eating foods like chocolate, chips, pizza, and fries. When I did eat them, I would eat really fast while beating myself up about how I shouldn’t be eating them. I didn’t get any joy from eating them. I would usually eat in large quantities when I did get them in front of me. 

Getting pleasure from food is important! Yes, our bodies get fuel from (all) foods, but our bodies are also hard-wired to eat for satisfaction too.

We have sweet taste buds on our tongue and they’re there to give us pleasure. Eating also releases feel-good neurotransmitters in our brain and triggers our rest & digest nervous system to activate.

If the healthified version doesn’t taste as good to us, we won’t get as much pleasure from it. We feel deprived, and are more likely to have cravings and overeat in that moment and/or later to feel satisfied. So if you’re craving pizza and try to trick your body into believing cauliflower pizza crust is actual pizza crust, you might be just as satisfied, however you likely will not be as satisfied, and end up craving and overeating pizza down the road.

But if you have a healthy relationship with food, you’re able to eat whatever it is you choose to eat mindfully. You eat free from guilt, get true pleasure and joy from whatever it is, and move on!

How to get the most out of healthy food swaps & examples.

A big part of getting the most out of healthy food swaps stems from creating a healthier relationship with food. One where you see food as just food, with no moral connections or guilt. One where you feel free to eat what you want, when you want it, own your choices, enjoy the food, and move on with your day. 

When you aren’t distracted by the roadblocks of an unhealthy relationship with food, it’s easy to use healthified swaps to feel empowered to add a nutritional twist on your everyday eating habits! 

I love looking at whatever meal or snack I’m thinking about eating, and asking myself “what’s 1 thing I can do to make this more nutritious – without sacrificing satisfaction?” You can always do more than 1 thing, but 1 is a great place to start building confidence and momentum. 

Here are some of my favorite examples:

  • re-creating my favorite desserts so they contain things like less sugar or no preservatives (like this, this, and this),
  • adding riced cauliflower to my rice
  • adding zucchini noodles to my pasta
  • using highest quality ingredients (organic, grass-fed, pasture-raised, wild caught)
  • cooking more vs. eat out more
  • sodawater with a splash of fruit juice vs. soda
  • dairy free milk vs. cow’s milk (which is a healthy swap for me since I’m sensitive to dairy)
  • home-cooked popcorn vs. popcorn packets
  • brown rice pasta vs. wheat pasta (which is a healthy swap for me since I’m sensitive to wheat)
  • plain oatmeal with toppings vs. oatmeal packets
  • honey, maple syrup, coconut nectar, and stevia vs. white sugar

These aren’t necessarily a 100%, ALL the time for me, but most times 🙂

And just a reminder, if you genuinely like and choose to eat the healthified version of something, that’s great! But know you do have the freedom to eat and enjoy ALL foods. Even if they’re not made from vegetables or other healthified ingredients. Eating them does not make you a bad or unhealthy person, all foods really can fit in a healthy diet.

Whatever you choose to eat, it’s your place to make empowered choices about your food, your body, and your health. There are no right and wrongs!

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