Even though we know that junk food is horrible for us, many of us still can’t shake the habit.
Just like any addiction, going cold turkey on all your comfort foods can be a real shock to the system (literally!), but you know you need to kick that vice to the curb.
So while you cut out supposedly healthy foods and harmful ingredients such as processed sugar and food additives, try including some or all of these 16 healthy foods to give yourself a fighting chance.
If you can successfully replace all of your junk food cravings with healthy food cravings, you’ll be able to make a seamless transition without much effect on your day-to-day life.
I promise that these delicious foods not only taste better than junk food, but will actually make your body feel better. Check out what I mean.
I thought I’d kick off this list with a fan favorite: delicious, juicy apples.
You know the old saying, “An apple a day keeps the doctor away?”
Well, there’s actually some truth in that.
According to Eating Well, the “Iowa Women’s Health Study reported that, among the 34,000+ women it’s been tracking for nearly 20 years, apples were associated with a lower risk of death from both coronary heart disease and cardiovascular disease“.
One of the best features of apples is the fact that there are so many different varieties to choose from, so you’ll never get bored or tired of eating the same kind.
I love eating apples whole, but if you want a super tasty snack, slice some apples on a mandolin, sprinkle one side with cinnamon, and bake for two hours in a 200 degree F oven, flipping halfway. Crunchy, warm, and delightful – they definitely remind me of autumn any time I bake them.
2. Fresh Figs
There’s a reason an entire cookie empire was devoted to the mighty fig.
But instead of snacking on those, it would be easier to get your sweet craving satisfied by munching on some fresh figs.
And unlike the guilt you’d feel for devouring a ton of cookies, fresh figs give your body antioxidants, B vitamins, omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, along with niacin, and folate, so you’ll be doing good instead.
Something even better is that figs are especially heart healthy.
According to SFGate, since one large fig is about 23% fiber, providing you with around 2.1 g of fiber, they may help reduce cholesterol.
The article continues: “High potassium levels combined with low sodium levels help lower blood pressure, and high levels of polyphenol antioxidants help prevent atherosclerosis”.
Sounds like a powerful little fruit, right?
Remember to stay away from dried figs because they can be loaded with sugar.
I love snacking on figs with some soft goat cheese; the creamy protein in the dairy helps to slow the sugar’s effect on my body so I have a sustained boost of energy, which brings me to my next food choice.
3. Goat Cheese
When I’m craving something indulgent, I always reach for goat cheese.
Goat cheese is easier to digest since it contains less lactose than cows milk, so if cheese sometimes upsets your tummy, you may want to try goats milk instead.
- Less fat
- Half the saturated fat
- Zero cholesterol
- Less sodium
- Half the protein
- Higher amounts of vitamins D, K, thiamine, riboflavin, and niacin
Like I mentioned earlier, goat cheese pairs well with fruits like apples, pears, and figs for a wonderful afternoon pick-me-up.
The deep rich blue color in blueberries immediately gives away their claim to health fame: anthocyanins.
According to a University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign study, the anthocyanins in these high fiber berries of glory “attack cancer-causing free radicals and can even block the growth of tumor cells”.
You just need a half-cup of blueberries every day to enjoy all the benefits these little powerhouses have to offer.
So often thought of as the steamy appetizer right before your sushi rolls, it’s time for edamame to take center stage as a snack to be reckoned with.
Edamame, or whole soybeans in their pods, are naturally low calorie, high in omega-3s, have zero cholesterol, and even provide us with 17 g of protein per one cup serving.
In fact, edamame contains all our essential amino acids, so like meat and dairy it’s a complete source of protein. I’m looking at you vegans.
As Medical News Today explains, eating edamame helps:
- Reduce the amount of age related mental disorders
- Lower bad cholesterol levels
- Fight depression
- Decrease bone loss and increase bone mineral density
6. Dark Chocolate
I will never be able to give up chocolate. Ever.
