Felicia Newell, RD, MSc
4 Healthy Swaps for Those 'Less Healthy' Foods We Tend to Overeat
Living a healthy lifestyle is not always easy. If it were a piece of cake, we wouldn’t have massive amounts of people stressing out about that piece of cake that they should or shouldn’t eat.
One reason why switching to a healthy lifestyle is difficult, is that we’re bombarded in society with delicious, not-so-healthy high calorie foods with little to no nutritious value. These foods taste great and are typically more convenient. With how hectic life can be these days, who doesn’t need a bit of both? It’s when we consume too many of these high calorie/low nutrient convenience foods, that our health can get into trouble.
When you learn how to develop a healthy relationship with food, you start to move away from the “all or nothing” mentality – aka swinging from “eat all the junk food, all of the time” to “everything is bad for me, I must avoid everything!” – to a more balanced approach to eating, more like, “I’m going to fuel my body with nutritious foods 80% of the time, and then leave 20% room for living and enjoying life”.
Think of healthy eating as a continuum. Instead of having to go from a poor diet to a “perfect” diet, try to make slow, sustainable changes. One example – make healthy swaps for your “junk” food favs so that you don’t feel like you’re missing out as much, which makes for a more sustainable lifestyle change.
Here are four popular foods that we tend to love and overeat, and what you can use as healthy alternatives to satisfy your cravings most of the time. Don't get me wrong - there's nothing wrong with having the real thing in moderation, but if it's something you like to have a lot of, having a healthier choice at least most of the time can help.
For more tips on fighting sugar cravings check out the download below:
Craving Swap #1 – Ice Cream
This all-time favourite sugar-laced delicacy can make it difficult to consume a small portion at one sitting. For most people, it’s nothing to sit down and dummy a half or a whole tub all in one sitting. Especially when one has had a rough day.
Try swiping this high sugar, no nutrient delicacy with something with no added sugar and all the deliciousness – “Nice Cream”. Nice cream is a very easy to make treat, with only a few ingredients. It is basically: 1) frozen bananas + 2) whatever other healthy ingredients your heart desires.
Basics of a nice cream recipe:
Let the bananas ripen before peeling. If they’re green or yellow to start with, leave them out until the bananas at least begin to turn brown.
Once ripe, peel the bananas, cut into pieces, and freeze them.
When the bananas are fully frozen, toss them into a food processor or high-quality blender and blend until you achieve a consistency that resembles soft serve. If your blender is having trouble processing, you can add up to 1/4 cup milk of choice or another liquid.
Examples of nice cream recipes:
Chocolate Banana Ice Cream: Use 3 bananas. Add 1/4 tsp pure vanilla extract, pinch salt, and 3 tbsp cocoa powder.
Mint Chocolate Chip: Use 2 bananas and a pinch of salt. Add 1/8 tsp pure peppermint extract (or more if desired) and stir in dark chocolate chips or cacao nibs after blending. Optional, blend in a pinch of spirulina or a small handful spinach for color and an extra nutrient boost.
Peanut Butter: Make the original recipe above, adding 2-3 tbsp peanut butter or another nut butter before blending.
Craving Swap #2 – French Fries
Most people are either a sweet or a savoury person, and for me, French fries are my weakness (Really I love all things potatoes).
If you hit up the freezer section for a bag of fries, every 3-ounce portion (about 12 pieces) contains 120 calories, 5 grams of fat and 300 milligrams of sodium — but who eats only 12? Fast-food fries can get you into even more trouble, with a medium-sized order averaging 400 calories and 17 grams of fat.
Sodium levels can range from 300 to more than 1,200 milligrams, depending on how those fries are seasoned.
Verdict: Homemade and baked is always the way to go
Here are some healthy alternatives to deep fried or packaged French fries:
Regular ol’ homemade potato fries – Potatoes have a bad reputation, but they’re actually filled with good-for-you nutrients, including fibre and potassium. The calorie count is also relatively low, coming in at about 170-210 calories for a whole small to medium potato. Armed with this knowledge, you can easily see how a sliced and roasted spud with a drizzle of olive oil can be a healthy side dish. For best results/crispier fries, oil the bottom of the pan and rotate every 5-10 mins.
