6 Simple Foods Swaps for a Nutrition Boost

By Matthew Kadey, R.D. |

These small changes will give you more fiber, protein, and other nutrients, without having to overhaul your whole diet.

Simple Food Swaps for a Nutrition Boost

Eating better doesn’t have to require big changes to the way you eat. Sometimes small changes are all you need for a nutritional boost.   

These simple food swaps will give you all the same great flavors you cherish but with more nutritional bang for your buck. Next time you’re grocery shopping, drop these foods into your cart for a little extra fiber, protein, and other important nutrients you need daily.  

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Food Swap #1: Steel-Cut Oats Instead of Rolled or Instant Oats 

Full of heart-healthy fiber and other nutrients, oats are a smart breakfast choice. But it might be a good idea to choose the heartier steel-cut variety to start your day. A research review in the Journal of Nutrition showed that blood sugar levels are typically better after eating more intact oat kernels, like steel-cut, than rolled or instant oat flakes.   

Why? Rolled and instant oats are digested faster. And the faster you digest them, the faster your blood sugar rises. Steel-cut oats digest more slowly because they are less processed. You may feel fuller after a bowl of steel-cut oats, too.  

The downside is that steel cut oats take longer to cook. You can make a big batch and simply reheat portions throughout the week. Or, try soaking steel-cut oats overnight in hot water. In the morning, they’ll cook up in just 5 or so minutes. 

Recommended recipe: Cinnamon-Apple Overnight Oats  

Food Swap #2: Canned Salmon Instead of Canned Tuna 

Using canned salmon instead of tuna for your lunch sandwiches can have a nutritional payoff. For starters, salmon — especially canned sockeye — is richer in omega-3 fats than tuna.  

Eating more of these fats from foods like salmon may help lower blood pressure in older adults, according to a study in the Journal of the American Heart Association. This is one reason why omega-3 fats are considered “heart-healthy.”   

Canned salmon will also give you more of vitamins D and B12, two nutrients that many older adults don’t get enough of. If you choose canned salmon that includes the edible bones, you’ll get a healthy dose of calcium, too.   

You can also worry less about contaminants like mercury when choosing salmon over tuna, particularly white (albacore) tuna. 

Recommended reading: 4 Convenience Foods You Should Be Eating, According to Dietitians  

Food Swap #3: Apple Butter Instead of Jelly 

You may want to consider a new topping for your morning toast. Apple butter is a fruit preserve made by slow-cooking apples down to a thick puree. There’s no butter in apple butter — the name refers to its spreadable consistency.  

Apple butter typically has less added sugar and more fiber than other fruit jams and jellies. And every little bit of extra fiber counts. It’s important for digestive health and blood sugar regulation. And most older adults aren’t eating enough.  

Compare the nutrition facts panel of different brands to choose those that list the fewest grams of added sugar.  

Recommended reading: How to Read the New Nutrition Labels — and Why It Matters 

Food Swap #4: Skyr Yogurt Instead of Regular Yogurt 

Yogurt has lots of benefits. It’s a great source of calcium, which supports healthy bones. As a fermented food, it’s a good source of beneficial bacteria that support gut health. It can also be a good source of protein. If you’re looking ways to boost your protein intake, consider trying the Skyr version.    

Skyr (pronounced skeer) is a thick and creamy Icelandic yogurt. It has a different texture thanks to special Icelandic bacterial cultures. It also has more of the water strained out, making it even thicker and more concentrated in protein than most Greek yogurts on the market. 

It’s typically made with skim milk, so it’s low in saturated fat, too. Just watch out for the amounts of added sugar included in flavored options.  

You can now find a few brands of Skyr in the yogurt section of most supermarkets. (If you can’t find Skyr, nonfat Greek yogurt is still a great protein-packed choice.) 

Food Swap #5: Rye Bread Instead of Whole Wheat Bread 

Whole wheat bread is certainly a nutritional upgrade over white. But you can take things up another notch by choosing rye. Compared to wheat, rye is higher on some key micronutrients, particularly B vitamins.  

Hearty rye can also have up to 5 grams of fiber per slice. That’s about twice as much as most typical whole wheat bread found in the supermarket. A recent study linked higher fiber intake, especially from grains like rye, to a lower risk of heart disease and less inflammation in older adults.  

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Check the labels when shopping for rye bread. Some “rye” or pumpernickel loaves are made mostly with refined wheat flour and have molasses added to give them a darker color. Real-deal rye will have whole rye flour or meal listed as the first ingredient. And the loaf should feel dense.   

Recommended reading: How to Choose a Bread That’s Actually Healthy 

Food Swap #6: Canadian Bacon Instead of Turkey Bacon 

Overall, it’s a good idea to limit processed meats like bacon in your diet. But you don’t need to cut them out completely. Especially if you make some smart swaps, like choosing Canadian bacon over regular bacon.  

Canadian bacon, also called back bacon or peameal bacon, comes from the pork loin. American-style bacon, on the other hand, comes from the pork belly, which has much more fat.  

Ounce-for-ounce, Canada bacon has about 10 grams less total fat and 3.5 grams less saturated fat than regular bacon. And it has about twice the amount of protein, making it a good source of protein to add to your breakfast on occasion.  

It’s served sliced in rounds that look similar to ham. You can usually find it next to other breakfast meats like bacon and sausage in the grocery store.  

To build a satisfying and nutritious breakfast sandwich, try this: Stack a slice of Canadian bacon, a fried egg, sliced tomato, and baby spinach on toasted rye bread.   

See our sources
Study on steel-cut oats and blood sugar: The Journal of Nutrition
Study on omega-3 fats and blood pressure: The Journal of the American Heart Association
Study on fiber and heart disease and inflammation: JAMA Network Open  

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