Swapping has an image of couples from the 1970s with lots of polyester, bowls full of keys, and lava lamps. A different kind of swapping — a bit more wholesome — involves substituting ingredients where you get a more nutritious option without sacrificing too much in return.
Nutritional swaps are seen as "good for you," but for them to work, they need to be as invisible as they can to get you to try them seamlessly.
A classic casual swap is using natural applesauce instead of oil in a recipe, or sauteing vegetables with extra virgin olive oil instead of butter.
The newer versions are healthier, but still provide you with comparable quality, consistency, and taste.
Some people can handle more significant swaps, and you should definitely do as much as you can up to your comfort level, and maybe 5% beyond.
Dawn Jackson Blatner came out with a list of 12 nutrition swaps for 2012 (clever). Full disclosure: I know Blatner. Then again, I'm not praising all of her selections.
Swap 1: Breadcrumbs To Seeds
Swap 2: Brown Rice to Cauliflower Rice
Swap 3: Spaghetti Noodles To Zucchini Ribbons
Swap 4: Romaine To Kale
Swap 5: Chicken To Beans
Swap 6: Lasagna Noodles To Eggplant Slices
Swap 7: Pretzels To Nuts
Swap 8: Whole Grain Bread To Sprouted Whole Grain Bread
Swap 9: Whipped Topping To 2 Percent Greek Yogurt
Swap 10: Oil To Nut/Seed Butter (For Salad Dressing)
Swap 11: High-Fiber Cold Cereal To Oatmeal
Swap 12: Butter To Avocado
Swaps 2, 3, and 6 fall into the "let's take out pasta and put in vegetables and pretend it's pasta." Dietitians swear by this, Blatner included, and the idea is confusing. People do need some carbohydrates, and lots of vegetables. They're not the same, and pretending that they are defeats the purpose of swapping. Mixing cauliflower into brown rice is a great way to get the fiber from the vegetable without it making an impact. Same with zucchini in your spaghetti; just make it whole grain. The eggplant as lasagna is a better idea, only because you are dealing in layers of flavors: easier to hide a layer of eggplant.
Swaps 4, 8, and 11 take things that most Americans aren't doing in their diet, and going an extra step or two beyond. If you aren't at romaine, whole grain bread, and high fiber cold cereal, you have a lot of company. Get there and you are better off than most people, and you should be proud of where you are.
Swaps 1, 7, 9, and 12 are very reasonable and subtle enough to work. In cooking tuna, you already want to use sesame seeds. The "bread" in breadcrumbs isn't significant, and you can add flavor in a good way going the seeds route. Pretzels are a good sub for potato chips, but nuts give you a crunch with much better health. If you are at potato chips level, move up to pretzels. Then when you're ready, go nuts for nuts. Greek yogurt is a great sub for sour cream and other dairy products. Blatner notes that you aren't saving calories (at 2% fat), but getting better nutrition. Though sight is one of the 5 senses, if you close your eyes and eat a cookie and can't tell the difference, the cookie is okay with me. If nothing else, save it for Christmas time.
Swap 5 is well beyond a swap. Going from meat to beans is a swap in chili, but in most dishes, swap is a radical understatement. The more beans you can eat, the better off you will be, no matter how you do it. Swap 10 only works if you are making a specific dressing. If swap 10 feels foreign, use less oil and more vinegar. The experts use a 3:1 ratio; tweaking it a bit makes no negative impact while reducing fat and calories.
Blatner is a dietitian (and my friend) and her job is to challenge you to eat better. You might be brave enough to try some of her more extensive changes. Just don't be scared by them if you aren't ready for them. Nutritional swaps don't have to be radical to be effective. They just have to work.