Skip to content

Eat This, Not That! to Improve Your Health

Food swaps to make today to help you keep your blood sugar in check, lose weight and achieve a better mood

  • Control Blood presure
    Howard Shooter

    Eat This, Not That! To Control Blood Pressure

    En español | You already know that cutting down on salt is a good idea for your blood pressure. You may even know that the new 2015 U.S. Dietary Guidelines recommend that your sodium intake be below 2,300 milligrams (mg) a day. That’s the equivalent of eight of those little packets of salt you get at McDonald’s. While that seems like a lot, it’s nothing compared with what’s lurking in some of our most popular restaurant and prepared foods. Here are a few swaps for better blood pressure.

    1 of 30
  • Eat This, Not That for a Better Life
    Getty Images, L A Heusinkveld/Alamy

    Eat Walnuts, Not Roasted, Salted Nuts

    A diet rich in walnuts and walnut oil may help the body respond better to stress and can also help keep diastolic blood pressure levels down, according to a small Pennsylvania study. But while all nuts are healthy, roasting them can ramp up the calories (but not the nutrition). Many cocktail mixes are packed with sugar.

    2 of 30
  • Eat This, Not That for a Better Life
    ETNT, Istock

    Eat Peanut Butter With Blueberries, Not With Blueberry Jelly

    Peanut butter, especially when spread on whole-grain bread, is rich in fiber; a 2015 study showed that increasing fiber to at least 30 grams per day for a year resulted in lower blood pressure. Those benefits can be undone with the wrong products, though. Peanut butter and jelly  sounds wholesome, but it packs an awful lot of sugar. According to a study in the journal Open Heart, a high-sugar diet can increase blood pressure. Instead of jelly, try mashing up 1/4 cup of blueberries and adding them to your sandwich.

    3 of 30
  • Healthy Living Tips and News

    AARP Offer: Healthy Living Tips and News

    Sign up for the AARP Health Newsletter to live life to the fullest with tips, tools and news on healthy living.

    Join AARP
    today and save on health and wellness products and services

    4 of 30
  • Eat This, Not That for a Better Life
    Claire Benoist, Getty Images

    Eat Guacamole, Not Queso Dip

    While sodium can raise your blood pressure, this salty mineral is counteracted by another mineral, potassium. It’s a lack of potassium, as much as an overdose of sodium, that puts us in harm’s way. One cup of avocado delivers about 20 percent of your daily value, plus plenty of fiber.

    5 of 30
  • Dutch chocolate
    Levi Brown/

    Eat This, Not That! For a Better Mood

    You’ve heard of comfort food. But most of what’s thought of as comfort food — macaroni and cheese, mashed potatoes and gravy, grilled cheese sandwiches and french fries — ought to be called discomfort food, especially if it’s processed, or fried in oil derived from corn or soy. Those oils are high in omega-6 fatty acids, a type of fat linked to inflammation and depression. A study in Psychosomatic Medicine found that in older adults, high levels of omega-6 fatty acids were associated with a higher rate of depression. So instead of grabbing something fatty and sad, reach for something lean and happy.

    6 of 30
  • Eat This, Not That for a Better Life
    Claire Benoist, Shutterstock

    Eat Spinach Salad with Cherry Tomatoes, Not Kale Salad with Sliced Beef-Steak Tomatoes

    Spinach is an excellent source of folate, a B vitamin that helps support the production of serotonin and dopamine, two feel-good neurochemicals. Spinach also provides nearly 160 mg of magnesium, a mineral linked to lower depression. Kale has a fraction of this much magnesium.

    7 of 30
  • Eat This, Not That for a Better Life
    Toby McFarlan Pond/Trunk Archive, Marcus Nilsson/Gallery Stock

    Eat Grass Fed Beef, Not Conventionally Raised Beef

    Beef, lamb and other red meats are packed with iron, a nutrient vital for a stable mood. But take a stake in grass-fed steak. It might be a little more expensive, but animals raised on grass pastures boast much higher levels of two fats associated with better mood: conjugated linoleic acid and omega-3 fatty acids.

    8 of 30
  • Eat This, Not That for a Better Life
    Shutterstock, Getty Images

    Eat Ashwagandha Tea, Not Soda

    Ashwagandha tea is an herbal tea you’ll find in many, if not most, grocery stores. A study in the Indian Journal of Psychological Medicine showed that “Ashwagandha root extract safely and effectively improves an individual’s resistance to stress and thereby improves self-assessed quality of life.”

    9 of 30
  • Eat This, Not That for a Better Life
    Getty Images, Levi Brown/Trunk Archive

    Eat Dark Chocolate, Not Dutch-Process Chocolate

    If you crave chocolate when you’re feeling down, it may be your body telling you to snack on the world’s most delicious home remedy. Chocolate gives you an instant boost in mood and concentration, and improves blood flow to the brain. But beware of chocolates that are “Dutched,” or alkalized — a process that can destroy 60 percent or more of the healthy nutrients in the cocoa.

