Junk food is delicious and comforting. It’s also convenient, which is why it’s so helpful on a road trip or when you have no time to spare at all. It’s also incredibly unhealthy. That’s no secret, right? This is why it’s crucial to find foods to replace junk food.
After all, junk food is often highly processed, to the extent that it doesn’t look or taste much like the original ingredients. Many products are high in salt, sugar, and fat, while offering few nutrients.
Then there are all the additives, including flavorings, thickeners, preservatives, and colorings. These are all meant to be safe, but who knows what they’re really doing to our health? While junk food might still be okay every once in a while, most of us need to start eating better.
When replacing junk food, remember that healthy substitutes don’t need to be all or nothing. It’s okay to switch to something that’s just a little better, especially while you adjust. Honestly, going from junk food to incredibly healthy food overnight can be a shock and doesn’t work that well for everyone. So, why not be gentle with yourself and make small healthy swaps?
You’ve seen all the headlines, right? While milk chocolate is junk food, dark chocolate might be good for you. Most of the potential benefits come from the high antioxidant content. This could even mean that dark chocolate lowers heart disease risk.
Caution is needed though.
First, the powerful compounds come from cocoa. This means that the higher the cocoa content, the better the chocolate is for you. 80% or even 90% cocoa is ideal. If this is too bitter, try for at least 70%.
Keep an eye on other ingredients too. The best dark chocolate avoids additives and keeps the sugar content to a minimum. Some brands don’t include sugar at all.
Don’t forget about the portion size either. Dark chocolate is still fairly high in calories, so you can easily overdo it. Thankfully, the flavor is intense, so you should only need a square or two to satisfy any chocolate cravings.
You heard that right. Popcorn itself is healthy, as it contains few calories and plenty of fiber. This is particularly true if you make air popped popcorn, as this helps you to completely avoid oil.
The catch is that popcorn doesn’t taste like much at all. So, you need to find ways to make it tasty without loading on calories and fat.
Using spices is a good trick, like a little cinnamon or perhaps some chili powder. Lemon or lime zest are another way to add flavor, as is nutritional yeast. Dried herbs often work wonders too.
Apples And Peanut Butter
Spreading some peanut butter on an apple slice gives you a sweet and salty snack that’s been through little processing. It’s also healthy, with an excellent balance of carbs and protein, plus plenty of nutrients.
The protein from the peanut butter is exactly what you need. After all, junk food tends to be fairly low in protein, making it unsatisfying. This is partly why we keep going back for more. Choosing protein-rich snacks makes it much easier to stick to healthy portion sizes.
This approach isn’t limited to apples and peanut butter either. You can do something similar with other types of fruit and nut butter. Just be careful with portion sizes, as the calories in nut butter add up quickly.
Then there are nuts themselves. These are also an excellent junk food replacement. Not only are they easy to eat, but you find them in most of the same places as junk food – including service stations.
Nuts are also a satisfying snack, as they’re packed with protein and healthy fats. Few other easy snacks are quite so satisfying.
It’s crucial to be careful with nuts though, as they are high in calories. As such, it’s best to stick to a handful or two in a serving.
If regular nuts seem boring, try looking for some with unusual flavors. There are even wasabi peanuts or chili and lime almonds. Intense flavors may also stop you from eating too many nuts at a time.
String cheese looks like yet another unhealthy snack, one that’s highly processed and full of saturated fat. Yet, string cheese isn’t actually that processed. Good brands are simply mozzarella cheese with little added.
Mozzarella cheese itself can be pretty good for you anyway. It contains plenty of selenium, vitamin B12, and calcium. There’s protein present too, so it’s satisfying.
Even the saturated fat in cheese isn’t as horrible as it seems, as saturated fat in cheese behaves differently than other types of saturated fat.
Roasted chickpeas sound like one of those healthy snacks that doesn’t taste very good at all. However, plenty of people disagree. The chickpeas have a fantastic crunch and they’re also satisfying because of their protein content.
They’re a little like nuts really, except that they’re much lower in calories and fat. As such, you can eat more per sitting than nuts, without any worries.
Seasoning makes a huge difference. This is true even if you’re buying baked chickpeas rather than making your own. Try using spices, liquid smoke, and perhaps even garlic powder to create an exciting flavor profile.
Fruit itself is a typical snack. It has plenty going for it too, as it’s refreshing, easy to find, and contains many nutrients.
What about frozen fruit, though? By this, we mean eating fruit when it’s still fully or partly frozen.
Frozen grapes are one of the best options, as they have a sorbet-like texture even when fully frozen. They really are just like candy. Frozen berries are delicious too, as is frozen mango.
Some people even sprinkle lemon juice or citric acid over frozen fruit. This creates a sweet-sour flavor that’s reminiscent of sour candy.
Pickled vegetables can have a fantastic taste. They’re also pretty healthy, giving you nutrients from the vegetables, plus plenty of probiotics.
You can experiment with flavors as well. For example, some pickled vegetables have spicy ingredients, which gives them a fantastic extra kick.
People watching their sodium intake may need to be cautious with pickled vegetables, as some do use a lot of salt. However, this salt does make pickles a healthier alternative to potato chips, one that still satisfies the craving for salty foods.
Pumpkin And Sunflower Seeds
These seeds have many of the same features as nuts, as they tend to be crunchy and salty. Their protein and healthy fat content also helps to keep you satisfied.
It’s easy to simply grab a bag of them and munch away.
As with nuts, these seeds are only healthy if you watch your portion size. They are pretty calorie dense, so it’s easy to overdo it with them.
Boring, perhaps, but when you roast vegetables well and season them with salt, they’re both crunchy and delicious. Adding some spices on top can make them even more exciting.
