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16 Food Swaps For a Healthier You

One of the best things you can do to start implementing healthy, sustainable habits is to start making simple swaps.
Feb 22, 2021 | Joy McCarthy

One of the best things you can do to start implementing healthy, sustainable habits is to start making simple swaps.

Making the switch from bottled salad dressing to homemade salad dressing can do SO much for your health, like nourishing your body from the inside out with the healthy fats from whichever high-quality oil you're using and keeping preservatives, artificial flavours and colours out of it. Or even choosing chickpea & lentil-based pasta instead of white pasta can be a game changer for managing blood sugar, managing weight, preventing overeating and promoting healthy bowel movements. Imagine that – all of those health benefits simply by making one small switch-a-roo!


16 Food Swaps For a Healthier You

1. Swap margarine for ghee

While previously deemed the "healthier option", there is nothing healthy about this highly processed vegetable oil. In the past it was thought that margarine was healthier because it's lower in saturated fat but now we know saturated fat isn't as bad as it was made out to be. In fact, the reason it was wrongly victimized was because the sugar industry paid scientists to play down the link between sugar and heart disease and promote saturated fats as the culprit instead. But I can assure you, there is nothing health promoting about this substance that contains industrial, highly processed fats that would never be found in nature.

Instead, try ghee (or even coconut oil!). Both are whole food-derived, nutrient-dense and are very health promoting for everything from our skin health to our brain health. You can find ghee at most health food stores, or you can make your own!

2. Swap white pasta for chickpea or lentil pasta

Why eat nutrient-void white pasta when you can enjoy chickpea or lentil pasta?! We love Chickapea Pasta (which is Joyous Health Approved!) in our home because it's made up of only two ingredients, chickpeas and lentils, and when paired with a homemade pesto and a ton of veggies, it makes for a balanced satiating meal with all of the fibre, protein and complex carbohydrates! 

3. Swap pop for kombucha

I know there aren't as many pop drinkers as there were maybe 20 years ago, but if you're still sipping up empty calories and refined sugar from drinks like pop, it's time to make the switch! Swapping pop with kombucha is a great switch because it has a similar taste and the fizziness you love but without all of the refined sugar. As a fermented food, it will also help to proliferate the gut with beneficial bacteria that will support the health of your digestion, immunity, mood and skin health! If you don't want to pay $6 for it in store, you can learn how to make your own in our DIY Kombucha Online course taught by our Community Manager, Rachel!

You will also discover how much more affordable it is in comparison to store-bought kombucha (like ~$2.50 for 4 litres of kombucha!). Yes, it does contain a minimal amount of organic cane sugar (which is required for brewing kombucha) but the benefit of brewing your own is that you'll learn how to control the sugar content in your brews so you can have as little as you'd like!

4. Swap jam for chia jam

You may not ever want to buy store-bought jam again once you realize how easy it is to make your own! Not to mention, you'll want to once you realize what "ingredients" are hiding in your that store-bought jam: high fructose corn syrup, corn syrup, sugar, sugar and more sugar. Wanna know what's in homemade chia jam? Chia seeds, fruit and pure vanilla extract. That's it, that's all!

This is my chia marmalade which is made in a similar way and can be found in my Everything About Chia Guidebook.

I highly recommend making up a batch every 1-2 weeks to have on hand in your fridge. I have a recipe for Blueberry Chia Jam, Apple Cinnamon Chia Jam and Peach Coconut Chia Jam in my book, Joyous Detox. That being said, there is one brand called Crofter's Organic I really love and as you'll see in the Joyous Kitchen Challenge it's stocked in my kitchen. 

5. Swap soy sauce for tamari or coconut aminos

I typically advise for people to steer clear of soy, unless it's fermented and organic (like tempeh or tamari) and even then, I don't recommend consuming it all the time. The problem with soy (found in soy sauce, soy milk, soy nuts, tofu, meat alternatives and thousands of packaged/processed foods) is that it's a common food sensitivity and allergen. It contains isoflavones which mimic estrogen in the body and can result in hormonal imbalance for some people.

