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20 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.

1 / 20
via amazon.com

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.

2 / 20
via amazon.com

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.

3 / 20
via halotop.com

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.

4 / 20
via store.nutiva.com

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.

5 / 20
via 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.

6 / 20
via shop-justins.com

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.

7 / 20
via thelittlekernel.com

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.

8 / 20
via onehungrybunny.com

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.

9 / 20
via amazon.com

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.

10 / 20
via annies.com

If you love Cheez-It crackers…

Snacking on Cheez-Its straight out of the box is a dangerous undertaking. How many times have you found yourself engrossed in a movie while munching on these salty snacks, only to look down and realize you’ve consumed the whole box? A healthier option is Annie’s Cheddar Bunnies, made from organic wheat and real aged cheddar, and (the best part) packaged in single-serving bags to prevent accidental whole-box chowing. If you’re on a low-salt diet, try these tasty low-sodium snacks.

11 / 20
via zingbars.com

If you love energy bars…

Sure, they sound healthy, but many energy bars pack in more calories and sugar than a large meal. When eaten for a snack, they can hike your calorie intake quickly. But there are better options out there. Zing Bars, created by registered dietitians, contain fewer calories and sugar, and more protein (10 grams) plus fiber (8 grams) than regular energy bars. And check out the fun flavors—dark chocolate coconut, cashew cranberry orange, and oatmeal chocolate chip. These tasty nutrient-dense snacks are also available in smaller portions (think 100 calories) as well as the traditional sized bar (200 calories). The ingredients are all natural, organic, vegan, and gluten-free. No sugar substitutes or weird fillers here, only real fruit, real nuts, and pea and rice protein. KIND bars offer another healthier bar option with a variety of good-for-you grains (oats, millet, quinoa, amaranth, and buckwheat), packing in less sugar and more protein and fiber. Rx Bars list their ingredients in bold print right on front of the package, with “no B.S.” For example, one bar lists 3 egg whites, 6 almonds, 4 cashews, and 2 dates. That’s it. Other healthier energy bars include Perfect Bars and Curate Bars, reviewed here.

12 / 20
via amazon.com

If you love soda…

Soda is a sugar blast that no one needs: One 44-ounce Coke from a convenience store contains over 500 calories—all from sugar. And diet soda is not much better, potentially leading to weight gain, as we now know. If it’s carbonation you’re after, Aquafina sells zero-calorie flavored sparkling water, giving you the bubbly cold deliciousness that satisfies in the hot months of summer. Flavors include orange grapefruit, lemon lime, mango pineapple, and black cherry dragonfruit. Similarly, La Croix sells flavored no-calorie carbonated waters containing no artificial sweeteners, available in lemon, orange, berry, and lime flavors.

13 / 20
via annies.com

If you love Oreos…

Are you obsessed with these chocolate sandwich cookie classics? You’re not alone. And, because it’s almost impossible to stop after one cookie, the calories, sugar, and fat add up fast. Annie’s snacks offer a non-GMO organic version with about the same number of calories. Portion-controlled snack packs of real Oreos provide the flavor you crave with only 100 to 130 calories per pack.

14 / 20
via amazon.com

If you love cheese puffs…

Regular Cheetos contain 170 calories and a whopping 12 grams of fat in a one-ounce snack size bag. Simply switching to Cheetos oven baked variety saves 7 grams of fat without sacrificing much flavor. Another option from Earth Balance is the vegan aged white cheddar puffs containing only 4.5 grams of fat.

15 / 20

If you love ice cream sandwiches…

Cool, sweet, and creamy, ice cream sandwiches make tasty summer treats. Try Skinny Cow no sugar-added vanilla ice cream sandwich, boasting 4 grams of fiber and half of the total fat and added sugar of the traditional ice cream sandwich. Klondike brand offers a 100-calorie version of an ice cream sandwich that’s also a better bet.

16 / 20
via rulebreakersnacks.com

If you love Twinkies…

Remember the urban legend that Twinkies could stay on the pantry shelf indefinitely without any change in texture or appearance? Do you really want to eat that? A healthier option can be found in the vegan bean-based blonde brownies with chocolate chunks from Rule Breaker Snacks. They’re only 110 calories and have a healthy 3 grams of fiber and 3 grams of protein. Definitely a healthier option.

17 / 20
via 360familynutrition.org

If you love doughnuts…

Donuts boast an incredibly high fat content, and depending on how the toppings, they could push your sugar limit over the edge. Smaller versions such as doughnut holes are tempting, but unless you can limit yourself to one or two, you may end up eating just as many (or more) calories. Homemade donuts sound challenging? Dietitian Kristen Smith created a 20-minute recipe for baked chocolate-glazed oat doughnuts that incorporates Greek yogurt for a protein punch and significantly less sugar than traditional confections. Dietitian Regan Jones created whole wheat wild blueberry baked doughnuts for a higher fiber version to bust your cravings.

18 / 20
via purelyelizabeth.com

If you love granola or trail mix…

Granola and trail mix enjoy a health halo but can pack a mean calorie punch. Choosing brands that promote all-natural ingredients is the way to go. All Good Provisions sells a trail mix containing organic raisins, pumpkin seeds, almonds, walnuts, Goji berries, dried cranberries, and mulberries. AB&J mix from nuts.com combines sweet dried berries with almonds, recalling a childhood PB&J memory, just go easy on the portion—think golf ball sized handful. Other healthier options: Try the probiotic granola from Purely Elizabeth or organic raw cacao goji energy squares from Nuts.com.

19 / 20
via smart-baking.com

If you love Ding Dongs…

Chocolatey cream-filled cakes are decadent indeed—their sugar and calorie content will bust your waistline in no time. Instead, opt for snack cakes made by the Smart Baking Company. These delicious morsels contain only 38 calories, no added sugar, and are gluten-free and vegan. With flavors such as chocolate, cinnamon, and coconut, your taste buds (and waist line) will thank you.

20 / 20
via nuts.com

If you love Doritos…

Chips made from vegetables offer healthier alternatives with the same satisfying salty crunch. Try green bean chips, okra chips, mushroom chips, beet chips, sweet potatoes, plantains, fava beans and squash from nuts.com. Not feeling that adventurous? Check out the grain-free tortilla chips from Siete Foods in lime, sea salt, or nacho cheese flavor. These chips are vegan, gluten-free, and made without corn, wheat, rice, beans, soy or dairy. Pasta Chips and other snacks made from pasta provide an interesting twist on the snack, in flavors such as cheddar and spinach-broccoli-kale.

Jennifer Bowers, PhD, RD
Jennifer is a doctoral-level Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) with nearly 25 years of experience. The majority of her career has focused in health care, disease prevention and nutrition education for all ages - from middle school to graduate school students.  She owns a private practice focusing on freelance writing and extracurricular nutrition clubs for children. When she's not working, Dr. Bowers enjoys swimming, running, hiking, biking, camping, cooking, and reading.