But I have become more selective in my chocolate loving. Now I only buy chocolate if it’s at least 70% pure cocoa; this means that I’ll be getting more of the cocoa’s benefits and less of chocolate’s vices (sugar, fat).
I also pay strict attention to the serving sizes, which is about a one ounce square; any more than this bumps you into unhealthy territory.
The Cleveland Clinic praises dark chocolate for how it helps our bodies:
- Decrease bad cholesterol
- Lower blood pressure
- Increase blood flow to the heart and arteries
- Reduce risk of blood clots
- Improve our mood
See? You can have chocolate on a healthy diet.
Did you know that crunchy foods help relieve stress?
“Stress eaters often go for crunchy foods because the force used to chew them relieves tension in the jaw, a place where we often build up stress”.
I can honestly say that sometimes during a hectic day I really feel like crunching something, which is why I always keep almonds around my desk at work.
Not only will these antioxidant-packed nuts send some protein my way, but they may even help me lose weight and keep it off while I’m simultaneously getting rid of some tension.
Due to their combination of fiber and healthy fats, almonds are also a heart healthy treat and may help reduce the risk of heart disease.
Cherries are one of my favorite fruits because they’re just about perfect.
They’re portable, low in calories, and also low in sugar. On the GI index, fresh cherries come in at a 22, which is on the low end, making them an amazing sweet treat for those suffering with diabetes.
Their dark red skins are also home to antioxidants and the same anthocyanins that we see in blueberries.
The University of Michigan Health System says: “Cherries provide cardiovascular benefits equal to some medications”, which means they may naturally reduce risk factors for high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and diabetes.
Did you know that watermelon has more lycopene content than tomatoes? Because I sure didn’t.
Lycopene is an incredible antioxidant that’s been proven to:
- Reduce risk of strokes
- Protect against the risk of cancer
- Act as a natural anti-inflammatory
- Provide vitamins A, B6, C, magnesium, and potassium
Want to know how to be the best guest at a summer BBQ?
Skewer watermelon, feta cheese, and fresh mint leaves together for an impressively classy dish to bring with you. You can drizzle with oil or balsamic vinegar if you wish – both go well and provide different flavor profiles.
10. Nut Butters
I feel like I mention some form of nut butter in every post, which as you can see, is because I’m clearly obsessed. The PB&Js I grew up with have really had an effect on me.
Almond butter is an excellent source of no-cook protein and may stabilize blood sugar levels, giving you energy and keeping you from food cravings.
But almonds aren’t the only healthy nut butter on the block.
Lori Shemek, PhD, says walnuts are “dense with omega-3 fats that help to trigger the hormone leptin that tells us we’ve had enough to eat”.
Since most diets have more omega-6 fats in them, which leads to illness, inflammation, and weight gain, eating more omega-3 fats help “[tip the] balance of omega-6 fats” in a more positive, healthy direction.
Shemek says you only need one tablespoon of almond butter a day to start reducing your bad cholesterol levels and that sounds pretty good to me.
If you’ve been keeping up with my posts, you know that I think seaweed is an amazing food we should all be eating, but don’t.
If you’re curious about seaweed, but feel less than excited about chowing down on kelp and algae, you may want to pick up a bag of crunchy dried and roasted nori to get some of the same benefits.
Nori is the type of seaweed they wrap sushi rolls with. You can typically find sheets of nori in your grocer’s snack aisle next to the unhealthy potato chips.
According to Elle, nori is “one of the only natural, non-animal sources of vitamin B-12, which is essential for many cognitive and bodily functions”.
You’re welcome, vegans.
Non-vegans will love seaweed for its ability to regulate hormones, aid in digestion, and improve heart health.
Keep in mind that these low-cal sea veggies sometimes have high sodium numbers (hello, it grows in salt water!), so make sure the nori you buy doesn’t have too much added salt.
When you buy a bag of nori, make sure to look for short ingredient lists that lack sugar and artificial ingredients. You should only need a little healthy oil and salt on your nori to forget all about greasy chips forever.