Over 90% of soy is genetically modified which is something I avoid for both my health and the health of our planet. If you are going to enjoy soy sauce, I recommend swapping it out for either tamari (which is fermented soy, therefore it's easier to digest and less likely to cause issues) or coconut aminos. Both have a similar taste to soy, without the problematic nature that comes with soy. Enjoy with sushi or in asian cuisine, like this Sweet Potato Veggie Pad Thai! 

6. Swap white or whole wheat tortillas for brown rice tortillas, collard wraps or raw wraps

In a pinch, a tortilla can act as a great vessel for a quick lunch, be it a wrap or tortilla pizza, and a great way to pack in a ton of veggies, spreads (like my Sweet Potato Hummus ) and protein.

A simple swap to make your wraps healthier is to swap it for a brown rice tortilla, collard wrap or raw wrap. The reason being, white/whole wheat tortillas are a refined food where much of the nutrition is stripped away such as B vitamins, essential fatty acids and important minerals. Plus they contain gluten (as well as vegetable oil, like canola oil or soybean oil, preservatives and even sugar!) which is also a common allergen/food sensitivity and can be difficult to digest and may contribute to a number of health issues if you're gluten sensitive. Brown rice tortillas on the other hand, are gluten-free, or if you want an extra dose of nutrition, collard wraps or raw veggie wraps are great options, like these coconut wraps or these raw wraps.


7. Swap White or WHole Wheat Bread for Sprouted or gluten-free oR GRAIN-FREE bread 

Every now and then I like to enjoy a slice of toast with almond butter and hemp hearts, but if you want to get even more nutrition in your diet, reduce bloating and boost energy, a much better option is sprouted wheat or gluten-free bread! When wheat is sprouted, the gluten is more digestible. Just like in Ma McCarthy's Legendary Stuffing , the sprouted bread has more bioavailable nutrients, so you're getting more nutrition bang for your buck! If you don't notice any different switching from white or whole wheat bread to a sprouted bread then I suggest you try going gluten-free or even grain-free. I have a delicious grain-free flaxseed bread in my cookbook Joyous Detox you can try! You can also try these Sweet Potato Toasties!

8. Swap canned Soup or CARTON soup for fresh soup

I realize that canned soup or soup in a carton is easy in a pinch, but the problem is that this type of processed food is typically FULL of sodium (sometimes even MSG) and various additives to preserve freshness and prevent mold from growing. Plus the vegetables contain little to no vitamins. The only canned foods I use are organic canned coconut milk, canned tomatoes and occasionally canned beans. Otherwise I steer clear of canned foods. The new year is a perfect time to try some new recipes and batch cook. I've got so many delicious soups that you really have no reason to buy soup. It's way cheaper in the long run to make it yourself. Try my Root Veggie Turmeric Soup , Harvest Veggie SoupLeek Squash Soup or Wild Mushroom soup. Are you drooling yet? :)

9. Swap bouillon cubes for homemade stock

Chicken bone broth

Dropping a bouillon cube in a boiling pot of water might for a quick stock might seem harmless, but in fact, it's far from and you probably won't want to use them once you realize what ingredients are actually hiding in them. 

Some of the "ingredients" in bouillon cubes include: monosodium glutamate (MSG), hydrolyzed soy/corn/wheat gluten protein, colour, autolyzed yeast extract, dehydrated mechanically separated cooked chicken, lactose – and sadly, the list goes on and on.

Soup stock is meant to be nourishing and is a great way to boost immunity and stave off sickness but if it's filled with a ton of junky ingredients, you won't be getting any of that goodness. That's why I always recommend to make your own! I love this chicken bone broth which is super soothing for the digestive system and is naturally anti-inflammatory (great to support healing in people who suffer from autoimmune diseases like arthritis, chrohn's and colitis). The bone broth is a great base for my Harvest Vegetable Soup too!

10. Swap sports drinks for coconut water

It's important to stay hydrated during exercise but I can assure you that refined sugar-packed, artificially flavoured and coloured sports drinks are not the answer. Many people turn to sports drinks like Gatorade to replace electrolytes such as sodium and potassium that are lost during exercise, but a much healthier alternative would be coconut water. Coconut water is naturally derived from, surprise – coconuts! It works in the same way as sports drinks (but without all of the artificial ingredients and sugar) by hydrating the body and replenishing its electrolytes (potassium and sodium). Coconut water naturally contains sugar but you'll want to look for brands that don't contain added sugar.

