“healthy” junk food

Here’s the thing about “healthy” junk foods: I don’t think they should even be a thing. “Junk” foods aren’t supposed to be an every day thing – they’re supposed to be a treat!

cupcake[source]

Yes, you read that right. This dietitian (and many others) will tell you to just go ahead and eat that piece of chocolate cake. Don’t deny yourself your favorite ice cream.

So, what’s the catch?

Moderation.

Here’s how I usually see this work. People tend to deny themselves foods they view as “bad” or unhealthy. At some point they fall off the wagon, so to speak, and eat the food they put off limits.

Or, they try to make a healthier version of their favorite snack. Perhaps cookies made with whole wheat flour and applesauce and flax seeds. Or a 50 calorie microwaved cake.

100 calorie packs[source]

Let’s be honest. These things do NOT taste like a dessert made with real butter and sugar and they probably don’t even satisfy that sweet tooth. In reality, they just leave you craving a real cookie or piece of cake even more. Or allow you to justify eating 15 “healthy” cookies instead of just 1 real cookie because “they’re healthy and have fewer calories!”

Desserts aren’t meant to be healthy. The same goes for other “junk” foods that I have seen getting makeovers lately – fast food, chips/snacks/packaged foods, etc.

Ice cream and cookies and fast food shouldn’t have to be healthy because they aren’t meant to make up the majority of your diet. Fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean meats, and dairy are.When you meet your energy needs with 80-90% nutrient-packed whole foods, there is plenty of room for a few “empty calories” – foods that provide calories but few nutrients.

I don’t know about you, but I’d rather use that 100-200 calories on a spoonful of peanut butter with chocolate chips or a serving of ice cream or something with some substance instead of a fat-free, pre-packaged item.

Making room for these fun foods takes discipline and self-control and you have to learn a little bit about portion sizes. You probably can’t have the cake AND the ice cream AND a cookie AND some french fries but you could choose one each day. And by knowing that nothing is off limits, you don’t feel like you have to eat every single treat that comes by you on a given day because there is always tomorrow.

Focusing on quality can also be helpful. For example, I make a lot of baked goods from scratch. I know that a pre-packaged cookie doesn’t hold a candle to a homemade cookie and I don’t even have to think twice about turning down a Chips Ahoy or store bakery cookie. If I’m going to use my daily “treat”, I want it to be on something that I love, not something that really doesn’t taste like much.

So, keep in mind that no food is “bad”, there are just some foods that you should eat more often than others. When you start to see these treats as what they are – foods that should be consumed only occasionally – you won’t need to feel guilty about enjoying them.

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