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Healthy food swaps for increased energy

These healthy food swaps will help you clean up your diet so you can have more energy throughout the day and avoid those mid-afternoon slumps!

Do you wish you had more energy and mental clarity throughout the day to focus on your priorities? Cleaning up your diet is a great place to start!

In this post, I’ll help you get started with a pantry and fridge makeover! You’ll learn which foods need to go and how upgrade your diet with healthy food swaps. There’s also a handy printable checklist to help you go through the process, so you’ll want to download it before getting started.

Plan to set aside enough time to clean out the unhealthy foods from your kitchen, plus shop for your healthy food swaps (the printable Healthy Food Swaps checklist will really save you time at the grocery store, so be sure to take it with you).

Another time-saving tip is to order your groceries online and have them delivered right to your door with Amazon Fresh or Instacart (use this promo code and get $10 off your first order: VROPER16313C). I’ve used both of these service and love them!

healthy food swaps for increased energy

1) Pasta

White (refined) pasta is an empty calorie food, meaning it is high in calories and low in nutrients. The simple sugars in refined pasta are absorbed quickly and cause spikes in insulin, which then results in energy crashes, leaving you feeling like a zombie.

Healthy food swaps: whole grain pasta, spaghetti squash, or spiralized veggies.

2) White bread

Get rid of the white bread (sandwich bread, bagels, English muffins, rolls, etc.) for all the same reasons as white pasta.

Healthy food swaps:  Sprouted grain bread or whole wheat bread. Note:  make sure the first ingredient is “whole wheat flour” or “whole grain flour” and not “wheat flour” (which likely won’t be much better than white bread).

Another option is to skip wheat (and gluten) altogether. Many people have varying levels of sensitivity to gluten (a protein found in wheat) and don’t even know it. I’ve recently started cutting back on my gluten intake, and I’ve found some really good oat and millet based gluten-free breads at my local natural foods store.

3) white rice

Like white flour, white rice has been stripped of its fiber and nutrients, so it’s also an empty calorie food.

Healthy food swaps: Brown rice, quinoa, or cauliflower rice

Tip: Save time (and a mess) by buying riced cauliflower instead of doing it yourself. I recommend going with the frozen cauliflower rice. It’s usually fresher than the stuff you find in the produce department, and it lasts much longer than the fresh cauliflower rice. Plus, with frozen you can always have some on hand.

4) processed snack foods

This includes things like chips, crackers, and pretzels. These are fake foods usually made with refined flours and artificial ingredients. So, they’re empty calories that bring no value to your body, and definitely don’t help give you energy.

Healthy food swaps:  nuts and seeds (raw and unsalted are best) or popcorn

5) microwave popcorn

Microwave popcorn is loaded with dangerous chemicals and should always be avoided.

Healthy food swaps: good old-fashioned popcorn that you pop yourself (it’s easy and fun!). This post will teach you how to pop popcorn on the stovetop.

Alternatively, a brand like Skinny Pop is a good choice.

6) store-bought salad dressings

Most salad dressings are made with unhealthy oils like soybean and canola oil (which should always be avoided) and also tend to have a lot of sugar (read the labels!).

Healthy food swaps: A store-bought dressing made with extra virgin olive oil and a short list of natural ingredients (hard to find!) or make it yourself. One of the easiest ways to dress a salad is to just drizzle with a little cold-pressed extra virgin olive oil, a dash of lemon juice or vinegar, and salt and pepper.

7) sugar

Sugar is one of the biggest contributors to energy slumps. But there are healthy(ish) alternatives to refined sugar…..

Healthy food swaps:  Raw unfiltered honey, 100% pure maple syrup (NOT maple-flavored syrup like Aunt Jemima), dates, or coconut palm sugar.

(Remember, even natural sources of sugar are still sugar and should be used in moderation).

8) boxed mixes

These are things like pancake mixes, flavored rice mixes, or meal mixes like Hamburger Helper. (Does this even still exist? I’m not gonna lie, I used to looove Hamburger Helper lasagna as a kid!)

These mixes tend to be loaded with refined flours, artificial ingredients, sodium, and sugar.

Healthy food swaps: Honestly, there aren’t really any true replacements for these things. When it comes to something like pancakes, make them from scratch using whole wheat flour or if you’re avoiding gluten, try something like these almond flour pancakes.

As for meals-in-a-box like Hamburger Helper, your best bet is to make it from scratch. I promise there are plenty of simple recipes you can make that don’t involve too many extra steps, and they’re SO much better for you!

