8 healthy junk food substitutes to satisfy your cravings

Junk Food… it’s hard to resist! While watching Netflix, or when you’re simply bored at three o’clock in the afternoon, cravings hit and it’s tempting to turn to that bag of candy, cookies, chips, or whatever else may be hidden in your ‘snack stash.’

If you’re trying to adopt a healthier lifestyle or find yourself reaching for junk food a little too frequently, you can give your snack stash a healthy overhaul by replacing unhealthy foods with these healthy substitutes:

1. Dried Fruit instead of Candy
As far as nutritional content is concerned, candy is about as bad as it can get. Loaded with unhealthy refined sugar, candy offers nothing beneficial to the body – no fiber, no protein, no vitamins or minerals – only empty calories. Despite the fact that refined sugar is firmly linked to obesity and diabetes, the average American citizen still consumes 24.7 pounds of candy each year! To counter candy cravings, try switching to dried fruit alternatives, like figs, apricots, or dates. While still on the sweet side, these dried fruits are full of fiber and important minerals like potassium.

2. Organic Dark Chocolate instead of Candy Bars
Let’s face it, most people absolutely adore chocolate. The problem is that many popular chocolate bars are high in calories, refined sugars, and saturated fats – all of which have been linked to adverse health events. Even more worrisome is that many candy companies are silently substituting real cocoa for more cost-friendly alternatives like vegetable oil. The result is “chocolate-flavored” candy and not the real thing. To ensure that you are still getting heart-healthy flavonoids from your chocolate, substitute those brand-name chocolate bars for organic or milk-free dark chocolates that are high in cocoa content and free of additives.

3. Whole-wheat Banana Bread instead of Cake
It’s no mistake that there is a cake named after the devil himself. After all, most cakes are brimming with refined sugar and can easily exceed 300 calories per serving with 10 or more grams of saturated fats and little to no protein or fiber. Thankfully, you can be your own cake-manager by choosing a healthy alternative like banana bread. Whip up a loaf using whole wheat flour, wheat germ, ground flax seed, and some crushed nuts and you’ll have a recipe for health success!

4. Air Popped instead of Movie Theater-style Popcorn
Movie popcorn served in a large tub can be a greasy, high-calorie snack, clocking in at 1,090 calories with a whopping 2,650 milligrams of sodium – two major contributors to high blood pressure that could lead to a stroke and/or heart disease. But there are health benefits to keeping this popular snack in your diet. Popcorn is a high-fiber whole grain and, according to the American Heart Association, whole grains are associated with a reduced risk of diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. So this tasty snack doesn’t have to go anywhere if you replace movie theater-style popcorn with homemade air-popped popcorn. For more flavor, you can season your popcorn with cinnamon or spices, or even nutritional yeast for a B-12 boost.

5. Pistachios instead of Potato or Corn Chips
When you’re craving something salty and crunchy, swap your chips for pistachios. Although the snack food industry is rapidly changing to meet the health demands of consumers, many chip varieties are still on the salty side and loaded with saturated fats. With plenty of delicious flavors available, the nutritional benefits of pistachios make them a healthy alternative. Pistachios include a trio of plant-based protein, fiber, and better-for-you mono and polyunsaturated fats, which potato chips lack. Plus, the process of cracking the pistachio shells slows down snacking and helps with moderation.

6. Roasted Sweet Potato Wedges instead of French Fries
It’s no secret that French fries are the darling of the American fast-food industry. This deep-fried finger food may taste great, but fries are also dangerously high in sodium, trans fat and calories. A large box of popular French fries will cost you anywhere from 500 to 600 calories. To satisfy those salty urges, whip up some homemade, oven-roasted sweet potato wedges instead. Sweet potatoes are an excellent, antioxidant rich, anti-inflammatory alternative to white potatoes. Just brush with olive oil, add a pinch of sea salt and roast.

7. Steel Cut Oats instead of Sugary Cereals
Lucky Charms may be magically delicious, but it’s also full of empty calories. Even cereals touted as “healthy” have a great deal of added sugar and, often, little fiber. If you need a healthy breakfast alternative, try boiling some steel cut oats. Oats help to stabilize blood sugar, they reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and can lower your cholesterol. To improve taste, add a few antioxidant-rich blueberries and granola and you’ll be serving up some health magic.

8. Mineral Water with Lime instead of Soda
Most sodas, including diet sodas, are 100% nutrition-free. That’s right, no benefit whatsoever. In fact, drinking only a few sodas a day may lead to tooth decay, obesity, diabetes, and even heart disease. And it’s not just the calorie content that’s worrisome, it’s also the sweetness. Even low-calorie diet drinks are dangerous because they can feed your sweet tooth, leading to downstream sugary snacking. Let your soda cravings fizzle by switching to a nice glass of mineral water with a touch of lime or lemon instead. Limes are high in vitamin C and also contain flavonoids with anti-cancer and antibiotic properties.

The United States celebrates National Junk Food Day on July 21. On this day you are not just allowed – but encouraged – to chow down on unhealthy foods. If you’re trying to adopt a healthier lifestyle, these 8 junk food substitutes can satisfy your cravings without sacrificing taste.

Sources: Ask Men,  Very Well Health, Banderas News

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