10 healthy food swaps from ZOE’s community
Did you know that to improve your health, you don't need to massively shift what you eat? By making small swaps, you can create new habits that add up to big changes to your health.
“Smart swaps” are when you replace less healthy things you regularly eat with equally delicious, healthier items.
It’s not necessary (or possible) to have a “perfect” diet. But making small adjustments to the foods you already love can make them healthier and, often, more delicious.
We recently asked the ZOE community which swaps they’ve added to their routine. And Dr. Sarah Berry — our chief scientist — explains why these smart swaps are healthy choices.
1. Tweak your sweet treats
“I swapped peanut butter cups for 85% dark chocolate with a dollop of peanut butter. Lovely.”
Sarah: “Dark chocolate is a great swap. It’s packed with polyphenols, which are good for our heart health.
And peanut butter (when homemade or not heavily processed) can be a great addition to a healthy diet, as it contains plenty of protein and fiber."
2. Choose healthier dessert
“I love having pudding, but all my old versions scored badly. So, my new treat the ZOE way is Greek yogurt with berries and a ZOE almond cookie warmed in the microwave with a couple of squares of 85% dark chocolate melting on top!”
Sarah: “Greek yogurt is fantastic. It’s high in protein and contains healthy bacteria, which are great for your gut. And the berries and dark chocolate both contain polyphenols.
The ZOE almond cookies are great because they contain a diverse range of plants, including nuts, which are nutritional powerhouses, and olive oil, which is another source of polyphenols.”
3. Swap juice for whole fruit
“The best smart swap for me was changing from my freshly squeezed orange juice every morning to eating a whole orange. It’s much better for my blood sugar, and I benefit from all the fiber and goodness in the whole orange.”
Sarah: “Juice gets a low ZOE score because many of the beneficial parts of the fruit, like fiber, are removed. Juicing fruit also destroys the food’s structure.
We know that if you have juice rather than the whole fruit, you have a more exaggerated blood sugar response.
This is because the fiber in whole fruit means it stays in your stomach longer, so blood sugar levels don’t rise as fast.”
4. Switch up your grain routine
“Overnight grains (multigrain and seed mix based on barley) and fruit with kefir in place of store-bought muesli or overnight oats with fruit juice.”
Sarah: “While store-bought muesli does have a variety of ingredients, changing this for grains and seeds will produce a smaller blood sugar response.
Your swap can also contain a greater diversity of plants, including fruits, which can be high in polyphenols. And kefir is packed with gut-loving bacteria.
So, this is a great combination of ingredients to keep your gut bacteria happy and reduce your blood sugar responses.”
5. Swap oatmeal for yogurt and berries
“I’ve swapped an entire breakfast routine. Instead of oatmeal or muesli, which left me feeling hungry mid-morning, my new favorite is full-fat Greek yogurt with fresh berries, a tablespoon of high-scoring granola, and an extra handful of seeds and/or nuts.”
Sarah: “It’s so important to listen to your own hunger signals. For some people, oatmeal and muesli can help them stay full for a long time. But if this isn’t you, you want to find things that will keep you full and make you feel energized.
Greek yogurt is high in protein, dairy fat, and gut-loving bacteria. Berries are packed with polyphenols, and granola with seeds and nuts contains a fantastic mix of fiber, polyphenols, and healthy oils.”
6. Make small changes to your snacks
“I now eat nuts instead of biscuits. And salted peanuts or roasted peas and beans in place of crisps.”
Sarah: “Nuts as a replacement for biscuits are a fantastic choice. Biscuits tend to be high in sugar, which we know increases your blood sugar levels. They may also cause blood sugar dips for some, which can make you feel hungry sooner.
Biscuits are also high in saturated fat, and we know a diet high in saturated fat can increase the risk of heart disease in the long run.
Nuts are a nutritional powerhouse. And they help make us feel fuller for longer, reduce blood cholesterol, and improve our overall heart health.”
7. Swap pasta for … pasta
Pasta is a food many of us regularly enjoy, but not all pasta is equal.
According to Prof. Tim Spector, “The fiber content of pasta can vary hugely, so it’s worth checking the packet and choosing one with a higher fiber content.”
Fiber feeds your gut microbiome. So, by simply changing your pasta, you can make a meal that supports your gut health and still tastes great.
“I’ve swapped gluten-free pasta for edamame bean pasta. I can make a meal that scores well for me with this and will never go back to gluten-free.”
“I swapped regular pasta for pea pasta.”
Sarah: “This is a great swap for those who can access these products and enjoy the taste.
Also, whole wheat varieties, whether that’s pasta or rice, can really help increase the fiber content and healthiness of the meal.
It’s also important to bear this in mind: There’s often a perception that gluten-free food is healthier, but this isn’t always the case.
Food packages that contain ‘free from,’ whether it’s sugar, gluten, or something else, have what we call a health halo — they seem healthy.
But often, the gluten or sugar is replaced with something else that may not be good for you.”
8. Try different flours
“Different flours! I’d never tried gram [chick pea] or pea flours before, and now I use them all the time to make quick flatbreads and pizza bases. I never used to make cakes, but now I use almond and coconut flours combined in high-scoring cake recipes.”
Sarah: “If these different types of flour are affordable, accessible, and enjoyable for you, they can make some foods even healthier.
But bear in mind that you can still use standard flour to build a healthy meal, as long as you combine it with other healthy ingredients.
For instance, if you’re making a pizza, add a high-quality passata tomato sauce, extra virgin olive oil, mozzarella cheese, and vegetables. You’ll still end up with a healthy meal.”
9. Whole-fat rather than “diet”
“I stopped buying low-fat flavored yogurt with loads of additives and now enjoy full-fat Greek yogurt.”
Sarah: “This is a great swap. Fat has a really important role in creating the texture of food, and it also carries the taste of food.
So, when manufacturers remove fat from a product, they tend to compensate for the loss of flavor by using additives.
As it stands, we don’t know the health effects of these additives. But we do know that full-fat Greek yogurt has plenty of protein, doesn’t have artificial ingredients, and contains gut-loving bacteria, which are all good for your health.”
10. Swap half your pasta for beans
“When I’m cooking a meal with pasta, I now swap half of the pasta for chickpeas or beans. It keeps me feeling fuller for longer.”
Sarah: “This is a great swap if you enjoy the taste. Chickpeas and beans are packed with fiber. They’re fantastic for our gut.
A study I worked on also shows that adding chickpea powder to bread reduces your blood sugar response and stimulates the release of gut hormones, keeping you fuller for longer.”
At ZOE, we believe that no food should be off-limits. You should enjoy the foods you love by adding more to your diet rather than taking them away.
These smart swaps can help you increase the diversity of your diet, support your health, and discover new ingredients that you never knew you loved.
Enhanced secretion of satiety-promoting gut hormones in healthy humans after consumption of white bread enriched with cellular chickpea flour: A randomized crossover study. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. (2023). https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0002916522105599