    10 of 30
  • Longer healthier life promo
    Lauri Patterson

    Eat This, Not That! For a Longer, Healthier Life

    Protein is more important than ever as you age. Experts now argue that older adults need more daily protein than younger people do, to offset muscle loss and weakened bones. Think you’re getting enough? Don’t be so sure; a new AARP-Abbott survey found that 62 percent of participants thought they were eating enough protein, yet only 17 percent knew how much they needed (63 grams for a 180-pound adult; 53 grams for someone who is 150 pounds). Protein helps maintain muscle mass and heart health; it can also help you recover faster from surgery.

    11 of 30
  • Eat This, Not That for a Better Life
    James Wojcik/Trunk Archive, Levi Brown/Trunk Archive

    Eat Protein Shakes, Not Milkshakes

    If your diet is low in protein, you can have a harder time recovering from illness or surgery. A 2015 study in Clinical Nutrition funded by Abbott showed that drinking a specialized protein shake helped improve recovery among malnourished patients age 65-plus who were hospitalized with a heart or lung disease. “Nutrition is critical to survival because it helps keep your body functioning properly,” says Nicolaas Deutz, M.D., of Texas A&M University.

    12 of 30
  • Eat This, Not That for a Better Life

    Eat Quinoa, Not White Rice

    Plant protein — nuts, beans, tofu and grains — builds the leg strength that can help prevent falls better than animal protein does, researchers have found. A study published last year in JN: The Journal of Nutrition followed more than 2,600 men and women for three years.

    Those who ate the most plant protein had more strength in their thigh muscles than those who ate the least. One way to get more plant protein at your next meal is to swap out white rice (4 grams of protein per cup) for high-protein quinoa (8 grams per cup).

    13 of 30
  • Eat this not that
    Getty Images

    Eat Peas, Not Spinach

    You may not think of protein when you think of sweet, petite peas, but they pack a protein punch, containing eight times the protein of a cup of raw spinach. That’s because peas aren’t really a vegetable — they’re a legume, the same family that includes beans and lentils. Companies now are even adding dried pea powder to other products, like cereal and energy bars, to naturally boost their protein content. There’s another bonus to choosing peas: They contain nearly 80 percent your daily dose of immune-boosting vitamin C. See, good things do come in small packages.

    14 of 30
  • Eat This, Not That for a Better Life
    Getty Images

    Eat Fish Tacos, Not Beef Tacos

    Cutting back on red meat in favor of leaner chicken and fish boosts “good” HDL cholesterol levels and can help you avoid heart problems and stroke. People who eat the most lean protein (fish and chicken) are 20 percent less likely to suffer a stroke, compared with those who eat low levels of these sources of protein, according to a recent analysis of seven studies involving more than 254,000 people. So the next time you have tacos, skip the beef and choose grilled fish.

    15 of 30
  • Eat this not that
    Getty Images

    Eat Soy Milk, Not Almond Milk

    Cow’s milk has the most protein at 8 grams per cup, but if you’re looking for a nondairy alternative, soy milk is close behind at 7 grams, while almond milk only has a paltry 1 gram. That might seem surprising, given that almonds themselves are high in protein. However, a typical glass of almond milk contains mostly water with only 2 percent of the nuts. As for soy milk, some of the sweetened and flavored varieties can be high in added sugar; look for a plain, unsweetened variety instead.

    16 of 30
  • Eat This, Not That for a Better Life

    Eat Fish Like Salmon, Tuna, and Halibut, Not Tilapia and Catfish

    Fatty, cold-water fish such as salmon, tuna and sardines are packed with omega-3s, which help reduce your risk of diabetes. A study by the University of Eastern Finland found that men with the highest intake of omega-3s had a 33 percent lower risk for type 2 diabetes compared with those who ate the least. But not every fish measures up; tilapia and catfish have very few omega-3s.

    17 of 30
  • Blueberries
    Claire Benoist

    Eat This, Not That! For Lower Blood Sugar

    Your body and brain run on blood sugar, and everything you do, from thinking deep thoughts to taking deep breaths, depends on it. Too much of a good thing, though, can turn bad, and too much blood sugar can lead to a battle with diabetes. Over a third of us have elevated blood sugar levels. But more than any other food scourge in America, blood sugar responds to dietary changes. Focus on more fiber, less sugar and fewer simple carbohydrates (white bread, rice and pasta), and try to make sure you have a little fat, fiber and protein at every meal and snack.

    18 of 30
  • Eat This, Not That for a Better Life
    Shutterstock, ETNT

    Eat Olive Oil, Not Soybean Oil

    A recent study at the University of California, Riverside, showed that, in mice at least, a diet high in soybean oil causes more obesity and diabetes than a diet high in fructose (sugar).