To get you started, I have a collection of over 50 clean eating recipes you can download below . . .


I know, this one bites. But those Oreos are gonna have to go.

Healthy food swaps: Sweets should always be limited, but there are some healthier alternatives using whole foods and natural sweeteners for those times when you need to satisfy your sweet tooth.

Try these easy 3-ingredient peanut butter balls, or have some dark chocolate (preferably 70% or higher) or cacao nibs.


Sorry, cereal lovers, but most cereals fall in the “empty calories” category along with white bread.

Let’s take Honey Nut Cheerios as an example, since most people seem to like Cheerios, and General Mills has been marketing it as a ‘healthy’ cereal. It has 9 grams of sugar (which actually isn’t bad, though the primary source of this is refined sugar and not honey, as they lead you to believe). But, it only has 2 grams of fiber (probably because they’ve used refined oats that have been stripped of most of their fiber) and only 2 grams of protein. This isn’t the way to prime your body with energy for the day ahead.

Healthy food swaps:  Oatmeal or a packaged cereal that is high in fiber and protein, and has less than 9 grams of sugar (the less the better).


First pasta, and now spaghetti sauce — is nothing sacred?!? Actually, spaghetti sauce is fine as long as you pick the right one. A lot of the mainstream sauces have added sugar and use unhealthy fats like soybean oil.

For example, Ragu Old World Style Traditional Sauce has added sugar (8 grams of sugar per serving) and the second ingredient is soybean oil (per Ragu’s website).

Healthy food swaps:  A healthier store-bought spaghetti sauce. One we really like is Victoria Pasta Sauce. It has just 7 whole food ingredients, uses olive oil instead of soybean oil, has no added sugar, and only 4 grams of naturally occurring sugar per serving. Or even better, make your own–it’s actually super easy! You can even make a big batch ahead of time and freeze it to use later.


I love soup, and I think it’s a quick and easy way to maintain a healthy diet, especially for busy solopreneurs. But when it comes to canned soup, so many of them have really unhealthy ingredients that don’t belong in a clean eating diet.

If you have canned soup in your pantry, check the ingredients and toss it if you see ingredients like MSG, hydrolyzed soy protein, hydrolyzed wheat gluten (these are all ingredients listed in Campbell’s Old Fashioned Vegetable Soup, per their website) or any other ingredient that you wouldn’t put into a soup if you were making it from scratch.

Healthy food swaps: Cook a batch of soup and freeze it in smaller portions for later, or try a healthier canned soup. A good example is Amy’s Organic Chunky Vegetable Soup. Their ingredients (per their website): filtered water, organic diced tomatoes, organic spinach, organic carrots, organic green beans, organic corn, organic peas, organic onions, organic celery, sea salt, organic black pepper.

13) Canola oil & other vegetable oils

These oils contain trans-fats, don’t have the right Omega 6 to Omega 3 ratio to support good health, and are often made from genetically modified foods.

Healthy food swaps:  Cold-pressed extra virgin olive oil (best for salad dressings and cooking at lower temperatures), coconut oil, ghee (aka clarified butter), or avocado oil.

Note: After doing the Medical Medium Liver Rescue Cleanse, I have cut back significantly on my fat intake (including healthy fats) and recommend the same to my clients because too much fat is bad for the liver.

14) Sodas

One of the best things you could give do to increase your energy and improve your health is give up sodas (aka soft drinks or pop). I gave them up about 10 years ago and now only have one very occasionally as a treat. Diet sodas are as bad or worse than regular sodas because of the artificial sweeteners, so they should be avoided, too.

Healthy food swaps:  Still water, or for fizzy refreshment, low-sugar kombucha or sparkling water without added artificial ingredients. I like to add a little unsweetened fruit juice to plain sparkling water to make it more fun.

15) condiments

These are things like ketchup, mayonnaise, barbeque sauce, and I’ll include store-bought marinades here, too. They tend to be loaded with sugar and artificial ingredients. And mayonnaise (which I love dearly) tends to be made with soybean oil.

Healthy food swaps: Try a low-sugar organic natural ketchup like Annie’s Naturals Organic Ketchup. For barbeque sauce, make your own or pick a natural one and check the labels for the lowest amount of sugar. For mayonnaise, look for one made with olive or avocado oil. Primal or Choice Foods are good options for avocado oil-based mayonnaise. (Don’t go with Sir Kensington because it has added sugar, at least at the time I’m writing this.) If you’re going egg-free, I recommend soy-free Vegenaise.

