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60 second health swaps

Make the healthy choice with these easy, healthy substitutions for not-so-healthy choices

“A 250ml glass of wine contains 228 calories, roughly the amount of a 44g bar of chocolate,” says Shani Shaker, a healthcare communications consultant and nutritional therapist ( “So if you drink a few glasses a week you may be consuming an extra 2,000 calories in a month. A glass of prosecco contains around 80 calories while 125ml of champagne contains 89 calories.”

Swap it for: Sparkling water
If you’re ready to cut out alcohol completely, Shani recommends trying sparkling water with a splash of elderflower or cranberry juice, or try adding a soluble vitamin C tablet for extra flavour.

“It’s estimated that Brits eat six billion packets of crisps a year,” says Shani. “That’s the equivalent of 100 packets per person and the equivalent of drinking almost five litres of cooking oil per year, not to mention fat, sugar and salt.”

Swap them for: Vegetable crisps
Shani suggests making your own vegetable crisps using a mandolin. Kale, carrot, turnip, beetroot and taro contain antioxidants and are naturally sweet when baked. Slice them thinly, spray some oil and bake for 15-25 minutes until golden brown, turning occasionally.

Milk chocolate
“Chocolate is the ultimate comfort food – in moderation – but when times get stressful, moderation often goes out the window,” says Shani. “A recent survey revealed sweet-toothed Brits eat the equivalent of 266 bars a year – that’s nearly 25lb of the stuff.”

Swap it for: Dark chocolate
“A few squares of dark chocolate, with a cocoa percentage of 70 per cent or more, is good for the heart, circulation and brain and can help to reduce cholesterol,” says Shani. “Carob is a very good, lower-fat alternative to chocolate.”

Refined carbs
Refined carbohydrates such as white pasta, white bread and white rice have been stripped of almost all their nutrients. They have a high glycaemic index which means that they lead to rapid spikes in blood sugar and insulin levels after meals.

Swap them for: Complex carbs
Complex carbs include brown rice, quinoa or beans and pulses. “Quinoa, although not a true grain, is gluten-free and contains a higher amount of protein than many other whole grains,” says Julie Silver, author of Food Awakening – Nutrition for NOW ( “It’s also nutrient-dense, so beneficial for vegans.” Other nutritious alternatives to refined carbs include buckwheat and millet. They can be used in the whole form or you can get products such as pasta and bread made from them.

There’s no doubt about it – refined sugar has negative effects on our health. Consuming too much sugar can lead to a whole host of health problems from high cholesterol and tooth decay to premature skin ageing and obesity. Overindulging in the sweet stuff can also increase the risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease and liver disease.

Swap it for: Xylitol
Xylitol is a natural sweetener extracted from birch trees which looks and tastes just like granulated sugar yet has 40 per cent fewer calories. It can be used to replace sugar like-for-like in cooking and is even recommended by dentists and hygienists as using it may reduce the risk of tooth decay.

Fizzy soft drinks
“Liquid sugar is possibly the single worst ingredient in modern diets,” says nutritionist Fiona Kirk, author of The New 2 Weeks in the Fast Lane Diet ( “When consumed regularly, it prompts insulin resistance within the body and an increased risk of weight gain, type 2 diabetes, heart disease and certain cancers. And, diet and zero alternatives are no better as the brain simply regards all sugars (both natural and artificial) as a reward and continues to demand more, leaving us looking for another ‘sugar hit’ all-too-soon.”

Swap them for: Sparkling water
“You get the ‘fizz’ without the sugar!” says Fiona. “Try a refreshing glass of sparkling water a few times a day with the addition of ice and sliced fresh fruits, vegetables or pungent herbs (or all three!) Not only does this keep us hydrated, which is vital to our health, but also makes for a more exciting drink and offers additional vitamins, minerals and protective plant chemicals. Adding sparkling water 50:50 to one of your favourite juices or smoothies is another excellent strategy!”

Butter alternatives and spreads
“These spreads are certainly healthier than they used to be,” says Fiona Kirk, “as very few now include health-damaging trans fats. But in order to make them more easy to spread they still involve liquid fats that have been chemically-altered and sometimes, heat-treated. They may also contain emulsifiers, colourings, stabilisers, thickeners and preservatives. Whilst many of these do not pose a major threat to our health, when consumed regularly they can, over time, lead to digestive and nervous disorders and/or respiratory and skin problems.”

Swap them for: Unsalted grass-fed butter
“Look at the label: what does it say? Cultured pasteurised cream and nothing else!” says Fiona. “Yes, butter is a rich source of saturated fat, but we need these fats in our diet for brain, nerve, bone, heart, immune and hormone health. They also act as a carrier of certain vitamins and are vital for mineral absorption. We need them – we just don’t need a lot of them, so spread a little butter on your toast, add a knob to your steamed vegetables or use a little in your cooking.”

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