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Healthy food swaps

17-minute read

Key facts

  • Healthy food swaps are simple changes you can make to your diet to replace less healthy food with more nutritious food.
  • Healthy food swaps can help you to meet your health goals and improve your health in the long term.
  • Follow the Australian Dietary Guidelines and plan your food shop beforehand.
  • Eat a wide variety of food to get a range of nutritional benefits.
  • Limit discretionary foods (ones that aren’t necessary for nutrients) to help you stay on track.

What are the benefits of healthy food swaps?

Small decisions around food choices can make a big difference to your health in the long term. Healthy food swaps are simple changes you can make to your diet to replace less healthy food with more nutritious food.

Whether you’re trying to lose weight, reduce your blood pressure or cholesterol, or just eat more healthily, food swaps can help to support your health goals.

What are some healthy food swap ideas?

Small decisions around food choices can make a big difference to your health in the long term. Here is a list of food swaps to help you make better choices for your health:

A list of healthy food swaps to meet your health goals.
Swaps What’s the benefit?

Soft drink or cola

Fizzy water with a mint leaf and cucumber, or a glass of water with ice cubes made from fruit

  • This reduces your sugar and kilojoule intake, and the risk of tooth decay and diabetes.

Fruit juice

One piece of fruit

  • If you only have fruit juice, you'll miss out on dietary fibre.

Muesli with added sugar or dried fruit

Plain porridge oats with berries or banana

  • Porridge oats are wholegrains and can help lower LDL (bad) cholesterol.
  • Many commercial mueslis are high in sugar and salt.
  • Muesli with sweetened dried fruit and banana chips may add even more sugar.

White bread

Wholegrain or multigrain bread

  • Wholegrains are higher in fibre than the refined grains in most white bread, so they keep you fuller for longer.
  • They can also reduce LDL (bad) cholesterol.

Fruit-flavoured yoghurts

Plain or Greek yoghurt with fresh fruit

  • Plain unsweetened yoghurt has substantially less sugar than flavoured yoghurt.
  • Adding fresh fruit to plain yoghurt boosts your dietary fibre and antioxidant intake.
  • If you choose Greek yoghurt, there is about twice as much protein as regular yoghurt — this will keep you fuller for longer.

Coffee shop muffin

Hard-boiled egg, handful of unsalted or dry roasted nuts

  • Swap your mid-morning muffin, which is high in refined carbohydrates (including sugar) and kilojoules for protein-heavy snacks.
  • Try a hard-boiled egg or handful of nuts (for example, almonds or walnuts) and seeds.

Potato crisps

Raw vegetable sticks (for example, carrots, celery or capsicum) and hummus, avocado or natural yoghurt dip

  • Most potato crisps are high in saturated fat, salt and kilojoules.
  • Replacing crisps with fresh raw vegetable sticks dipped in hummus or yoghurt boosts your vegetable intake.
  • Eating vegetables is linked to a reduced risk of gaining weight and of getting some cancers.
  • Make sure to pick a hummus brand with low levels of salt.

Store-bought salad dressings

Homemade salad dressing made with extra virgin olive oil and lemon or balsamic vinegar

  • Extra virgin olive oil is loaded with antioxidants and has proven benefits for weight control and heart health.
  • Store-bought salad dressings are often full of sodium — it’s best to avoid lots of sodium because it raises blood pressure.
  • Store-bought dressings can contain large amounts of sugar too.

Supermarket pasta sauce

Homemade pasta sauce with fresh tomatoes, onion, garlic, herbs and fresh vegetables

  • Most supermarket pasta sauces are packed with sugar and salt.
  • By making your own sauce, you can reduce your kilojoule, sugar and salt intake. You can also increase your vitamin and antioxidant intake.

Ice cream

Frozen mango or half a banana frozen on a stick and dipped in dark chocolate

  • Ice-cream is high in carbohydrates (sugars), fat and kilojoules, and low in nutrients.
  • Frozen mango is also high in carbohydrates, but has the added health benefits of being high in fibre, vitamin C, and antioxidants.
  • Banana is also high in fibre, vitamin C and antioxidants. It’s also high in potassium, which may reduce blood pressure.
  • Dark chocolate (in moderation) has many health benefits, including antioxidants.

See this infographic for a few healthy food swap ideas.

Infographic showing six healthy food swaps with accompanying food illustrations, from the above table.
You can download this infographic in PDF format.

How can I start making healthy food swaps?

You can start making healthy food swaps by planning your food shop. By choosing a wide variety of nutritious food, you will reap the health benefits. Try to follow the Australian Dietary Guidelines.

If you shop for food from the 5 food groups and limit discretionary types (ones that aren’t necessary for nutrients) you are on the right track. By not taking home unhealthy food, you are less likely to be tempted to eat it.

The 5 food groups are:

  • grain (cereals)
  • vegetables and legumes/beans
  • lean meats and poultry, fish, eggs, tofu, nuts, seeds and legumes or beans
  • milk, yoghurt, cheese or alternatives
  • fruit

You should aim to eat from all 5 food groups every day. By eating different foods from each group, you will get a range of nutritional benefits.

Dietitians recommend that whole food, not individual nutrients, should be the focus of a healthy diet. But the healthiness of food is also dependent on the source and processing, among other things.

When choosing between different brands or varieties of the same food, make sure you read the nutrition information on the product labels to work out which one is best. Look out for the salt/sodium and sugar content on the labels of canned and packaged foods, as well as the kilojoules.

Choosing one brand or variety over another may make a large difference in the long term. You could swap one food for a different healthier one too or make your own healthier version.

Where can I get more information?

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Last reviewed: May 2023

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