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21 Healthier Versions of Your Favorite Junk Foods

Everyone loves a sweet treat or a good salty crunch, but we also like zipping up our pants. Jennifer Bowers, PhD, RD, handpicks the crave-worthy snacks with healthier ingredients that won't bust your calorie budget.


If you love chocolate chip cookies...

Pepperidge Farm gourmet chocolate chunk cookies can tempt anyone, but with 140 calories, 6 grams of fat, and 10 grams of sugar in just one cookie, it's difficult to rationalize eating them on the regular. Kashi TLC oatmeal dark chocolate cookies contain slightly fewer calories and fat, and have only 8 grams of sugar plus, on the flip side, 4 grams of healthy fiber. Annie's chocolate chip cookies are free of high fructose corn syrup and trans fats, and have only 7 grams of sugar in two cookies.


If you love potato chips...

Fried is yummy, no doubt! But baked is a happy compromise. Baked potato chips cut nearly all of the fat from fried potato chips. And although the texture is slightly different from traditional fried potato chips, the crunch and saltiness of baked chips, like Lay's Oven Baked Potato Chips in regular and barbecue flavor, is just as satisfying. It's important to note that frying otherwise healthful foods, like sweet potatoes, may be no nutritional bargain compared to fried potato chips, as it doesn't resolve the fat issue. The key is in the cooking method.


If you love chocolate...

Higher in antioxidants and lower in sugar, dark chocolate is a great alternative to super sweet milk chocolate. The higher the amount of cocoa, the lower the sugar content. Look for at least 70 percent cocoa in your dark chocolate. Luxocolat and Wawel brands sell a 90 percent cocoa dark chocolate. Taza offers a 95 percent cocoa bar, while Lindt sells a 99 percent cocoa bar. You will find yourself satisfied with very small portions, you won't suffer a sugar crash, and you'll benefit from the antioxidant qualities. These dark chocolate bars are stuffed with superfoods for a guilt-free daily treat.


If you love ice cream...

Ice cream—hello! It's beloved by all. But we can do better. Halo Top sells an amazing low-sugar, high-protein ice cream with fun flavors like peanut butter cup, red velvet, sea salt caramel, and chocolate chip cookie dough. A half-cup scoop of peanut butter cup contains 70 calories, 5 grams of protein, 2.5 grams of fat, and 5 grams of added sugar. Compare that to a typical scoop of Ben Jerry's, which has more than double the calories (190), less protein (3 grams), more than four times the fat (13 grams) and nearly double the added sugar (9 grams). In Halo Top, the sweetness comes from Stevia and erythritol (a sugar alcohol that's not absorbed as calories but can upset some delicate stomachs). The products are free of synthetic growth hormones and gluten. If you like to make your own quick "nice creams," check out this recipe for cantaloupe banana nice cream with pistachios from Amy Gorin, MS, RDN.


If you love Almond Joys...

Just one Almond Joy bar contains 220 calories, 12 grams of fat, and 8 grams of sugar. Switch it up with the Nutiva O'Coconut candy, and you'll get only 60 calories, 3 grams of fat, and 3 grams of sugar per snack. Another healthier option: Eating Evolved Dark Chocolate Coconut Butter Cups, which are gluten-free, vegan, and organic. You can feel good about eating coconut, which has a number of health benefits, including contributing to healthy hair.

french-friesvia Hong-Vo

If you love fast food French fries...

Consider that one large order of fries from McDonald's contains 510 calories, 24 grams of fat, and 290 grams of sodium. If that makes your heart stop, consider making your own baked fries out of white or sweet potatoes. When prepared simply with basic ingredients and healthy fats, fries don't have to be artery-clogging. Dietitian Jessica Penner shares a crispy homemade French fry recipe seasoned with onion and garlic powder. Kelli Shallal, MPH, RD has an amazingly simple and satisfying sweet potato fries recipe that requires only 15 to 20 minutes of baking time. If you're up for a fancier version, consider these baked sweet potato fries with blue cheese and walnuts from Lindsey Pine, MS, RD.


If you love Reese's Peanut Butter Cups...

Chocolate and peanut butter may be the ultimate delicious flavor combination ever created. Reese's Peanut Butter Cups pack a decent nutritional punch because of the protein in the nuts (5 grams), however, the sugar content is higher than ideal (21 grams in a two-pack). For healthier versions, check out Justin's or Newman's Own brands of organic dark chocolate peanut butter cups with slightly less sugar (17 grams in Justin's and 15 grams in Newman's Own). These are the foods that are surprisingly high in sugar.


If you love movie theater popcorn...

Smelling buttery popcorn a mile away will immediately get you salivating for that bucket of movie theater goodness. While an occasional treat is fine, eating the high-calorie, high-fat snack too often is a waistline-buster. The Centers for Science in the Public Interest famously reported that one large popcorn contains 1,200 calories and 60 grams of saturated fat—about the same as a stick of butter. Yikes! In its native form, popcorn is a whole grain that can be a healthy snack. Making your own at home in a simple paper lunch bag costs pennies, and contains healthy filling fiber (here's the secret to making perfect microwave popcorn at home). But if you need a store-bought option, The Little Kernel offers six flavor varieties of popcorn, made with GMO-free popcorn cooked in olive oil. Skinny Pop sells sweet (dusted dark chocolate) or savory (white cheddar or jalapeno) flavors and promotes their popcorn as free of GMOs, artificial ingredients, gluten, dairy, or preservatives.


If you love brownies...

For some people, brownies are the ultimate comfort food—rich, sweet, chocolately baked deliciousness in a compact package. But the sugar content of brownies can be through the roof, especially when the brownies are enormous or loaded with extras (think chocolate chips, candy bar pieces, or marshmallows). Healthy brownies are at your fingertips in just 30 short minutes, if you make them at home and tweak some ingredients. How about an avocado to replace the butter, yet still provide creaminess you crave? Kathryn Pfeffer-Scanlan MS, RD shares her healthier deliciously rich avocado brownies. Mashed banana and peanut butter replace butter and some sugar in these tasty good-for-you peanut butter banana brownies from Sarah Hilgert Pflugradt, MS, RD. Not up for baking? Check out Rule Breaker brownies, vegan options made with beans that are high in fiber and protein.


If you love Kettle Corn...

This street-fair favorite lightens up with two healthier alternatives: Two cups of Angie's BOOMCHICKAPOP Sweet and Salty Kettle Corn contains 140 calories, 8 grams of fat, and 8 grams of added sugar. An added bonus—their snacks are available in single-serving bags, reducing the chances of overeating. Jolly Time popcorn sells mini bags of kettle corn with only 20 calories per cup, very little sugar and fat. Compared to regular kettle corn (170 calories, 8 grams of fat, and 12 grams of sugar), Jolly Time is the healthiest option.

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