5 Easy Ingredient Swaps to Help You Lose Weight

Rice and Cauliflower

Every year, 45 million Americans go on a diet with the intention of losing weight.

With summer right around the corner, you may be considering joining them. Especially if the weather has recently gotten warmer where you live and you’ve begun to dig your summer clothes out from the back of your closet like I have.

Before you jump on board with some extreme diet though, there’s something you should consider.

The right way to lose excess weight and keep it off is by making easy and sustainable shifts in your diet that reduce regular caloric intake while, ideally, increasing nutrient intake.

Your body needs both a certain volume of food and enough of the right nutrients to feel truly satisfied. These missing nutrients are found in whole, plant-based foods.

If you’ve ever wondered why copious amounts of junk food never really satisfy, it’s because they leave you still craving the nutrients your body needs.

Eating low calorie, nutrient-dense foods is also the best way to keep the weight off after you’ve lost, something that most people fail to do.

That’s because weight loss is often accompanied by a decrease in resting metabolic rate. This means that after you lose weight, your body will burn less calories each day than it used to before weight loss. So to keep the weight off you’ll need to regularly and consistently eat less calories than you did before weight loss. Not just when you are trying to lose weight!

This is why most diets fail. They don’t leave you with a sustainable way of eating the proper number of calories a day when they are done. When you go back to how you ate before the diet, you quickly gain weight again!

Here’s the good news: discovering low calorie, nutrient-dense foods to substitute for high calorie processed foods can really help you keep your caloric intake in check, whether you are trying to lose weight or maintain your current weight. In fact, in many cases, with these types of foods you can actually eat more and weigh less!

You can get started today by building your meals around these low-calorie, nutrient-dense foods for weight loss and satisfaction.

5 Easy Ingredient Swaps to Help You Lose Weight

1) Cabbage vs. Taco Shells

Two taco shells: 260 calories, 12 grams of fat

Two cabbage leaves: 12 calories, no fat

Your Savings: 248 calories, 12 grams of fat

Let’s be real. Nobody eats just one taco. Two is probably the bare minimum. With your typical taco shells those calories add up quickly!

Make a major cut to your taco calorie count by simply putting your favorite fillings in a raw cabbage leaf or romaine heart leaf (now that romaine is once again safe to eat again). You can try my favorite 15-Minute Cajun Black-Eyed Pea Tacos filling or go straight for my hot weather go-to Romaine Heart Tacos.

Romaine Heart Tacos

Cabbage is a great source of Vitamin C and, while you might think romaine lettuce isn’t much better than iceberg, a single serving actually has 148% of your RDA for Vitamin A, plus it’s good source of vitamin C, B-6, iron and magnesium.

Cabbage or romaine tacos make a fun appetizer, but a big tray of them is often dinner at my house on hot summer nights too.

2) Vegetable Crudites vs. Crackers

1 cup the most popular crackers (about 12): 192 calories, 10.8 grams of fat

1 cup vegetables (¼ cup carrots, cucumbers, celery & bell pepper): 28 calories, .3 grams of fat

Your Savings: 164 calories, 10.5 grams of fat

It’s crazy how fast calories and fat from snacks like crackers add up. This is the reason I recommend you don’t even think about eating them out of the box. If you’re putting something healthy on the crackers (like hummus) it can seem like a great idea, but including a big platter of raw vegetables to dip instead is an even better choice.

And it looks much prettier, don’t you think?

A cup of these vegetables contains vitamins A & C, B-6, as well as trace amounts of calcium and magnesium. Plus, all those colors mean you are getting a wide range of phytonutrients and antioxidants with each bite as well - including beta carotene, alpha-carotene, lutein, zeaxanthin and quercetin.

3) Collard Greens vs. Flour Tortillas

1 8” flour tortilla: 130 calories, 4 grams of fat

1 8” collard green: 11 calories, .2 grams of fat

Your Savings: 119 calories, 3.8 grams of fat

Collard greens taste delicious! And you can enjoy them either raw or cooked. I love to fill raw collards with tofu salad, lentil salad or hummus and shredded vegetables. But when the leaves get really big later in the growing season, they can also be steamed briefly and filled with all your favorite burrito fillings. So good!

Tofu wrap in a collard green

(Sound tricky? I demonstrate exactly how to do this in my online course Green Your Plate, Change Your Life.)

Besides being delicious, collards are a great source of vitamins A & C, B-6 and calcium as well as magnesium and iron.

4) Zucchini Noodles vs. Pasta

1 cup of pasta: 200 calories, .6 grams of fat

1 cup of zucchini noodles: 33 calories, no fat

Your Savings: 167 calories, .6 grams of fat

First of all, if you’ve ever planted zucchini seeds and found yourself overrun by enormous zucchinis in the late summer, then spiralizing them and eating them with your favorite pasta toppings is a great way to use them up. In this case I like to lightly sauté the zucchini noodles before topping with marinara sauce, vegan meatballs and our favorite Brazil nut parmesan.

If you don't have a spiralizer (I have this one), then a sharp knife and some patience will do, as shown in the photo...

Photo by Igor Miske on Unsplash

If cold pasta salads are a favorite of yours, raw zucchini noodles make a great stand-in for these as well. You can start by using a combination of half pasta and half zucchini noodles, if you aren’t interested in completely foregoing the pasta.

Zucchini is a great source of vitamins A & C, calcium and iron.

5) Cauliflower vs. Rice

1 cup white rice: 206 calories and .4 grams of fat

1 cup cauliflower “riced”: 25 calories, .1 gram fat

Your Savings: 181 calories, .3 grams of fat

Rice is the comforting and starchy base of oh so many recipes, but what if you could make rice out of a super healthy vegetable? That’s exactly what cauliflower rice is. It can be made simply with either a box grater or a food processor and used in place of rice for dishes like fried rice. I love the instructions for oil-free cauliflower rice here.

Rice and Cauliflower

Cauliflower is a cruciferous vegetable superstar and is a good source of phosphorus, manganese, potassium and magnesium. Look for orange and purple varieties of cauliflower at farmers markets in the early spring and fall to add some fun color to your dishes.

So that’s 5 Great Ingredient Swaps to Help You Lose Weight (And Keep It Off!)

Are the foods we are substituting here all ones I exclude completely from my diet? No. But in most cases these swaps exchange a refined grain product (which we tend to eat way too much of) with a whole food vegetable (which we aren’t eating enough of).

That is a serious ingredient upgrade -- along with the significant cut in calories.

Eating less processed and refined foods and more whole plant-based foods is the very best way to lose weight, without being hungry or feeling deprived, and to keep it off.

Which one will you try first?


Hi there! 
I’m Jennifer Haubrich, wife, mother, certified natural food chef & health coach (AADP).


I help smart families re-chart their path to create a delicious, healthy lifestyle by including more plant-based foods in their diet.

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