If you ask any natural health expert, “dieting” is an outdated, slightly cringe-worthy term. Instead, it’s become more accepted that 3 week week periods of restriction, starvation and boatloads of cabbage soup can only offer short-term solutions for weight loss (and are nearly guaranteed to induce a post-diet chocolate binge). Instead, the most effective way to lose weight— and keep it off — is by making simple, consistent and long-term changes in your eating habits and lifestyle.
Now, it’s understandable that making long-term dietary and lifestyle changes can seem daunting. In fact, making too many dramatic changes overnight can set you up for overwhelm, confusion and ultimately, failure. For this reason, the best starting point to lose weight naturally is by replacing foods that promote weight gain with their healthier alternatives. That’s right: when it comes to losing weight, you can have your cake and eat it too. All you have to do is choose smart ingredients that won’t sabotage your weight loss goals. Here are 5 healthy food swaps that will promote lasting weight loss, with absolutely no dieting required.
1. Vegetable Oil for Cold Pressed Extra Virgin Olive Oil
What kind of oil do you use for cooking? Vegetable oils such as corn, canola, soybean, peanut, sunflower and safflower oil may sound healthy because of the word “vegetable”. But the truth is, cooking with vegetable oils could be preventing you from losing weight and here’s why. Vegetable oils are extremely high in omega 6 essential fatty acids, which are essential fats that we need in small amounts for brain function, growth and development. However, studies have shown that consuming too many omega 6’s can cause dangerous hormone imbalances, such as leptin . Since leptin regulate your appetite and help your body process sugar, improper functioning of these hormones is guaranteed to make you pack on the pounds. Furthermore, the quality of most polyunsaturated vegetable oils is appalling at best. Not only are corn and soybeans genetically modified (GMO), but vegetable oils are processed with toxic chemical solvents, and heated to unsafe temperatures which produces trans-fats. Now, it’s true that we still need omega 6’s in small amounts. But instead of getting them in massive quantities from highly processed, rancid vegetable oils, it’s best to choose minimally processed oils for cooking, such as cold pressed extra virgin olive oil. While extra virgin olive oil is the healthier alternative to vegetable oils, it should be noted that extra virgin olive oil is best for cooking on low-medium heat. This is because it’s a delicate polyunsaturated oil with a lower smoke point, which means it can go rancid when heated to high temperatures. For high heat cooking, it’s best to use a stable, saturated fat such as coconut oil, which can withstand high temperatures. And don’t worry: while many people associate saturated fats with weight gain, coconut oil won’t sabotage your weight loss goals. This is because coconut oil is a medium chained triglyceride. MCT’s takes a different metabolic pathway in the body when metabolized, and are converted to energy right away, rather than stored as fat (2).
2. Dairy for Unsweetened Nut Milk
Dairy products have been associated with weight gain because they’re high in carbohydrates from lactose, or milk sugar. You see, your body breaks down carbs into sugar to be used for energy. But any excess sugar your body doesn’t use for energy right away gets stored in other parts of your body, such as your fat cells. As you can see, this is a simple explanation for how sugar promotes weight gain. For this reason, choosing lower-carb alternatives to dairy milk, such as almond, cashew or coconut milk, can help accelerate your weight loss goals.
3. White Sugar for Green Leaf Stevia
If you want to lose weight quickly, the first ingredient that should be swapped out of your diet is white, or processed sugar. As mentioned above, the sugar from carbohydrates gets stored in your body as fat when they’re consumed in excess. However, white sugar is almost guaranteed to be stored as fat because it’s highly concentrated and void of blood sugar balancing nutrients such as fiber. This means that white sugar digests very quickly, which creates a rapid spike in your blood sugar levels. This is when you’re likely to reach for more sugar to get your energy levels back up again. And so, the vicious blood sugar roller coaster— and sugar craving— cycle begins, two factors that make losing weight impossible. You can replace the white sugar in your diet (which also includes white flour from pastries, muffins, bread and pasta) with natural sugar sources such as green leaf stevia, yacon syrup, pure maple syrup, coconut nectar and manuka honey. In moderation, natural sweeteners have much less of an impact on your blood sugar levels because they’re unprocessed and slower to digest than white sugar. This prevents your body from storing extra sugar as fat. And when it comes to white flour found in pasta and baked goods, it’s always best to swap for fibrous, whole grain options such as spelt or quinoa. You can even substitute pasta for spiralized zucchini noodles, which are mostly comprised of water, vitamins and minerals (read: you can eat zucchini pasta to your heart’s content).
4. Breakfast Cereal for Chia Seed Pudding
Processed boxed cereals or granola— even the so-called “healthy” ones— often contain upwards of 10 grams of white sugar per serving, with the addition of unhealthy vegetable oils. Furthermore, the recommended serving size of boxed cereal and granolas is often smaller than the size of your fist. Since a small serving size is unlikely to satisfy your appetite, it’s easy to over-consume extra calories— mostly from sugar— in one sitting. A healthier alternative to breakfast cereals or granola is chia seed pudding, which is full of blood-sugar balancing nutrients that promote weight loss, such as fiber and healthy fats. You can make chia seed pudding by soaking ¼ cup of chia seeds in a non-dairy milk of your choice overnight, or until the chia seeds form a jelly-like texture. Then, top with healthy ingredients such as fresh berries, shredded coconut and pure vanilla extract or green leaf stevia for a flavour boost. If you need some inspiration, here’s our favourite Coconut Kiwi Chia Pudding recipe.
5. Dried Fruit for Fresh Fruit
While dried fruit is certainly a better alternative to a sugary granola bar or pastry, choosing fresh fruit over dried fruit can promote weight loss because it has a lower glycemic load. The glycemic load of a food refers to how quickly it’s digested and absorbed into your bloodstream. When a food is low glycemic, it’s less likely to cause fluctuations in your blood sugar levels. And as you now know, balanced blood sugar levels prevent your body from storing sugar as fat. Since fresh fruit contains water and has more grams of fiber per serving than fresh fruit, it can also help keep your appetite satisfied for longer periods of time, which further promotes weight loss. Fresh fruit also contains more nutrients than dried fruit, such as vitamin C, which is lost during the dehydration process. While fruit is an excellent snack to include in your diet to receive essential vitamins and minerals, it still contains moderate amounts of natural sugar. For this reason, you may want to limit your daily consumption of fruit to 2-3 servings of low glycemic fruit (such as pears, apples and berries) in the initial stages of your weight loss goals. As you can see, natural weight loss is best achieved not by restricting, but by replacing unhealthy foods with nutritious alternatives. By substituting one healthy ingredient at a time, you’re more likely to stick with positive changes long-term and achieve your goals with ease, rather than feeling overwhelmed and deprived.