We all have a complicated relationship with junk food. On one hand, it’s completely delicious, comforting and flat-out fun to eat. On the other, it leaves us feeling tired and crabby shortly after eating it, and leads to unwanted weight gain, among other health issues.
Because we wholeheartedly believe in enjoying life, we don’t want to discourage you from eating it altogether ― we just want to remind you that you have options.
“Food cravings, especially for the unhealthy junk food stuff, are real and powerful,” nutritionist Karina Heinrich, founder of the The Karina Method, told HuffPost. “But instead of fighting your craving, just feed it with a healthier version. There are many brands that are redefining the junk food scene, making needed strides with real ingredient innovation, so what we traditionally think of as ‘junk food’ can now actually be considered healthy.”
Yep, you read that right ― there are “junk foods” out there that are actually pretty good for you. Here, three nutritionists explain which ones you should consider stocking up on for that 4 p.m. snack attack.
Popcorn isn’t just a buttery delicacy to eat at the movies ― it can also be a healthy snack. “Try any kind of herb spiced popcorn, like this one from Trader Joe’s,” nutritionist Maya Feller suggested. “It’s very crunchy and filled with fiber.”
And, if you’re looking for packaged popcorns to avoid, you’d be wise to steer clear of traditional microwave popcorns, kettle corns that load in sugar (try to stay under 15 grams, if possible), and stay away from super-cheesy popcorns, which can pack on the fat, salt and vegetable oil.
Yes, you read that right. As long as you don’t overdo it, ice cream actually has some good nutrients in it, like calcium and protein. And, if you switch it up from the traditional Ben & Jerry’s pint, you may get even more of the good stuff, like probiotics and B-vitamins. “Adonia by Ciao Bella and Enlightened are great options, as well as frozen Greek yogurt bars by Yasso,” suggested Heinrich. “Remember, though, one and done!”
Sorry, but loading up on Sour Patch Kids isn’t great for you ― these sour gummy candies are packed with sugar, corn syrup, and artificial dyes. There are, however, some gummy snacks out there that aren’t too bad for you. “Some of my family favorite brands are Black Forest Organic, Newman’s Own Organics and Surf Sweets,” Heinrich said. These treats are just as delicious, but they’re made with organic ingredients and are GMO-free.
Yes, you can have your chocolate and eat it too ― especially if it’s not packed with sugar! “On top of usually being lower sugar, dark chocolate actually has a decent amount of fiber and protein, and it’s so intense that it’s hard to overeat,” nutritionist Tamar Samuels said. To avoid high-sugar chocolate, look for bars that are 70 percent cacao or higher.
Potato chips that pack a healthier punch
Not all chips are created equal, according to Heinrich. If you’ve got a hankering for potato chips, worry not ― they can actually be pretty good for you. “You can certainly get your chip fix without ingesting all of the harmful diet disasters that come along with it,” she noted. “Make sure to always choose chip brands that do not contain MSG, which is a common additive in chips and is linked with headaches, allergic reactions, and obesity. Kettle Brand chips are a great clean ingredient option.”
Dang coconut chips
While coconut chips may not be the first thing that pop into your mind when you think of a traditional junk food, hear us out: Dang brand coconut chips are a great, healthy way to satisfy that sweet-salty craving. “They have some fat and fiber, which help you to eat them in moderation,” Samuels said. “They also make some great salty-sweet options, if you like that combo.”
Tortilla chips (or something like them)
These days, you have a ridiculous amount of options in the tortilla chip aisle, and many of them are packed with nutritious ingredients. “Lots of chip brands are getting on the healthy bandwagon and coming out with chips that are made from high-fiber ingredients, often high-protein beans and other good-for-you whole grains,” Heinrich said. “Some are even made from kale, seaweed and other greens, versus just your traditional potato. Beanitos bean chips taste like tortilla chips minus the junk food ingredients and are perfect for dipping into delicious guacamole. Siete Foods Grain Free Tortilla Chips is another great option that even has a nacho flavor. You may possibly never eat another greasy chip again.”
Ah, ramen ― is there anything more comforting? While the traditional packaged variety packs the MSG and high sodium, there are some healthier options out there. “Not too many brands replace this college-age favorite, but I do like Lotus Foods,” Heinrich said. “Need to prepare the original style as a healthy meal? Add frozen veggies, eggs, skip the seasoning packet and instead sprinkle your own sea salt, miso or low-sodium soy sauce.
One more thing to keep in mind? Giving in to your flat-out “bad” junk food cravings once in a while isn’t always the worst idea. “There’s something to be said about mindful eating,” Samuels said. “If you do have a craving, sometimes it is best to honor it. Don’t eat the whole bag. Instead, serve yourself and put a portion of the snack you want on a plate or in a bowl so you can be more intentional about portion size and more mindful about how much you need to feel satisfied.”
Amen to that.