    19 of 30
  • Eat This, Not That for a Better Life
    Claire Benoist, Alamy

    Eat Cranberries, Blueberries and Red Grapes, Not Cranberry, Blueberry and Grape Juice Drinks

     According to a 2012 study in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition of more than 200,000 people, a higher consumption of berries — rich in antioxidant anthocyanins — was associated with a lower risk of type 2 diabetes. There’s a difference, though, between eating a berry and drinking a berry; in one Harvard study, those who consumed fruit juice each day increased their risk of developing diabetes by as much as 21 percent.

    20 of 30
  • Eat This, Not That for a Better Life
    Alamy, Shutterstock

    Eat Home-Brewed Green Tea, Not Bottled Green Tea

    The antioxidants in green tea, particularly a unique compound called EGCG, may have the ability to limit the amount of starch absorbed from a meal and to improve sugar metabolism, a Polish study notes. But don’t try to get EGCG from bottled teas. Store-bought teas typically lose 20 percent of EGCG content during the bottling process, which is why brewing your own is so critical. If you really want bottled tea, opt for versions with an acid such as lemon juice or citric acid, which helps stabilize EGCG levels.

    21 of 30
  • Sharper brain promo

    Eat This, Not That! For a Sharper Brain

    Several decades ago, scientists discovered that if they injected vegetable oil with hydrogen, it would turn solid — and stay that way, even at room temperature. Unfortunately, this new type of fat, called trans fat, also tended to stick around inside your arteries, including those in your brain, impairing cognitive performance. Here’s how to get smart about what you’re eating.

    22 of 30
  • Eat This, Not That for a Better Life
    Levi Brown/Trunk Archive, Alamy

    Eat Stove-Top Popped Corn, Not Microwave Popcorn

     Although the government is requiring companies to phase out trans fats over the next few years, some microwave popcorn brands contain up to 5 grams — two and a half times the American Heart Association’s recommended daily maximum. Brands like Quinn and Newman’s Own have no trans fats.

    23 of 30
  • Eat This, Not That for a Better Life
    Shutterstock, ETNT

    Eat Low-Sodium Soy Sauce, Not Regular Soy Sauce

    Fish can be the perfect brain food, but don’t douse it in soy sauce;  just one tablespoon has nearly 40 percent of the day’s recommended sodium. A history of hypertension, which can be aggravated by a high-sodium diet, can restrict blood to the brain and diminish cognitive skills, according to a 2014 study in the journal Neurology. Kikkoman and Eden’s Organic offer reduced-sodium soy sauce.

    24 of 30
  • Eat This, Not That for a Better Life
    Anton Starikov/Alamy, Offset

    Eat Oatmeal, Not a Muffin with Butter

    The average large muffin carries a third of the day’s saturated fat and 74 grams of carbs, most of which are the unhealthy refined kind. A study review in Physiology & Behavior found that consuming saturated fats in combination with refined carbohydrates could harm cognitive function.

    25 of 30
  • Eat This, Not That for a Better Life
    Jan Kornstaedt/Trunk Images

    Eat This, Not That! For Weight Reduction

    The difference between being overweight and being lean isn’t crash dieting or an expensive gym membership. It’s a mere 100 calories a day. That’s about a half-dozen French fries. Saving just 100 calories a day would result in your losing about 10 pounds a year. Or 100 pounds in a decade. It’s the little swaps — saving a few calories here and a couple of fat grams there — that can make all the difference.  

    26 of 30
  • Eat This, Not That for a Better Life
    Shutterstock, Claire Benoist

    Eat Cold Pasta Salad, Not Hot Pasta

    A big buzzword in nutrition research today is “resistant starch.” It’s a type of carbohydrate that resists digestion. They help you feel fuller longer, so you eat less, and they stimulate the metabolism of fat. In fact, one study found that replacing just 5 percent of your total carbohydrate intake with resistant starch increased post-meal fat burning. Cold pasta does the trick well. Chilling the pasta changes the structure of the noodles, turning them into resistant starch.

    27 of 30
  • Eat This, Not That for a Better Life
    ETNT, Shutterstock

    Eat Nut-and-Fruit Bars, Not Protein Bars

    They may seem like healthy snack alternatives, but most protein bars are really just candy bars with muscles. Take, for example, Kellogg’s Special K Double Chocolate Protein Meal Bar. It has 50 percent more sugar than it has protein. That’s why most “energy bars” ought to be called what they really are: calorie bars. And that’s a real problem for those watching their weight. Because we think protein bars are healthy, we’re more likely to indulge whenever the mood strikes us. When you’re opting for a convenient snack, stick with nut-and-fruit bars, and when possible, choose brands that are primarily nuts, with just a hint of sugar.

    28 of 30
  • Eat This, Not That for a Better Li

    What to Eat When Dining Out

    You might be surprised to learn what is in some of your favorite restaurant meals. Check out our 12 tips on what to avoid and what to order instead in our Eat This, Not That! Dining Out guide.

    29 of 30
  • Health endslide
    Getty Images
    30 of 30

(Video) Foods to Avoid Before Bed:
We all love food and sleep, but they don't go hand in hand. Here are the worst foods to eat right before you sleep.