How can I make good food substitutions for weight loss?

Simple nutritional choices can really help with weight management. Healthy alternatives like a piece of fruit instead of a cookie are helpful. Also, be sure to read labels. Sometimes a food that seems healthy may actually not be as strong nutritionally. Don't forget to watch what you drink, too. Calories count whether they are from foods or beverages. Try to not only choose healthy options, but also manage portions and don't skip meals. You will generally overeat at your next meal if you have skipped the one before.

Dr. Michael Roizen, MD
Internal Medicine

This question is music to our ears. The easiest way is to cut out the five food felons: 1) saturated fat, the kind found in meat, poultry skin, full-fat dairy foods, and palm and coconut oils; 2) trans fats, the ugly stuff still pumped into many snack foods and commercial desserts; 3) simple sugars; 4) added sugars in general, including all added syrups, and 5) any grain that’s not a 100% whole grain. To do this, you’ll need to start honing your detective skills. At the grocery store (and even in your own kitchen), look at the labels. You don’t want any of the five food felons in the first five ingredients listed. Next, check the serving size and make sure that you know how much of each product you should actually be having. Finally, start eating like a Mediterranean. That means, lean proteins (chicken, fish), heart-healthy fats (like DHA omega-3s), and tons of fruits and vegetables. Try having a handful of nuts instead of a handful of chips, and next time you’re craving something sweet, reach for a juicy piece of fruit.

Alberta Scruggs
Nutrition & Dietetics

Some great food substitutions for weight loss includes:

  • Waking up the thirst mechanism. Drink water. Instead of drinking added-sugar drinks, let water quinch your thirst.
  • Eat fresh fruit / vegetables in the place of processed foods (chips, sodas, pastries). They contain less kcalories, there are no added sugar or fat.
  • Stay away from drinks containing alcohol. They add additional kcalories (7 per gram) and slows the metabolism.
  • Eat or drink low-fat dairy and meat products. Fat has over twice the amount of kcalories that carbohydrate or protein has. Although you need fat for specific functions in the body, you don't want to overdo it. Choose low-fat dairy such as skim milk or mozzarella cheese and low-fat meats such as chicken breast or fish.
  • Cook when you can. You have greater control of what goes in your body, if you control the ingredients of your food masterpeice.
Marisa Moore
Nutrition & Dietetics

Eating fewer calories and/or burning more calories than you eat is the key to weight loss. When considering food choices, there are few things that have been shown to help.

  • Volumize. Select foods that are low in calories but high in volume to help keep you full on fewer calories. To give you a better idea that means selecting grapes instead of raisins which are higher in calories since the water has been removed. Strawberries, blueberries and melons are great fruit options that are low in calories but nutrient rich. Salads and veggies without a lot of added fat are great options too.
  • Prioritize protein. Protein really satisfies. Be sure to include a source of protein at each meal. Stir a little almond or peanut butter into your morning oats or have a boiled egg. Add beans to your midday veggie salad. Add grilled chicken, salmon or tofu to the plate at dinner. Snack on cheese, yogurt or nuts throughout the day. 
  • Fill up on fiber. Fiber helps keep you feeling full longer which can stave off hunger and keep calories in check for the day. Opt for fresh fruit, lots of veggies, whole grains and beans to get your fiber fix.
  • Drink water. Sweetened beverages should be an occasional treat, not a daily regular. Drinking calories is a major source of excess calories that you can do without. Try plain water with fresh fruit slices, mint or ginger, sparkling water, and hot or cold fruit infused teas. If you miss the fizz of soda pop, try a lime or fruit flavored sparkling water. There are several great brands on the market.

These should get you started. Weight loss is a continuous journey. Take it one day, one meal at time.

Jim White
Nutrition & Dietetics

To make good food substitutions for weight loss focus on low-sodium, low-fat, low-sugar food choices. Substitute your whites for multi-grain (bread, pasta, etc.) When choosing side items go for steamed vegetables or fruits whenever available. Decrease your portion size and refrain from eating until you are stuffed, rather, eat until you are satisfied and your hunger feeling has subsided. 

Wendy Batts

A lot of folks often try to do too much too soon with their diets and make drastic changes all at once. We do want to eventually get to the ideal world of healthy eating: whole grains, complex carbs, lean meats, fish and poultry, fruits and veggies galore, etc. However, we do know that getting there slowly by making small changes little by little will lead to long term success. Too many changes to one’s eating at once can lead to a sense of deprivation which quickly translates into overeating and discouragement.

So let’s take a look at what I mean. Start with what you normally do on an average day and just make little tolerable changes to it. Remember a sensible reduced calorie diet is what we should strive for when it comes to weight loss so make adjustments to your food that lead you in this direction. Many of us do the coffee thing in the morning. Let’s take for example a large caramel macchiato with whole milk, which is 340 calories. Going to a medium with 2% milk knocks off 100 calories! A little change like this doesn’t make you feel like you’re missing out on your morning drink, but you still get the benefit of fewer calories. Instead of orange juice, try a whole orange, it has the sweetness and the fluid content but also the fiber of the orange which is more satisfying in the long run. If you normally have a turkey and cheese sandwich with mayo, knock off the mayo or switch to a little reduced fat mayo and go with half the cheese, swap in some baked potato chips for the regular and another 100-200 calories can be taken off your daily total. See the pattern here? The idea is to find little changes that have big rewards to them but don’t do whole lot to ruffle your normal routine.

Pick one change a day and watch the calorie savings pile up. Keep up the great work!

One way is to eat MORE. Yes….. More of low calorie fruits and veggies.

People tend to eat the same amount of food regardless of its energy density—that is, the amount of calories in the meal. In other words, you need a certain volume of food in order to feel full. It is very easy to overeat energy-dense, low-volume foods such as candy, which can easily "fill you out before they fill you up. You’ll overeat them before you become satiated.

The reverse of this—eating high-volume, low-energy-density foods that “fill you up before they fill you out” can help in weight management. High-volume foods include fruits and vegetables, which are bulked up because of their water content. These foods are also low in fat (which contains 9 calories/gram) and high in carbohydrate (which contains only 4 calories/gram) and fiber. Research shows that these fruits and veggies are associated with increased satiety and reduced feelings of hunger and calorie intake.


Judy Caplan
Nutrition & Dietetics
Refined carbs are the main culprit in weight gain. Therefore it makes sense to eat lower calorie, healthier foods instead of white four, white sugar, trans fat filled carbs. Sub one slice of whole grain bread for a bagel. That saves you three slices of bread or 240 calories. Eat baked potatoes not fries. Ask for sliced tomatoes, pickles, and lettuce or coleslaw (vinegar based) on the side instead of fries. Instead of eating an entire dessert, share one for the whole table. Snack on veggies rather than trail mix or crunchy snack mix.
JJ Virgin
Health Education
I call these lateral shifts, or healthier upgrades to your favorite foods. Instead of cow's milk, have unsweetened coconut milk. Instead of high-sugar-impact desserts, have some dark chocolate with almond butter. Be creative and any food can become a lateral shift.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.