‘Actifry’ – If you want the crispy, deep fried texture without all the fat and oil, use an ‘Actifry’ fryer, which uses much less oil than your typical deep fry methods.
Zucchini fries – slice, lightly oil, and roast until golden brown.
Craving Swap #3 – Milk Chocolate
Chocolate, no matter the type, is still a source of calories and because it tastes oh-so-good to so many of us, it’s easy to overdo it.
Better alternatives are:
1. Dark Chocolate – Although milk chocolate may taste great, it’s not nearly as good for you as dark chocolate is. This is because milk chocolate contains less of the original cocoa bean than dark chocolate does. You still want to have dark chocolate in moderation, but it can least help satisfy your cravings with much less added sugar, along with more nutrients.
Picking the best chocolate, you want to choose dark chocolate varieties that contain at least 65% cacao.
Limit yourself to no more than three ounces of chocolate per day and look for ways to incorporate it into other healthy dishes so that less of it will satisfy you easier. Fresh fruit, plain Greek or Icelandic yogurt, and high fiber cereal or oatmeal are just a few nutritious dishes that a sprinkle of chocolate would pair well with.
2. Cacao powder/nibs – raw cacao powder and cacao nibs are excellent ways to flavour foods to give the satisfaction of chocolate taste, with no added sugars and tons of nutrients. Add to yogurt, smoothies, and really any recipe you can think of.
Craving Swap #4 – Chips
‘Bet you can’t eat just one’ is one of the truest statements of all time. Most people can’t stop at a handful, or even half a bag of chips once it gets started. Potato chips are loaded with fat, calories, carbs, and sodium, and can really add to the waistline if they are your go-to, multiple-times-per-week, ‘Netflix and Chill’ snack.
There are many different healthier alternatives to the ‘crunchy’ and ‘salty’ associations we know and love from chips. They range from more natural, whole food alternatives, to ‘healthier’ packaged options.
Here are a couple healthier alternatives to chips:
1. Vegetable ‘Chips’ – and I don’t mean the packaged veggie chips you can get in store. You can literally ‘chip’, many different veggies by thinly slicing, removing excess water, and baking them in the oven. Think kale, beet, apple, sweet potato, squash, etc. Whichever veggie you choose, it will be heck of a lot better than the deep-fried potato chip option.
Here’s an example of a veggie chip recipe.
Try slicing up sweet potatoes for a vitamin-A-packed snack. Brush them with olive oil, and top with minced garlic, minced rosemary, and a little sea salt for chips that rival the store-bought kind.
Preheat oven to 400
Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until crispy.
Pro Chip Tips
Use a mandoline—a cooking utensil that can pump out uniform, thin slices—or a chef’s knife to cut slices 1/8 to 1/4 an inch thick. It’s important to use thin slices to get just the right crisp.
When placing the chips on a baking sheet, line the sheet with parchment paper and lay the chips in a single layer. If the chips overlap, the edges won’t cook evenly.
For even cooking, rotate the pan halfway through and flip the chips.
For small batches, pop the chip subs in a toaster oven.
Store leftovers in an airtight container, though most of these won’t stay at their peak crunchiness for long (more reason to eat ’em right up)
2. Plain Popcorn – popcorn also has a bad rep, but for this snack it’s all about quantity and what you’re loading (or not loading on top of it). Any ol’ plain popcorn will do, but ‘Skinny Pop’ is a popular store-bought brand that is low calorie, and they somehow pack it with flavour with very little ingredients.
Whether you’re using baked veggies or plain popcorn as an alternative, it’s good to pair it with a small portion of a fat and/or protein source so that you feel more full and satisfied, such as one serving of nuts or cheese.
3. Savoury Yet Healthy - sometimes even just having a savoury yet healthy well balanced snack can help with the salty chip craving. For example, rice crackers and veggies with hummus or guacamole.