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Thursday, April 10, 2008

Junk Food Alternatives That Don't Suck | Weigh The FAQS

Every dieter knows that junk food is bad for them. They call it junk food because it’s full of all the things people should avoid (namely: trans fats, high refined sugar, empty calories), and lacking of all the things people need (namely: vitamins, fiber, actual nutrients). And yet, around a third of the calories most American adults eat are from junk food. Instead of swearing off junk food altogether, here are some tips to get the same craving-filling taste with actual nutritional value.

The salt. The oil. The starch. For many people the french fry is the ultimate in junk-food comfort. Unfortunately, most french fries are loaded with trans fats and almost no nutritional value. In fact, the high starch can play havoc with blood sugar levels and make you feel worse after eating them. To fix the high-fat, high salt craving and actually get some nutrients in, pick a vegetable-based side-dish at restaurants instead. Creamed spinach or buttered broccoli aren’t great, but they aren’t as bad. If you want to do even better yet, a side salad with a salty vinegarette and some cheese should also hit that fat and salty fix. If you simply must have something crunchy and fry-shaped, at home make your own sweet potato fries by coating sliced sweet potato with egg whites and your favorite salty seasoning and then baking them in the oven. Sweet potatoes (and yams too) are much lower on the glycemic index than regular potatoes, which translates to being much better eats for you.

The ultimate office and road trip treat, donuts combine a fried fix with sweet sugar. They also happen to be one of the most useless foods people can consume, and worse, are loaded with hydrogenated fat. To resist the donuts in the break room or sitting in the case at your favorite coffee place, go for a bran muffin instead to get the same sugar fix. Watch the portions though — most large muffins are at least twice as big as they need to be. And if you absolutely can’t resist, settle for enjoying a single donut hole.

There is a reason why they say you can’t eat just one chip. This crispy salty trans-fat loaded starchy treat is very hard to give up once you’ve started eating them. You’re best bet? Don’t start. Reach for fat-free popcorn or nuts to get that salty, eat by the handful sensation. Avoid vending machines where they are sold, and when buying your sandwich, opt for healthier side items like apple slices or a side salad. If you have to have some, buy a small individual sized bag and share with friends — and better yet, eat the baked variety. However, keep in mind that when you’re craving salty foods, you just may be dehydrated. When people are dehydrated they crave salt. You might opt to drink an electrolyte-enhanced water instead.

You scream. I scream. Your body screams. Ice cream is loaded with fat and sugar, things that your body doesn’t need. Ice cream is an easy dessert to keep in the house, or to get while out walking, or at a restaurant. In fact, ice cream seems to be available everywhere. But whether it’s the sweet, the creamy, or the cold you are craving, there are healthier alternatives. All-natural frozen yogurt is a good substitute, or even better - frozen grapes or berries. And for those times when nothing but pure milk and sugar will do, go for high quality, all-natural ice-cream for your indulgence. But make it a once in a blue moon treat rather than a daily occurrence.

Candy bars may seem like a good mid-afternoon snack (the advertisers certainly seem to think so) but nothing could be further from the truth. The high sugar and fat content of most candy bars will give your body a quick sugar rush, and then a sugar fall-out. If it’s an afternoon pick-me-up you’re looking for, yogurt or a handful of nuts would be better. If it’s the chocolate itself that you are craving, go for it, so long as it’s a nice dark chocolate (70% cocoa or higher). If it’s the sweet, a piece of fruit is better for you. Better yet, some dark chocolate and some berries combine for a decadent, good-for-you treat.

Your parents might have told you that soda will rot your teeth. They weren’t that far off from the truth. The chemicals found in most soda pop drinks, in higher concentrations, can rot a lot more than your teeth. They are all almost pure chemicals and refined sugars without a single redeeming calorie in the mix. If you’re looking for a caffeine fix, natural iced-teas are a much better choice. In fact, many teas, like green tea, have anti-oxidants and other good-for-you properties. If it’s the sweet you need, try adding a lemon or orange slice to your water. And if you need the carbonation, go for soda water, and either mix with your tea or some raspberries. And as for diet sodas? Those aren’t any healthier for you (even if lower calorie) and in fact have been linked to a decreased ability to lose weight. It’s better to just give up the pop. If you absolutely must have one, have JUST one, and pick one with actual sugar in it (like Hansens) instead of the chemical compounds found in most pops.

Pizza has become a default meal in America and it’s easy to see why. Greasy cheesy goodness over starchy crust loaded up with a variety of toppings spell one word and one word only: Y-U-M. (Can you tell this is my hardest junk food to avoid??) And there are so many kinds nowadays with gourmet toppers like artichokes, BBQ chicken, and a plethora of exotic cheeses. Keep the veggies, keep the healthier of the meats, and even a small amount of the exotic cheeses—and put them over salad instead of the empty-calorie crust. If it’s the melted cheese you’re really craving, have a chicken breast with marinara and provolone melted over it. Eggplant works too. In fact, that’s what we had for dinner last night when we were desperately craving pizza.

While most people can’t always eat completely healthy all the time, putting some nutrition into junk food can help. Find better alternatives for your cravings. And when you do indulge, make it few and far between, and, as with anything, watch your portions. Of course, I’d love what all of you have to say about this too. What’s your healthy junk food alternative?

Junk Food Alternatives That Don't Suck | Weigh The FAQS
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