Healthy Alternatives to Junk Food
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Everyone has a preference when it comes to unhealthy foods in their diets. Some people prefer to indulge in sweets like chocolate, candy bars, and cake.  Others crave salty or savory foods and like to chow down more on French fries, burgers, and juicy steaks. Regardless of what you munch on when you’re bored, stressed, or hungry, there is some good news here:  There’s a healthier alternative! It’s time to reduce your intake of foods with low nutritional content and adopt a healthier lifestyle that’ll lead you toward your fitness goals. Keep reading to learn about nine healthy alternatives to junk food.

1. Meal Replacement Shakes

When a sudden hunger pang hits, which food do you turn to? Probably a food loaded with sugar, sodium, carbs, or fat, and doesn’t do much to help you feel less hungry after you finish the meal. If hunger is the problem, meal replacement shakes are the solution. Choose a powder or prepared shake in your favorite flavor (like vanilla, strawberry, chocolate, or even cookies & cream), and sip on it when hunger strikes. The fiber will help you feel full, the subtly sugary flavor will help satisfy your sweet tooth, and you don’t have to set your diet back.

2. Veggie Burgers

Burgers. They’re the quintessential food at celebratory barbecues and the item that makes up what seems like 75% of diner menus. American? Yes. Healthy? Not if you make ‘em right. A standard cheeseburger at fast food joints like McDonald’s consists of 290 calories, 28% of your RDI for salt, 33g of carbs, and 5g of saturated fats. In short: While tasty, they don’t provide much nutritional benefit. Veggie burgers consist of beans, legumes, and vegetables. Their flavor intentionally mimics the savory taste of standard beef patties. Cut down on the saturated fat in your diet and still capture spectacular flavoring with the help of cayenne, onion, and pepper flavorings.

3. Frozen Yogurt

Based on statistics alone, you likely consume over 20 pounds of ice cream each year.  That can account for over 5.3 pounds of weight gain in pure body fat annually and over 52 days worth of sugar for the average person. But who’s going to tell you that you have to sacrifice ice cream? Not me. There’s no sense in entirely giving up ice cream when an indistinguishable (in terms of taste) alternative like frozen yogurt is an option. For ⅓ of the fat, 80% of the calories, and 100% of the flavor — there’s no reason to opt for a bowl of ice cream at midnight when you can choose fro-yo.

4. Nutella & Other Nut Spreads

Peanut butter is a staple in the average household, with the typical American child chomping down on 1,500 PB&J sandwiches by the age of 18. Now, peanut butter isn’t necessarily unhealthy. What makes peanut butter “junk food” is that two tablespoons contain 16g of fat (36% of your DRI for a single sandwich) and 190 calories. Eaten every day, your risk of weight gain and becoming obese skyrocket. But if you crave that “nutty” taste, there are healthier options. Hazelnut (Nutella), almond butter, and tahini provide that same nutty flavor at a fraction of the fat and calorie content. So when a craving for sweets comes on, choose Nutella over a sleeve of cookies.

5. Popcorn

Thanks to naturally-occurring hormones like ghrelin and leptin, it’s impossible to have complete control over your hunger and desire to eat. The trick is limiting the damage of what you eat. By swapping unbuttered popcorn into your diet, you can ramp up your fiber intake while quieting your rumbling stomach. There’s also another key benefit: Fullness. Eating a cup of popcorn can make you feel fuller than usual. With 93 calories per serving, you can eat to your heart’s delight without risking serious weight gain.

6. Dried Fruits

Is candy or chocolate your vice? Then chances are, you’re desperately looking to satisfy your sweet tooth. The problem is that a Three Musketeers bar has a whopping 36 grams of sugar. A single piece of candy has more sugar than you should be eating in a day. Enter dried fruit. With 3.5 times more fiber than regular fruit, a high level of disease-fighting antioxidants, and natural sweetness, what’s not to love? You also have options to keep it interesting — peaches, apricots, apples, and more.

7. Salmon & Other Fish

Nothing says “dinner” quite like a juicy steak cooked to perfection. The nutritional issue here is this: Red meats like steak are high in saturated fats and increase your risk of developing colorectal cancer. Fortunately, you don’t have to give up meat in the name of a healthy lifestyle. That’s because salmon is a healthier and tastier alternative. It also happens to contain loads of omega-3s, can improve your mental health, and is generally high in potassium for nerve and muscle health. Plus, if you cook it just right, it can be just as tasty as a tenderloin.

8. Sweet Potato Fries

French fries are a staple in American cuisine. They provide the perfect amount of crunch and savory as a side dish when paired with meals like steaks, burgers, or fried fish. But on the nutritional front, they don’t have much to offer. French fries are loaded with sodium (nearly 10% of your daily recommended intake). Not to mention also scientifically-linked to higher rates of obesity, and seem to be addicting. Sweet potato fries are an excellent alternative. For 60% of the sodium content, 41% more Vitamin A, and 8% of your Vitamin E DRI, you can improve digestion and vision without risking the allure and taste of fries.

9. Flavored Water & Seltzer

Nearly 80% of Americans don’t drink enough water each day. And one of the major — albeit obvious — reasons for this lack of hydration is that water doesn’t have a distinct taste. Other than health benefits, you don’t crave a glass of it. But don’t risk dehydration. And definitely don’t quench your thirst with fruit juice or soda that may have over 25 grams of sugar per serving. Choose flavored water or seltzer as your water alternative instead. You can please your flavor cravings while keeping your body functioning at optimal levels.

Conclusion

Any positive dietary changes you make can lower your risk of severe medical conditions like diabetes, heart disease, high cholesterol, and hypertension. But starting small is key. Completely overhauling your current diet overnight will practically guarantee you fall off the wagon in a few days or weeks. The solution? Swap out one type of junk food each month. You’ll slowly phase out the garbage, and, eventually, healthy alternatives will simply become your norm. Adam Marshall is a freelance writer who specializes in all things apartment organization, real estate, and college advice. He currently works with Copper Beech at Greenville to help them with their online marketing.


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