11. Swap iceberg lettuce for dark leafy greens (arugula, spinach, kale)

If your go-to lettuce is currently iceberg, it's time to switch it up! While iceberg lettuce can bring a hydrating crunchy texture to salads, it's not providing very much nutrition at all. Try incorporating dark leafy greens like arugula, spinach, kale and collards.

Dark leafy greens are rich in vitamins and minerals, including magnesium which is lacking in today's soil and vital for many processes in the body. A great way to get darky leafy greens into your diet is to enjoy a big leafy salad every single day. When you do that, you will be getting a healthy dose of detoxifying, anti-inflammatory phytonutrients daily that will help to boost energy, support digestion, heart health and gut health. I love my Juicy & Crunchy Kale Salad that is pictured above. 

12. Swap croutons for seed mix

If you're one to throw croutons made from white bread in your salad or in soup, I'm going to challenge you to change that and swap it for a crunchy seed mix! I love to make everything I eat as nourishing as possible. A good rule of thumb is to ask yourself, is this building disease or fighting it? Much to no surprise, croutons are not a great supporter of overall health but nuts and seeds are and will provide you with the same crunchy texture you love from croutons! I recommend filling a jar with a mix of nuts and seeds like walnuts, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, slivered almonds and maybe even some dried cranberries (preferably sulphite-free) and sprinkling it onto soups and salads for a nutrient-dense crunchy addition! Try this savoury trail mix, it's delicious sprinkled on soup!

13. Swap table salt for sea salt

This is one of the easiest swaps you can make that comes with the most benefits, mainly because it simply involves buying one brand versus another – and salt is important! It's gotten a bad reputation in the past but it's also a vital mineral to promote healthy muscle and nerve function, regulate blood pressure, support thyroid function and boost metabolism, but not all salt is created equal. Table salt is highly refined and devoid of minerals. During the refining process, any existing minerals are destroyed and are added back in, including iodine which means we won't absorb as it as well. It also often contains anti-caking agents and in some cases, sugar!

I highly recommend swapping out your table salt for a high quality sea salt ot himalayan sea salt which comes with way more health benefits. More specifically, himalayan salt:

  • Detoxifies the body by balancing pH
  • Contains 84 essential minerals and electrolytes
  • Relaxes muscles
  • Maintains proper fluid balance and supports hydration 

Don't be afraid of it! Sprinkle it on everything and you'll also find that it helps to bring out the flavour of the food you're eating.

14. Swap bottled salad dressing for homemade salad dressing

Since I eat (and recomend that people eat) a salad every single day, it's important to use salad dressing that's full of nourishing ingredients. Unfortunately, most store-bought salad dressings are not with artificial flavours, refined sugar, excess sodium and preservatives (and no, low calorie salad dressings aren't any better) which is why I recomend making your own! Plus, it's way more delicious and you can make so many different kinds, whether it's a creamy cashew caesar dressing , lemon tahini dressing or a more basic olive oil/apple cider vinegar/garlic dressing. Get inspired to make your own with these salad dressing recipes or find more in my Sensational Salad Guide!

15. Swap conventional BBQ sauce for homemade BBQ sauce

Sure, it's easy to grab a BBQ sauce off of the shelf at the grocery store and move on but can I just tell you how much more delicious and healthier it is to make your own?! Trust me, once you make your own BBQ sauce you will never want to buy it again. Much like many of the sauce-like products we've looked at already, most store-bought BBQ sauce contains artificial flavours, artificial colours, refined sugar and preservatives. Making your own BBQ sauce is a quick way to skip past that and support your health so you can feel your absolute best!

16. Swap Orange Cheese/Processed cheese for White cheddar, Goat or Cashew Cheese

Many people are surprised to know that orange cheddar cheese, is not orange by natural means, it's food colouring. A food dye makes it orange. That Kraft Dinner colour is NOT natural. Sure the food dye used to make cheese orange may not be the worst food dye ever (typically it's annato), but in some people it may cause IBS symptoms like bloating or diarrhea and may be an allergen for some people.