Chickpeas, also known as garbanzo beans, are the most snackable bean. Period.
Plus, unlike many snacks that keep you wanting more, chickpeas have 10 g of fiber and 15 g of protein per one cup serving, which means you’ll feel satisfied and less prone to unhealthy grazing.
However you eat them, you’ll feel confident knowing that your snack of choice will help your body:
Coming up is another veggie snack we all know and love…
Maybe you already think kale salads taste better than junk food (you’re my hero), but most people don’t feel so fondly.
So I tell them to start their affair with kale by turning these dark green leafies into dark green chips. All you have to do is toss them with oil and salt and bake them in the oven.
Don’t worry about losing nutrients going from leaf to chip: “This method of cooking retains all the nutritional value of the kale, creating a low-calorie, nutrient-dense snack that is quite beneficial for your health”.
When you’re eating those kale chips with gusto, remember that kale is:
- Rich in antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals
- A great source of fiber
- Helps strengthen bones, prevent bone loss, and lets the body absorb calcium better than dairy
- High in omega-3s
- Cholesterol lowering
- Cancer fighting
If you’re addicted to that bag of salty, greasy potato chips mid-afternoon or late at night, kale chips will be your new BFF.
14. Chia Pudding
It’s so amazing to me that such tiny little seeds have the power to make such huge positive changes on our health.
I could talk about chia seeds forever, like when I wrote about the 15 science backed health benefits of chia seeds before.
But if you want a cheat sheet, know that chia seeds control blood sugar levels, fill you up with fiber, pack a ton of nutrients and protein, and boost energy and mood levels, just to name a few awesome positives.
When you soak chia seeds in liquid, they expand and turn into a gel-like consistency that’s very reminiscent of pudding snacks you used to get in your lunchbox as a kid.
By soaking your chia seeds in chocolate almond milk or pumpkin puree or any other liquid, you can tailor homemade, healthy pudding recipes to whatever you’re craving, salty or sweet.
If you need a little inspiration, here are 10 delicious chia pudding recipes to get your feet wet.
Greek yogurt has twice the amount of protein of traditional yogurt varieties and provides you with a healthy source of dairy, calcium, and probiotics.
But there’s a new yogurt in town, straight from Iceland, and you guys need to get on a first name basis.
“Like Greek yogurt, skyr is made with three times the milk of most traditional yogurts and then carefully strained to remove excess liquid” so the result is pure creamy heaven.
While I still love Greek yogurt, I’m starting to really enjoy skyr. I can easily see this as part of your new quick breakfast routine or even as your sweet dessert at night. Anyone up for skyr popsicles?
It’s no wonder that strawberries are one of the most popular berries worldwide. They’re sweet, low calorie, and amazingly full of antioxidants to ward off cancer.
Scientists believe that one of the antioxidants in strawberries lowers blood sugar by blocking “the activity of an enzyme responsible for breaking starch into simple sugar, which means fewer simple sugars are released into the bloodstream”.
Like blueberries, strawberries get their red color from anthocyanins, “which stimulate the burning of stored fat”.
Additionally, just one serving of strawberries (about eight berries) provides more vitamin C than an orange!
Strawberries are shaped like hearts, which may help you remember that they’re naturally heart healthy. They’re sodium, fat, and cholesterol free, and they have lots of fiber.
So you can rest assured knowing strawberries will protect your heart by increasing good cholesterol and lowering blood pressure.
I know how hard it is to stop eating junk food and start living a cleaner life, believe me. Junk food is easy and usually cheap, and our brains somehow think it tastes good (even though we know it’s not good for us).
But if you could start replacing just one item every week with one of these health foods that taste better than junk food, I swear you’ll never go back to your old ways.
This list is a perfect blend of salty and sweet to satisfy any of your cravings the nutritious way – with whole foods, unprocessed sweets, and delicious fruits and veggies. You’ll kick yourself for not eating these sooner, but I won’t hold it against you.
Which junk foods are you excited to replace with these health foods? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!