15 Simple Food Switches That Could Save Your Life

      Overwhelmed by how many changes you need to make in your diet just to break the ceiling on adequate? With so many diet recommendations, are you ready to throw in the towel when it comes to eating right? Well, don't despair. Even small, sometimes even tiny, changes or additions to your diet can make a difference in your health, energy level, disease risk, and memory....especially when you stick to them. Elizabeth Somer, registered dietitian and author of Eat Your Way to Sexy, showed us 15 simple switches that pack a nutritional punch for almost no effort.

      1. Switch from milk chocolate to dark chocolate: Look for at least 70% cocoa powder. Dar chocolate is a powerhouse of antioxidants that protect cells from age-related damage, thus lowering the risk for heart disease and dementia, and even possibly aiding in weight loss. Just keep the portion to 1 oz and no more than 5 times a week.

      2. Switch from white to red wine. Compared to white wine, red wine is packed with antioxidants...more than 20 times that found in white wine. It helps keep platelets from clumping in the blood, possibly preventing blood clots. Moderation is key. One glass of red wine a day for women, and no more than 2 glasses for men.

      3. Switch from whole wheat to 100% whole wheat. Unless a bread says it is 100%, assume it only has a dusting of whole grain. Chewy whole grains have a low glycemic index, so they help lower risk for heart disease and diabetes and aid in weight loss. 100% whole grains also are loaded with antioxidants, trace minerals like chromium and zinc, and fibers that reduce the risk for everything from colon cancer to heart disease.

      4. Quench your thirst with tea instead of cola: For every ounce of soda you drink, your risk for being overweight increases...that's how strong the link is between soda pop and your waistline. On the other hand, tea brewed at home is cheaper and packed w/ antioxidants...and has no calories!

      5. Switch from diet cola to water. There is no better beverage for you than good ol' water to keep you hydrated. Diet soda might quench your thirst, but preliminary research shows it also might increase the risk for kidney stones, osteoporosis, tooth decay, and cancer.

      6. Switch from 1/4 of the sugar in any baking recipe to the same amount of nonfat dry milk. Reducing sugar in the diet any way you can will help retrain your tastebuds to prefer less sweetness, a great anti-aging goal. Besides weight gain and diabetes, high intake of sugar leads to a process called glycosylation where sugar molecules adhere to protein molecules, potentially damaging cells, increasing inflammation, and contributing to blocked arteries.

      7. Switch from fruited yogurt to nonfat, plain yogurt w/ jam. Yogurt is a great source of calcium, which helps to build strong bones, but whole yogurt is also too high in artery-clogging saturated fat and fruit yogurts have the sugar equivalent of a candy bar. Get rid of the fat by choosing nonfat yogurt, then sweeten it yourself w/ a little jam or fresh fruit.

      8. Switch from red meat to legumes 4X a week. Studies come out every month on the health risks of eating red meat, including an increased risk for heart disease, diabetes, dementia, cancer, and more. Just switching 4X a week to a legume-based meal, such as chili beans, split pea soup, black beans and rice, etc. lowers heart disease risk by up to 50%.

      9. Switch from a bowl of ice cream to a frozen fruit bar. You will save more than 150 calories and the sweet and refreshing all fruit bar has as little as 30 calories.

      10. Switch from potato chips and sour cream dip to baked tortilla chips and salsa. This switch cuts calories, fat, more fat, and sodium. Regular chips have 150 calories and 10 grams of fat in 1 ounce (~15 chips) Baked chips have 120 calories and 2 grams of fat. The dip will do you in, too. Every tablespoon of onion dip adds another 2 grams of fat.

      11. Switch from a baked potato to a baked sweet potato. While potatoes are Americans' favorite "vegetable" it also is the worst choice, since it typically is accompanied by sour cream, butter, and the like. A sweet potato on the other hand is packed with antioxidant, vitamin A, potassium, and more, for fewer calories and no fat.

      12. Switch from iceberg to romaine. Iceberg is fine, if you like crunchy water. But if you want to get the best nutritional bang for your buck, you can double your nutrients for no extra calories by switching to Romaine or other leaf lettuces. Romaine has twice the fiber, B vitamins, folic acid (a B vitamin that lowers heart disease and cancer risk and prevents birth defects), calcium, potassium and trace minerals as iceberg. It has 7 times the vitamin C and vitamin A. If you want to do yourself an even bigger favor, switch to spinach salads. A salad made with two cups of spinach supplies half your day's need for folic acid and vitamin C, all of your requirement for vitamin A, and more than 25% of your day's need for vitamin E, magnesium, and potassium. An equal amount of iceberg doesn't make a dent your day's requirements.

      13. Switch from nonstick pans to cast iron. The numbers vary, depending on the study, but somewhere between 20% and 80% of women during the childbearing years are iron deficient. They're not so deficient that they are anemic, but the symptoms are the same: They're tired, more susceptible to colds and infections, can't think clearly, and might even sleep more fitfully. Besides pumping up the iron content of your diet, throw out that expensive cookware and return to Grandma's cast iron. The iron leaches out of the pot into the food, boosting iron content several fold, especially in acidic foods such as spaghetti sauce and tomato-based soups.

      14. Switch from an energy bar to a banana and nuts. Most energy bars are just poorly disguised candy bars, high in added sugar and processed junk. Instead, save yourself money and have a potassium, vitamin C-rich banana and an ounce of almonds or peanuts. No added sugar. No chemicals. No processed junk.

      15. Switch from a sports drink to a bowl of watermelon. You get all the hydration plus the electrolytes, such as potassium, in a cup of watermelon as you would in a cup of a processed sports drink. But without the processing and added sugar!