My concern with many of the brands that use this dye is that they also use other additives in their cheeses like chemicals that prevent mold and prolong shelf life. I mean have you looked at the ingredients in Kraft Singles? Gross! It is so unnecessary to have this many chemicals. Instead, when buying cheddar, look for organic white cheddar. Or try goat cheese, it's much less allergenic and super tasty! You may even consider taking a break from dairy altogether and try making your own cashew cheese. It's so easy! Many health food stores are now stocking cashew cheese as well. Omg, it's mouth-watering delicious! I love the Culcherd brand


Were you surprised by anything I listed here? Let me know in the comments! 

Happy New Year to you and yours!

Joy xo

Irma Rossi   •   January 1, 2019

Did not Know about orange cheddar cheese being dyed orange and that its natural colour is white.

Joy McCarthy   •   January 2, 2019

Katie   •   January 1, 2019

Absolutely love this list! Thank you!

Joy McCarthy   •   January 2, 2019

Amanda   •   January 1, 2019

TARTRAZINE is the major red flag when it comes to the crap ingredient list that is Kraft Dinner. At least attanto coloring comes from the seeds of the achiote tree, falling under “natural”. How they get the extract is another question, however... But aside from a specific allergy, that one should for all intents and purposes be considered safe!

Joy McCarthy   •   January 2, 2019

Angela   •   January 7, 2019

Hi Joy. I am trying to print off all this information and I can’t. Wondering if you could help me with this? Also I received an email for Day 2 of the Kitchen Challenge and I deflected it by accident would you please resend it? Thanks so much! Wishing all a wonderful day. Angela

Joy McCarthy   •   January 7, 2019

Paulina   •   January 8, 2019

Hi Joy! What about orgánic mozarella cheese?

Joy McCarthy   •   January 8, 2019

Jolie   •   January 8, 2019

Thank you for this list. I have implemented most of these ideas, and now I have a few new ones. The cashew cheese looks amazing. I have had my doubts that anything could replace my beloved cheese, but this recipe looks like a winner.

Joy McCarthy   •   January 8, 2019

Elizabeth K.   •   January 8, 2019

I have made a lot of these changes already but still have to do the chia jam. Glad to know there is a chia marmalade

Joy McCarthy   •   January 9, 2019

Elizabeth K.   •   January 9, 2019

I have all your books Joy

Joy McCarthy   •   January 9, 2019

Michelle groves   •   February 17, 2019

Hi in your book Joyous Health you recommend swapping peanut butter for a different nut butter. Is peanut butter not a good one? I have been giving my two year old it regularly ( the 100% peanut kind) and wonder if I should be giving him an almond/cashew one instead then? Hope you can help, many thanks

Joy McCarthy   •   February 17, 2019

Michelle groves   •   February 17, 2019

Ah thankyou so much for replying! That’s really helpful- I will try other ones instead then and rotate them too. Loving your books/videos and blog so far! Has really inspired me to be much healthier! Many thanks!

Joy McCarthy   •   February 18, 2019

Gracie   •   April 3, 2019

What about things like whole wheat ezikel wraps by food for life? Is that a good quality brand that you would recommend? Also, I was wondering about cultured wheat and what it was exactly?

Joy McCarthy   •   April 4, 2019

Deborah A.   •   April 11, 2019

I am so excited about being a part of your community. There is a lot that I have incorporated in our diet, however there is so much to learn and change. I do not know how to access my profile to give you more information about myself. Perhaps you can direct me. Thank you for coming into my life.

Joy McCarthy   •   April 12, 2019

gacie   •   April 22, 2019

Dear joy, I was wondering about what type of dairy... specifically cows dairy both you and your family ate... if any? I’m currently trying to consume only grass fed and organic cows dairy products. Would you recommend sticking with the organic grass fed cows yogurt, cheeses, and milk? Or should I opt. for non cows dairy milk and yogurt alternatives? Could you recommend any brands that I could access in the U.S? Thanks so much!

Joy McCarthy   •   April 25, 2019

Tina   •   February 24, 2022

An amazing article Joy! Thank you so much for sharing your wealth of knowledge and experience! Am going to try making cashew cheese today:) FYI your helahydrating is by far the best moisturizer out there! Have tried many other brands and they don’t come close! It’s magic in a bottle:)

Joy McCarthy   •   February 25, 2022

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