Last year, I focused on establishing good habits for my health and wellbeing, and a big part of that was improving my diet. One way I stayed on track was to try swapping some unhealthy choices for some better choices. I found this was much more effective than trying to cut something out completely and just endure the cravings, and I have quickly gotten used to the alternatives. I still go for the unhealthy option now and again, but it’s not my regular, default.

Here’s some of the swaps that I made:

Pastries for breakfast

I’m not really a morning person and would gladly trade breakfast for an extra 20 minutes sleep. I used to get to work hungry, find it difficult to focus on an empty stomach, and end up having a carb and sugar heavy croissant mid-morning.

Nowadays, I still have a late breakfast because I do my gym sessions in the morning, but I’ve swapped out a café treat for a couple of handfuls of rolled oats with a squirt of honey. I bring this to the office in a little container and prepare it by simply adding a bit of hot water and letting it soak for a minute or so. If I’m extra hungry, I’ll chop up a banana as well.

This routine also helps with my morning medication, which is best taken on an empty stomach and avoiding dairy. If you are taking medication, I’d recommend talking to your doctor about whether or not there are any possible dietary interferences as many of these are suspected rather than proven, and are not noted on the official instructions and warnings.

Savory snacks

There’s no way that I’m ever going to be able to cut out snacking completely, so when I want something savory I’ve changed out chips for olives and carrot or celery dipped in hummus. It’s a healthier alternative when I’m too hungry to wait for dinner to cook, and makes me more likely to wait for a healthy dinner rather than rushing for a takeaway.

Sweet snacks

I get a craving for something sweet when I’m at work, around 3pm. It’s when I start feeling a bit tired and I associate chocolate with my afternoon cup of tea. To combat this, I have some very dark chocolate (80% plus cocoa content) in my desk drawer. Because it’s so rich I can only eat one square, but it’s enough to satisfy the sugar craving and I can avoid the ‘fundraiser chocolates’ in the kitchen.

My regular diet plan doesn’t include any after-dinner dessert, but for the odd occasion I feel like something sweet after a meal I keep wafer-style chocolate biscuits in the cupboard. It would still be unhealthy to eat a whole packet, but they are light enough that I can enjoy a couple guilt-free now and again.

Carb-heavy accompaniments

The formula for my evening meals is something like protein + veg/salad + carb, but not all carbs are equal. I try and avoid the high GI and lower nutrient carbs like white rice, pasta and potatoes, and swap them for things like brown rice, quinoa, cous cous, lentils and beans. I still need something carby to fill me up and help me feel satisfied, but I try and choose the less refined option.

Salad dressing

Ever seen the articles about the salads at MacDonald’s being more unhealthy than the burgers? A lot of it is to do with the fatty, salty dressings that come with them. I dress my salads with a really simple flavoring – just a splash of cider or balsamic vinegar, or a squeeze of lemon, sometimes with a teaspoon of wholegrain mustard. I don’t really feel the need to use any olive oil or salt.

Also watch out for salad dressings when you are eating out – I try and remember to ask for the dressing on the side so that I can control how much goes on.

Alcohol

For me, the feeling of wanting a beer in summer is more to do with the cold, refreshing, effervescent drink than actually wanting to be drunk. I’ve tried to combat this when at home by drinking soda or mineral water with ice and a slice of lime. I sometimes also buy the pre-made mixes in cans, to recreate the same action of cracking a beer and drinking from the can. I also order this as my first drink when I’m out with friends, so I can reduce the number of beers I end up having in total.

I’ll have to come up with a different swap when winter comes around to replace red wine. Maybe an alcohol free mulled berry type of drink?

What healthier diet swaps have worked for you?