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Five healthy food swaps



Making simple swaps in the foods that we eat can make all the difference to our diet and motivation. When we see one easy change work, it can spark a chain reaction in our confidence and reap huge health benefits.

The key to success, according to national dietetic advisor for the HSE Margaret O’Neill, is to tackle change in bite-size chunks. “Pick one change at a time,” she says.

“Start with one thing and try to stick with it – we know that behaviours can take a while to change: it can take two to three weeks to bed in.

“Some people will be able to cut down from five biscuits a day to one; for others, it’s a case of not having biscuits in the house.”

And it’s not all about what you eat – but how and when you eat, too.

“Be honest about your weight, how you’re eating and when you’re eating,” Margaret advises. “A lot of us can deny what we’re actually eating.” She says a food diary is a really good way to keep track of what you eat and help identify where a change can be made. “Is your soft spot eating out or in front of the TV? Do you eat while on your phone? Mindful eating can also help make people aware of their food intake and the speed they eat at. It might not be sexy advice but it’s practical, evidence-based and it works.”

Here are five small, but impactful ways to improve your eating habits:

1 Swap: A heaped plate for a balanced plate

A mountain of buttery mash with an afterthought of carrots might feel like manna from heaven on these long winter nights but it’s cold comfort from a health point of view. While spuds have their place, along with pasta, rice and couscous, they should take up only a small portion of your plate. In fact, half of your plate should be given over to vegetables, a quarter to carbohydrates and the rest to protein, i.e. meat or fish. This powerful swap will go a long way to meeting the recommended daily fruit and vegetable intake of seven pieces a day, without sacrificing the comfort hit of starchy carbs.

“We hear a lot of negative things about carbohydrates,” says Sarah Keogh, a dietitian based in Dublin and founder of “They’re actually fine but the portion size is too big – carbohydrates should only make up about a quarter of your plate, so I would swap out some carbs and pop in vegetables.”

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