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Healthy eating swaps for the New Year

How to clean up your diet by making the right choices

By Stacey Stein

Healthy eating often falls by the wayside during the holiday season when it’s hard to resist the temptation of the many decadent treats on offer at the office, at holiday parties or at the homes of our families and friends.

But after we ring in the New Year, it’s time to press the reset button on our diets. This is a popular time of year to break our bad habits from the holidays while renewing our commitment to eating healthfully.

But what exactly does healthy eating – and the popular term “clean eating” – mean? Registered dietitian Shannon Crocker offers this explanation: “You’re looking to limit ultra processed foods that have poor nutritional value,” she says, adding that means including in your diet mostly wholesome foods like vegetables, fruit, whole grains, nuts, legumes, milk, cheese and lean meats.

To help you get started on a plan to adopt more healthful eating habits and clean up your diet in the New Year, here are a few ideas for some healthy eating swaps.


The stand-by: Cereal is an easy grab n’ go breakfast – seemingly perfect for hectic weekday mornings. But many cereals tend to be high in sugar and refined carbohydrates, making them a less than ideal choice in the morning. “Highly refined, high sugar breakfast cereals won’t give you long lasting energy,” says Crocker. “They increase your blood sugar very quickly, but then it drops and you might feel sluggish by mid-morning.”

The swap: Crocker recommends opting for an overnight muesli that’s packed with nutrients and protein thanks to a mix of berries, oats, cottage cheese and wheat germ. Another great breakfast option that will help fuel you for the day is this protein- and fibre-rich orchard fruit cottage cheese bowl, filled with apples, pears, cottage cheese and pecans.


The stand-by: The lunch-time sandwich – often filled with some type of deli meat – is a long-time staple. But processed deli meat is usually high in fat and salt and if you opt for white bread, you’re getting refined carbohydrates and little fibre. This makes many sandwiches a nutrient-poor lunch-time choice.

The swap: Combining a variety of veggies (and sometimes nuts, cheese and even fruit), a lunchtime salad can be a nutritional powerhouse. Try this butternut squash and bocconcini salad, which is chock full of vitamin A, vitamin C, potassium, fibre, calcium and protein, or this quinoa salad with grilled veggies and cottage cheese, which is also brimming with nutrients and protein.
The cold weather makes this the perfect time to tuck into a warming soup – this curried lentil soup with Havarti has plenty of fibre thanks to the lentils, while you also get a hit of protein from both the lentils and the cheese. “This will keep you satisfied for longer,” says Crocker.


The stand-by: It may be hard to resist store-bought cake, pie or cookies if you enjoy something sweet during the day or after dinner. The downside of course is that these desserts are highly processed and loaded with fat, sugar, and calories.

The swap: Crocker recommends turning to fruit if you have a sweet tooth. “It’s naturally sweet and you get the benefits of nutrients and fibre,” she says. In the winter when we may not feel like fruit salad, these grilled fruit kabobs are warm and taste great with a sour cream honey dip. For something fast and simple, you can try grilling a pear and topping it with a dollop of mascarpone cheese. If you have a little more time, these lemon cheese fritters will help satisfy any sweet cravings. Crocker recommends using whole grain flour instead of white flour.


The stand-by: Fancy coffee beverages have become very popular, and can be especially appealing when the mercury dips well below zero. But Crocker cautions that these drinks can have up to 12 to 13 teaspoons of sugar. “People drink them like they’re a coffee but really they’re a dessert,” she says. Same goes for pop, which is often loaded with sugar.

The swap: If you can’t go without your morning java for a caffeine hit, skip the sugary coffee beverage and instead opt for a plain latte which you can then sprinkle with cinnamon or top with some cocoa. During the day, ditch the pop and instead try sparkling water with a squeeze of citrus (grapefruit, orange or lime all work well) – you’ll get the same fizzy taste but without all the sugar and calories.


The stand-by: We may think granola bars or muffins qualify as a healthier snack, but they’re often full of sugar and have little nutritional value, making them more of a treat. “A snack gives you lots of nutrients, protein and fibre, whereas a treat doesn’t,” says Crocker.

The swap: It’s important to choose snacks that will satisfy you so that you don’t feel hungry after half an hour, Crocker advises. With this in mind, fruit is always a good snack option – try apple slices spread with peanut butter and topped with sunflower seeds. Wholegrain crackers with cheese provide both fibre and protein, re-charging you when your energy starts to dip. You can also try making this protein- and fibre-rich blueberry ginger cottage cheese topper, which has a nice combination of creaminess, crunch and tang thanks to the mix of cottage cheese, walnuts, blueberries and ginger.

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