15 Ways to Spring Clean Your Diet
Spring clean your diet with these easy but high-impact food swaps will boost your energy and help improve your health.
In the winter months, several everyday habits may change: You’re eating more carb-laden foods (comfort food), your fitness routine is on hold, and you seldom leave the house. This hibernation-like period can have you in a funk feeling fatigued. As the season starts to shift to spring, you may feel compelled to “spring clean”—starting with your dietary habits.
Top dietitians and nutritionists share easy ways to spring clean your diet with these high-impact food swaps for a boost of energy and overall better health.
Swap pasta for zucchini noodles
It’s time to break out that spiralizer in your cabinet. “With the change in season, zucchinis are about to be abundant in gardens, farmers markets, and grocery stores,” says Jennifer Kanikula, RD, a traveling registered dietitian. “Not only are they cheap, they’re extremely healthy and when eaten in place of pasta, add a plethora of nutrition benefits to your meal. Zucchini is very low in calories and high in nutrients and antioxidants, whereas refined grains (white pasta) are low in nutrients, high in carbohydrates, sugar, and subsequently, high in calories.” If weight loss is a goal, check out these 13 weight-loss foods to lose weight fast.
Make water more appealing
Take a break from soda, sweetened iced teas, lemonade, and other high-calorie beverages for some serious calorie savings. “Trade sugary beverages for water (still or sparkling) with a squeeze of citrus,” suggests Barbie Boules, RDN, LDN, CHWC, a Chicago-based registered dietitian and nutritionist and certified health coach. You can also try making fruit ice cubes to jazz things up. “Simply puree fresh fruit in a blender and freeze in ice cube trays,” Boules says. “This is my number one tip for all of my clients. If you’re drinking three calorie-laden beverages a day (soda, smoothies, juice, lattes) and switch to water, it could mean losing a pound a week.”
Skip energy bars in favor of real food
You might think a protein or energy bar is a healthy way to feed your snack craving, but nutrition experts recommend skipping them in favor of actual food. “Most energy and granola bars are made up of heavily processed ingredients and added sugars, which can lead to GI discomfort and even increased appetite shortly after consuming,” says Sydney Greene, RD, a registered dietitian and nutritionist in New York City. “I advise my clients to keep whole produce items such as apples, oranges, or carrots in their fridge for an easy grab-and-go option. I like to pair one of these foods with an easy-to-transport protein option, such as a handful of nuts, for a nutritionally complete snack. Plus, follow these eight meal planning tips for healthy eating.
Go meatless for one meal each week
“You don’t need to avoid all meat, but there is research to support a plant-based diet regarding the prevention and management of many health conditions,” says Alyssa Cohen, RD, a registered dietitian. It’s never a bad idea to up your plant-based-protein intake, she says. Adding in a plant-based protein instead of a meat protein once a week is a realistic way to start. “Remember that eliminating meat isn’t the main goal—increasing your intake of plants is! So leaving the protein off of your salad doesn’t work. Make sure to replace the meat with a plant-based protein source in order to ensure you are getting all of your required nutrients.” Try legumes, lentils, nuts, and seeds.
Try oatmeal instead of cereal for breakfast
The reasoning for this swap might surprise you: “Probiotics, good bacteria that are important for your digestive health, thrive on fiber,” explains Roshini Rajapaksa, MD, a gastroenterologist at NYU Langone Health in New York City and Lose It! advisory board member. “Less than three percent of Americans meet the daily recommendations for fiber, which is why it is extremely important to fill up on fiber-rich foods—such as oatmeal.” In a 2016 study in the British Journal of Nutrition, researchers have linked beta-glucan from whole oats to healthy gut bacteria. Check out these other healthy alternatives and food swaps nutritionists love.
Ditch flavored yogurts
Not all yogurts are created equal. “If you love yogurt, make plain Greek-style your go-to, since it has no sugar and tons of protein,” Boules suggests. “Top it with fresh fruit and crushed almonds or walnuts and you have a nice balance of carbs, protein, and fat with plentiful antioxidants. Add a teaspoon of honey if you like, and you’re still doing better than the roughly four teaspoons [of sugar] in sweetened yogurt.” Plus, if you can’t or don’t eat dairy, opt for a dairy-free yogurt. While the protein content varies, plant-based yogurts provide the same probiotics found in dairy varieties. Here are 13 more simple food swaps to reduce your sugar intake.
Swap low-calorie snacks for nuts and seeds
“Low-calorie snacks like cookies and crackers may seem harmless, but they still have a negative impact on insulin levels, resulting in a surge and a crash, leaving people wanting more low-calorie snacks,” says Keith Kantor, PhD, a registered dietitian in Atlanta. “These empty high carbohydrate foods not only cause increased cravings for sugar, but they get in the way of your body’s fat burning capabilities because your body is unable to use its own fat stores for fuel, and instead it uses the snack for energy, reducing metabolic efficiency. Replace these high carbohydrate snacks with heart-healthy fats from nuts or seeds. Nuts and seeds do not raise insulin levels and they will keep you feeling full for a longer period of time, reducing cravings for sugary foods.”
Boost flavor and cut calories with fresh herbs
“Marinades, dressings, sauces, and condiments are noteworthy sources of hidden calories,” says Sheri Kasper, RD, a registered dietitian in North Reading, Massachusetts. “Herbs, spices, and seasonings are flavorful alternatives that taste delicious without adding unnecessary calories and sodium to a meal. So, next time you’re looking to marinade the chicken, try reaching for basil, thyme, and rosemary instead!” Try these other powerful spring superfoods you need in your diet.
