Swapping Food: a better choice for your health

The waiter arrives to take your breakfast order. You ask for the buttermilk pancakes and coffee with cream. The waiter says, “What would you like on the side? Cottage cheese or bacon?”

Let’s admit it: the waiter has presented you with a guilt-inducing choice. If you’re a carnivore, you know the cottage cheese isn’t nearly as satisfying as the bacon. Cottage cheese is even farther away from bacon than apples are from oranges (to use the famous comparison)! Above all, cottage cheese has no crunch and no salt, and that’s exactly what you want to accompany the gooey, sweet delight of your pancakes.

And yet, you know the cottage cheese is better for you. So, so much better for you. Cottage cheese in place of bacon can add time to your life and keep inches off your waist. But it doesn’t satisfy now.

What to do?

Let’s devote this post to the idea that ridiculous choices are ridiculous and you do not need to feel guilty for little pleasures. Actually, you can preserve much of the pleasure of eating by making subtler swaps.

Saving the Bacon

In the example above, here is how you can keep the bacon, hold the cottage cheese, and skip out of the diner with your pride intact:

  • Instead of buttermilk pancakes, order buckwheat pancakes. Buckwheat is actually a fruit seed, so it contains no dairy or gluten. It is rich in manganese, promotes cardiovascular health, and has even been shown to reduce the risk of gallstones. Since it can be ground into a bread-like substance, it has become popular as a healthy alternative to traditional buttermilk.1
  • Instead of processed syrup, use 100% pure maple syrup. It’s still sweet and delicious, but it doesn’t contain the empty calories and processed sugar of that jar of Aunt Jemima or Smucker’s.
  • Instead of cream, order lowfat or nonfat milk. This may take some getting used to, but it’s much easier than swapping cottage cheese for bacon.

The swaps listed above preserve so much of what we love about that indulgent pancake breakfast—the textures, the sweetness, and the satisfied feeling at the end—but they reduce the caloric content and heart-unhealthy elements by nearly half.

A delicious buckwheat recipe can be found here.

Enjoy your bacon.

Other Healthy Substitutions 

Bad: Sugary drinks.

Good: Tea, coconut water, and seltzer.

Why: What many of us want in our Cokes and Pepsis is the cold, sparkling sensation. But these sugary drinks may be the greatest driver of obesity and diabetes in the developed world.2 Instead, try iced tea or coconut water, which can both be great cold. Many types of tea have been linked to cardiovascular health, and some can even give you a jolt of energy. Coconut water is full of potassium and electrolytes and has a mildly sweet and satisfying flavor.

For the pleasurably bubbly burn, add some seltzer to the coconut water, or drink the seltzer alone. Another great use of seltzer is as an additive to wine. Make an instant spritzer by adding equal parts wine and seltzer: you will cut the calories by half and your relaxation time will last longer.

Bad: Butter and mayonnaise

Good: Avocado and olive oil

Why: Toasted bread was not made to be alone. Instead of the hugely fattening and cardiovascularly disastrous butter and mayo, however, try spreading avocado or olive oil on your toast. Ditto your salads and sandwiches. You will get vastly more necessary nutrients and you will still enjoy some cream with your crunch.

Bad: Potatoes

Good: Cauliflower

Why: One cup of potato has nearly four times the calories and over five times the carbs of cauliflower, and yet the textures and other elements, like potassium and protein, are remarkably similar. They are so similar, in fact, that cauliflower can be used exactly like potatoes in a number of ways: mashed, roasted, boiled, etc. As with the bacon example above, with all the calories you save by using cauliflower instead of potato, you can go ahead and splurge with some butter or cheese as a topping

Bad: Crackers and chips

Good: Nuts

Best: Edamame or Celery with Peanut Butter

Why: Snacking goes in and out of style among health researchers. Some say snacking makes people fat, some say regular snacking increases metabolism and wards off the urge to gorge during mealtime.3 In the interest of realism, let’s just say that snacking is going to happen whether the researchers like it or not. The important thing is to snack healthfully.

In this department, you can’t really do worse than crackers and chips, which are full of empty calories, fat, cholesterol, and all the rest of it. But as a way of getting some crunch and some salty satisfaction, go for a handful of nuts instead. They are full of protein, vitamins, and minerals (and almonds, pistachios, and cashews are probably the best among them). But nuts are also high in fat, so better yet is edamame or celery. You can top your edamame with a little salt or top your celery with a little peanut butter and feel all the good feelings that come with a bag of chips, but without the bad stuff.

The goal is honesty. Setting unreasonable expectations of swaps like cottage cheese for bacon or apple sauce for french fries sets too many of us up for failure. Try these swaps and experiment with others - sometimes health is not won by massive revolution, but rather by small strategic shifts. 


  1. The George Matejlan Foundation. Buckwheat. http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=11
  2. Harvard School of Public Health. Sugary drinks. https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/healthy-drinks/sugary-drinks/
  3. Chapelot D. The role of snacking in energy balance: a biobehavioral approach. J Nutr. 2011;141(1):158-162.

This article is for general educational purposes only and is not intended to be used as or substituted for medical advice.  Always seek the advice of your physician or qualified health care provider with any questions about your health or a medical condition.  Never disregard or delay seeking medical advice because of something you have read on the internet.