16) Packaged frozen meals

These are things like TV dinners and breakfast items like reheatable breakfast sandwiches. Even if the packaging says it’s “lean” or “healthy,” odds are it’s full of artificial ingredients and preservatives, plus unhealthy fats (like soybean oil) that can lead to weight gain and inflammation.

For example, check out the list of ingredients below for a Lean Cuisine Herb Roasted Chicken frozen entree (per their website)…

Chicken and sauce: cooked herb glazed chicken breast patty (chicken breast with rib meat, water, isolated soy protein, citrus flour, seasoning [dried chicken broth, chicken powder, flavor, disodium phosphate], potassium chloride, sugar, potassium and sodium phosphates, salt. glazed with: water, seasoning [modified cornstarch, sugar, dried tomato, spices, dried garlic, dried onion, maltodextrin, salt, dried mushrooms, xanthan gum], modified cornstarch, caramel color), skim milk, water, mushrooms, onions, modified food starch, soybean oil, salt, spices, maltodextrin, sugar, autolyzed yeast extract, potassium chloride, garlic, natural cream flavor, flavoring, xanthan gum, chicken fat, dried chicken broth, gum acacia, sodium lactate, sesame oil, sodium phosphates, canola lecithin, citric acid, lactic acid, potassium phosphate, potato maltodextrin, sodium citrate. vegetables: red skin potatoes, broccoli, red peppers, water, garlic, butter (cream, salt), modified food starch, sugar, salt, potassium chloride, dried garlic, dried onions, spices, carrageenan, cultured dextrose.

Um thanks, but I’ll pass. If you don’t know what the elf half the ingredients are in an item, you probably don’t want to eat it.

Healthy food swaps:  When you cook, put your leftovers in a single-serving-size glass container and freeze it (or double the recipe so you have extra). Voila! A homemade TV dinner. For breakfast, replace nasty frozen breakfast items with quick options like hard boiled eggs that you make ahead of time, green smoothies, steel cut oatmeal (you can make it ahead and refrigerate or freeze it), make-ahead refrigerator oats, or a grab-and-go chia pudding.

Or, you could check out a healthier brand of frozen dinners like Kashi or Saffron Road. But be sure to still read the ingredients and nutrition label.

17) Soy milk

There’s a lot of conflicting info out there about whether soy is good for us. I honestly don’t know what the answer is, and I’m not sure anyone truly does. As for me, I’ve chosen not to eat soy unless it’s fermented (which soy milk isn’t), and this is typically what I recommend to my clients. Even if you’re not avoiding soy, soy milk (like most other commercially prepared nut milks) contains several artificial ingredients.

Healthy food swaps:  Make your own homemade nut milk (the best choice), like almond or cashew. Another option is switching to a commercially prepared nut milk (like almond or coconut) that contains the least amount of ingredients. Elmhurst is one of the best brands I’ve found in terms of using clean and minimal ingredients. Oat milk is an option as well (which you can make yourself or buy commercially), especially if you’re avoiding nuts or want a lower-fat option for your plant-based milk.

18) tofu

I don’t advise eating tofu, but if you do eat it, please make this one of the foods that you only buy organic. If it’s not organic, then it’s been processed with some pretty nasty chemicals and is probably genetically modified.

Healthy food swaps:  Tempeh, which is a fermented soy product. It’s Indonesian in origin, and comes in a cake form like tofu (but is more dense). I’ve used it as a meat replacement in vegetarian chili and loved it!

19) soy sauce

Besides containing soy, most soy sauce contains MSG and gluten, which are two things I recommend avoiding when you can.

Healthy food swaps:  Coconut aminos! It looks and tastes a lot like soy sauce (only not as salty and a little sweeter because it’s made from coconut). We always use this in place of soy sauce (I keep saying I’m gonna stash a bottle in my purse when we got out for dim sum!)

20) Margarine

Margarine is a fake food filled with artificial ingredients and unhealthy fats, and it doesn’t do one good thing for your body.

Healthy food swaps:  grass-fed butter. Kerrygold is a good easy-to-find brand –I’ve even seen it in Walmart and Costco.

additional clean eating resources

final thoughts

Making these healthy food swaps can really increase your energy and help you get more done throughout the day. They can also help you feel better and make real progress toward your health goals. So worth it!

Be sure to grab the Healthy Food Swaps checklist to guide you through your kitchen clean-out and save you time shopping for replacements!

Photo credit: Joanie Simon on


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