Use pureed prunes instead of sugar
Yes, really. “The average adult in the U.S. consumes three times more added sugar than recommended,” states Erin Palinski-Wade, RD, a New Jersey-based registered dietitian and author of 2-Day Diabetes Diet. “All of this excess sugar can increase the risk for obesity, heart disease, diabetes, and even have a negative impact on concentration and memory. When preparing a baked-goods recipe that calls for added sugar, swap it out with pureed prunes instead. This easy swap leaves your baked goods moist, sweet, and delicious while cutting out the added sugar and increasing both the fiber and nutrient content of the recipe.”
Try avocado instead of mayo
“If you’re searching for something creamy to add to your sandwich or a way to make your egg salad or deviled eggs a bit healthier, opt for avocado instead of mayo,” Kanikula suggests. “Avocados are loaded with healthy fats and provide a plethora of nutrients as evidenced by their bright green color. Additionally, their taste is mild, so they take on the flavor of the item you’re pairing it with.” Plus, try these other healthy food swaps you haven’t thought of before.
Swap out your nightcap for herbal tea
“While moderate alcohol consumption before bed may help you fall asleep faster, the body’s effort to metabolize the alcohol throughout the night affects our ability to enter a REM state, leading to an overall poorer night’s sleep,” Greene explains. Try some herbal tea instead, she says: “Studies show that even a slight cut in our total hours of rest alters two important hormones for weight maintenance: Leptin and ghrelin. Cutting the nighttime alcohol habit will lead to better sleep, save you empty calories, and promote better food choices the following day.”
Skip carb-only snacks
“Those who graze throughout their afternoons may be overdoing their calories without realizing,” notes Tracy Lockwood Beckerman, RD, a New York City-based registered dietitian and nutritionist with Banza. “Instead of having a ton of light snacks, make the snack nutrient-dense by combining proteins and fats with your complex or slow-digesting carbs. That means, throw sunflower seeds in your Greek yogurt, snack on roasted chickpeas instead of pretzels, or dip your whole-grain crackers in hummus.” Just make sure you’re not spending your funds on these spring “superfoods” that are actually a waste of money.
Sub frozen berries for syrup and jam
It’s easy to make pancakes more nutritionally sound by adding protein powder to your recipe, but lots of people still opt for maple syrup. The jams people spread on toast are also loaded with sugar. “Let your bag of frozen berries thaw out in the fridge for a few hours and you’ve got the perfect topping for toast or pancakes with zero added sugar,” says Emmie Satrazemis, RD, a sports dietitian and director of nutrition at Trifecta Nutrition. “They get just runny enough and taste just as sweet. Not to mention you’ll be cutting calories, adding fiber, and a ton of nutrition shown to benefit heart health and brain health and reduce inflammation. Both syrup and jam have 50 calories per tablespoon and 14 grams of carbs. Berries have four calories per tablespoon and 1g of carbs.”
Replace half your carbs with veggies
This simple swap can seriously add up. “Veggies are filling, nutritious, and have a tiny fraction of the calories that bread, grains (like rice), pasta, and potatoes have,” notes Mike Israetel, PhD, co-founder and chief sports scientist at Renaissance Periodization. “So next time you’re throwing together a meal for yourself, subtract half the starchy carbs and add in a handful or two of fresh veggies of your choice. You’ll be able to cut a pretty impressive amount of calories without feeling a huge hunger punch, and the nutrients in veggies will give that much more of a boost to your health.” Watch out for these six signs you’re eating way too many carbs.
Replace your usual meat cuts with leaner ones
Lots of people boost their protein by eating more meat and fish when trying to lose weight, but sometimes, they’re consuming unnecessary fat in the process. “Instead of a hot dog, try a lean chicken sausage,” Israetel suggests. “Instead of a regular hamburger, try a leaner ground beef or even leaner turkey. Instead of breaded fish, try a grilled fillet. By doing this, you can cut down on the fat without sacrificing the protein, which allows you to curb hunger and keep your muscle up while losing weight. Next, find out the 9 spring superfoods you probably haven’t tried yet (but should).
- Jennifer Kanikula, RD, traveling registered dietitian
- Barbie Boules, RDN, LDN, CHWC, registered dietitian and nutritionist and certified health coach, Chicago
- Sydney Greene, RD, registered dietitian and nutritionist, New York City
- Alyssa Cohen, RD, registered dietitian
- Roshini Rajapaksa, MD, gastroenterologist at NYU Langone Health and Lose It! advisory board member, New York City
- British Journal of Nutrition: “Oatmeal porridge: impact on microflora-associated characteristics in healthy subjects”
- Keith Kantor, PhD, registered dietitian in Atlanta
- Sheri Kasper, RD, registered dietitian in North Reading, Massachusetts
- Erin Palinski-Wade, RD, registered dietitian and author of 2-Day Diabetes Diet, New Jersey
- Tracy Lockwood Beckerman, RD, registered dietitian and nutritionist with Banza, New York City
- Emmie Satrazemis, RD, sports dietitian and director of nutrition at Trifecta Nutrition
- Mike Israetel, PhD, co-founder and chief sports scientist at Renaissance Periodization