Vegetables Strips With Dip
Here’s another familiar choice – vegetables that have been cut into strips and are served with some type of dip.
Hummus is the classic dip here, as the chickpeas make it high in protein and very satisfying. You can even make your own hummus and add extra ingredients to tweak the flavor profile.
Of course, that’s just one example. Any healthy dip will work well with your vegetables. You might even make traditional dips healthier. For example, sour cream dips often work well with plain Greek yogurt instead of sour cream.
You can experiment with the type of vegetable stick too. Cucumber, carrots, and celery are the classics, but there are plenty of other options too. You could also include some cherry tomatoes.
It’s easy to see why cottage cheese features in so many healthy foods lists. After all, it’s relatively low in calories and is full of protein. That combination is excellent for weight loss, as cottage cheese can easily keep you satisfied.
But, cottage cheese also has a very mild flavor, so you need to think about what to pair with it. There are plenty of options, like drizzling some honey on top, mixing in fresh berries, or even using hot sauce.
You can get more complicated too, like using cottage cheese as the base of a protein bowl. You could then top it with a combination of either sweet or savory toppings. For example, cherry tomatoes, cucumber, and pumpkin seeds work surprisingly well on top of cottage cheese (giving you a refreshing snack).
Actual Vegetable Chips
There are two types of vegetable chips. One type is heavily processed and often sold in grocery stores. The vegetables in these have been ground and mixed with additives to give you a strange consistency.
The chips can be better than potato chips, as they’re sometimes lower in saturated fat and calories. They’re still ultra processed though and really aren’t amazing.
A much better choice is chips made from minimally processed vegetables. This can be as simple as baking kale in the oven to make baked kale chips. Plenty of companies produce similar vegetable-focused products as well, like carrot chips, broccoli chips, and the like.
You’ll just need to read the ingredients label carefully to make sure the chips are actually healthy. Or, better yet, why not make your own?
Greek Yogurt And Berry ‘Ice Cream’
You can make your own healthy frozen yogurt/ice cream by blending Greek yogurt with frozen berries. The berries give you plenty of flavor and an ice cream like texture, while the yogurt provides creaminess.
You may need a little sweetener, as Greek yogurt can be quite tart.
Greek yogurt is the best bet, as it is very creamy and contains plenty of protein. However, you can use another type of yogurt too, especially if it is thick.
Rice Cakes With Toppings
Rice cakes are processed, but they’re low in calories too, so they can be useful if you’re worried about your weight.
There isn’t much substance to rice cakes, so adding toppings can make them more satisfying and helpful as a snack. Spreading hummus on top is a simple place to start, as it gives you some flavor and plenty of protein.
You can create sweet versions too, like by spreading cream cheese and a thin layer of chocolate spread on top. Fresh berries could also be nice. This approach gives you a treat, but one that’s much healthier than most desserts.
Salted Tomatoes Or Cucumbers
Some people slice and add salt to tomatoes or cucumbers. Of course, you’d need to watch the amount of salt, but this is a great way to satisfy any cravings for salty snacks.
Plus, you don’t need much salt to make these veggies taste delicious. There will certainly be less than with potato chips (even if you choose low salt potato chips).
The right type of seaweed snack can be good for you, providing plenty of nutrients and few calories. They’re also fantastic as a potato chip alternative.
It’s important to be careful, though, as the snacks can be highly processed. Plus, some of them are definitely healthier than others.
When shopping, look for snacks that have few added ingredients. The best ones will keep the salt content relatively low too. Some salt is needed to make the seaweed chips taste good, but there’s no need to go overboard.
You don’t have to skip pizza entirely. You can easily make healthier versions by changing some of the ingredients and the base.
Flatbread is a great place to begin. It’s surprisingly similar to a pizza base, but is much smaller, which helps to keep your portion sizes down. You can also keep your cheese to a minimum and focus on healthy toppings.
It’s even possible to make a pizza-like meal by using a wrap and then rolling it. Doing so cuts down the carb content dramatically, while still giving you a tasty meal.
Cheese And Crackers
This simple snack is often overlooked, but it’s easy to make and works well. You can even buy prepackaged cheese and cracker combos in some stores. Some type of sliced meat is an excellent addition too.
A key feature is the balance of carbs, protein, and fat. The cheese's protein and fat helps satisfy you quickly, so you can keep the portion sizes small. Plus, the cheese can stop you from overdoing it with crackers.
Homemade ‘nice cream’ can be as simple as blending frozen bananas. You get a similar texture to soft serve ice cream, with much less fat and no additives. You can then add extra ingredients in to change the flavor. Try frozen berries or cocoa powder as a starting poing.
Some other fruits, such as frozen mangos, can also be used to make nice cream.
You’ll still need to watch your portion sizes, as nice cream contains a decent amount of sugar. Despite this, it remains much healthier than regular ice cream.
Water deserves a mention too. It’s not a type of food, but often brains mistranslate thirst as hunger. So, sometimes we start to crave junk food when we’re actually thirsty instead.
Drinking water regularly can make a huge difference. If plain water seems boring, why not experiment with sparkling water or infused water? This way you’re still getting hydrated and aren’t consuming that many extra calories.
Cut The Serving Right Down
There’s one more important trick that shouldn’t be ignored. Rather than making a healthy swap, sometimes it’s best to still have the junk food that you’re craving, just in a much smaller portion.
You might even have a quarter of the amount you normally would.
Some people find this incredibly helpful because too much restriction can sometimes lead to binging on the foods they were trying to avoid. Having a small portion may be enough to break the binging habit while still keeping with healthy eating patterns.