These easy food substitutions can help you save 500+ calories starting today

Food Substitutions Image - Masterfile

You’re in line at the deli waiting for your coffee when you catch a glimpse of the jumbo blueberry muffins. You’ve been avoiding eye contact with them—they’re definitely not on your diet plan. But there they are beckoning to you through the glass. Your tummy growls.

“Stay on track,” you tell yourself. You’ve been counting calories and carbs all week and you don’t want to derail yourself now, but you have to eat something, darn it!

“So many people think that when they are dieting, they can no longer eat the foods they love, but in reality, the healthiest plan is a balanced diet you can follow for life,” says Christine Gerbstadt, M.D., R.D., C.D.E., a spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association.

How do you start? It’s as easy as stepping away from the muffin and ordering a bagel: You just cut your fat intake by 75 percent. Order a fat-free cappuccino instead of a coffee frappe and you saved yourself almost 40 g of carbohydrates. Get the idea? Read on for more smart food swaps.

Reduce Fat

Muffin - Masterfile

You need fat to maintain healthy cells, store energy and metabolize vitamins, but it’s easy to get too much saturated fat, increasing your risk of heart disease. These swaps minimize saturated fats in favor of heart-healthy monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats.

Choose This… Instead of This…
Serving: ½ large
Fat: 1 g
Calories: 156
Serving: ½ large
Fat: 4 g
Calories: 158
Corn Tortilla
Serving: 1
Fat: 1 g
Calories: 56
Taco Shell
Serving: 1
Fat: 6 g
Calories: 100
Spaghetti & Marinara Sauce
Serving: 6 oz
Fat: 2 g
Calories: 209
Mac & Cheese
Serving: 6 oz
Fat: 13 g
Calories: 250

Cut Calories

To drop pounds or maintain a healthy weight, you can’t let daily calories get out of control. These easy alternatives to three common calorie bombs can save you more than 350 calories—that’s like running a 5K!

Angel Food cake - Masterfile Strawberry Ice Cream - Masterfile
Choose This… Instead of This…
Strawberries on angel food cake
Serving: ½ cup
Calories: 194
Strawberry Ice Cream

Serving: ½ cup
Calories: 254
Serving: ½ cup
Calories: 130
Macaroni Salad
Serving: ½ cup
Calories: 280
Salad with fat-free blue cheese dressing
Serving: 1 cup salad 2 Tbsp dressing<
Calories: 57
Salad with full-fat blue cheese dressing
Serving: 1 cup salad
2 Tbsp dressing
Calories: 191

Lower Sodium

Many of us consume more than twice the recommended daily amount of sodium—1,500 mg—because of salt added to processed foods. These swaps reduce your risk of high blood pressure by cutting more than 700 mg of sodium without sacrificing flavor.

Swiss cheese - Masterfile American Cheese - Masterfile
Choose This… Instead of This…
Swiss Cheese
Serving: 1 sandwich slice
Sodium: 25 mg
Calories: 60
American Cheese
Serving: 1 sandwich slice
Sodium: 300 mg
Calories: 60
Plain Instant Oats
Serving: ½ cup dry
Sodium: 0 mg
Calories: 150
Flavored Instant Oats
Serving: 1 pack
Sodium: 300 mg
Calories: 160
No-salt-added Ketchup
Serving: 1 Tbsp
Sodium: 0 mg
Calories: 20
Regular Ketchup
Serving: 1 Tbsp
Sodium: 190 mg
Calories: 15

Get More Fiber

Fiber—found in veggies, fruits, beans and whole grains—helps you feel full longer after a meal, makes it easier for you to manage blood sugar and even lowers LDL (bad) cholesterol. Increase your intake by 7 grams (a third of your daily requirement) with these changes.

Choose This… Instead of This…
Serving: 1 medium
Fiber: 3 g
Calories: 62
Orange Juice
Serving: 8 oz
Fiber: 0 g
Calories: 110
Serving: ¼ cup dry
Fiber: 3 g
Calories: 170
Brown Rice
Serving: ¼ cup dry
Fiber: 1.5 g
Calories: 175
Plain Popcorn
Serving: 3 cups
Fiber: 3.5 g
Calories: 93
Serving: ¾ oz
Fiber: 0.7 g
Calories: 80
Popcorn - Masterfile Pretzels - Masterfile

Pick Smart Sweets

Between 45 and 65 percent of your daily calories should come from carbohydrates, which can include sugars and sweets. Each gram of carbohydrates contains 4 calories, so if you’re on a 1,400 calorie-a- day diet, eat about 175 grams of carbs.

Choose This… Instead of This…
Fat-free Cappuccino
Serving: 16 oz
Carbohydrates: 14 g
Calories: 100
Coffee Frappe
Serving: 16 oz
Carbohydrates: 52 g
Calories: 260
Cake-type Doughnut
Serving: 1
Carbohydrates: 21.4 g
Calories: 100
Glazed Doughnut
Serving: 1
Carbohydrates: 30.4 g
Calories: 239
Chocolate Kisses
Serving: 5
Carbohydrates: 12.2 g
Calories: 105
Chocolate Candy Bar
Serving: 2 “fun size”
Carbohydrates: 19.8 g
Calories: 151
Chocolate Hearts - Masterfile Candy bar - Masterfile

Diet Trick: 7 Restaurant Tips

Enormous restaurant portions pose a challenge to healthy eaters. “When you order a meal, ask the waiter to box half of it for you before bringing it to the table,” advises Gerbstadt. Here, seven more dining strategies:

1. Plan ahead. Check out the menu and think about what you want to eat before you go—when you’re not as hungry. This way less healthy options won’t tempt your tummy once you get there.

2. Choose menu items that are baked, broiled, grilled, poached, roasted, or steamed—terms that usually indicate they’ve been prepared with less added fat.

3. Avoid items that are batter-fried, deep-fried, pan- fried, buttered, creamed, crispy or breaded.

4. Add tomato, lettuce, pepper and other crunchy fresh vegetables and fruits to increase the vitamin and fiber content of any sandwich.

5. Ask for cheese, sour cream, guacamole, mayonnaise or dressing on the side.

6. Start with a light soup or salad (with low-fat dressing) to help take the edge off hunger.

7. Clarify with your server the ingredients and preparation method used in dishes marked light or healthy on the menu. In the restaurant world, these terms can be meaningless.

From our sister publication, Diabetes Focus, Fall 2011

Publication Review By: the Editorial Staff at

Published: 14 Aug 2011

Last Modified: 11 Sep 2015