One of the first steps to start eating healthy is to eat real foods—not fake ones. But just because you’re taking the leap to eat healthier doesn’t mean that your cravings are just going to vanish into thin air. In fact — they may even get worse than they typically are. And that’s especially true if you try to deprive yourself.
Good news: You can still indulge and eat clean! From chocolate urges to salty chip fantasies, we asked registered dietitian nutritionists for healthy alternatives will keep you on the clean eating course while outsmarting your cravings. While these are worth a bite while on your diet, we can’t say the same for The Cheat Meals That Are Never Worth it, According to an Expert.
Get ready to twirl your fork into something just as good as the real deal. “Spaghetti squash is a lot easier to cook than it looks,” says Lisa Hayim, registered dietitian and founder of The WellNecessities. “It comes in at just 30 calories per cup and 10 grams of carbohydrates, compared to the 180 calories and 35 grams of carbohydrates in one cup of pasta. The spaghetti squash is also rich in antioxidants and nutrients like beta-carotene and potassium.” To cook: Slice in half the long way. Scoop out seeds. Rub the inside of the squash with olive oil. Place in oven face down at 350 degrees for 35 minutes. Remove squash and fork out the insides!
Pass the potato-less taters, please! “With cauliflower mashed ‘potatoes,’ you’ll slash about 200 calories per serving and cut out the artery-clogging fat found in the butter and whole milk used in traditional mashed potatoes,” The Nutrition Twins, Lyssie Lakatos, RDN, CDN, CFT and Tammy Lakatos Shames, RDN, CDN, CFT, and authors of The Nutrition Twins’ Veggie Cure explain. “Cauliflower is also part of the cruciferous family, so it is a superstar when it comes to fighting cancer. Cauliflower mashed potatoes are easy to make: Steam the cauliflower, mash it with a fork, and add a little skim milk, garlic, and pepper, and blend in a food processor until smooth.”
Craving a salty-crunchy treat? (Okay, who isn’t?) “Instead of traditional potato chips, try Cassava pops or chips, which are 30 percent lower in fat,” suggests Hayim. Looking for a Chex mix-esque experience? Throw some weight-loss friendly nuts in the mix, along with pumpkin or sunflower seeds for added texture.
“Alfredo on the brain? Try this easy avocado pasta sauce. It may seem odd to utilize this green fruit in a pasta dish, but avocado is full of healthy fats and will feel decadent and delicious added to soba, whole wheat, or zucchini noodles,” offers Nutritionist Kayleen St. John, RD at Natural Gourmet Institute, a health-supportive cooking school in New York City, that also offers public classes. “Combine two ripe avocados, a cup of basil, a clove of garlic, lemon juice from one lemon, and salt and pepper in a food processor. With the motor running, add olive oil in a slow stream until emulsified.” This makes four servings total, but feel free to double the recipe and store some for later; we’re betting you’ll certainly want more of this.
Ready for an easy, healthy version of this decadent comfort food favorite and all-American dessert? You betchya! The Nutrition Twins break it down: “Place 1/4 -1/2-inch slices of an apple on a microwave-safe plate, add a teaspoon of cinnamon, and just a drop of water. Pop it in the microwave for about five minutes. Remove from the microwave and place it on a graham cracker or ginger snaps.” They say this treat is only 140 calories, and it contains powerful flavonoids, which protect against disease. FYI: A piece of traditional apple pie can set you back 450 calories and is packed with sugar and bad-for-your-heart fat.
Chicken soup may be good for the soul, but chomping on almonds is good for the waistline. “When craving something salty, try Blue Diamond’s Salt and Vinegar almonds. They’re full flavor, and much better than chips,” says Bedwell. “Plus, 28 nuts have just 170 calories and provide six grams of filling protein and three grams of fiber.” If you like a more variety-filled snacking experience, try making your own trail mix!
Just because you’re eating clean, doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy this comfort food staple. Instead of takeout, make it healthy by whipping it up yourself, advise The Nutrition Twins. “It’s easy,” they say. “Use a small, whole wheat pita bread for a high-quality, whole-grain carbohydrate with fiber and nutrients. It will also keep the calories in check and avoid the insulin-surging, refined bread that is used in typical pizza. Add a low-sodium tomato sauce, both canned and jarred are fine, as they contain four times the cancer-fighting lycopene of fresh tomatoes. Lastly, top it with your favorite veggies to boost fiber, nutrients and antioxidants.”
Who isn’t craving ice cream? But “nice cream” awaits! “Instead of the heavily processed cream, try blending a frozen banana with a tablespoon of unsweetened nut butter. Top with cinnamon and enjoy this sweet and light treat whenever you wanna bust open a pint of ole B&J’s,” suggests Hayim.
If you crave a crunchy snack food like chips, try pistachios, advise The Nutrition Twins. Buy the shelled variety: The extra work you have to do to pop open each nut will slow down you’re eating and make you more mindful of your consumption. “Potato chips give you processed ingredients and are fried. Pistachios, on the other hand, are guilt-free with a satisfying crunch, creamy texture, and rich flavor,” The Nutrition Twins explain. “Unlike potato chips, pistachios offer a good source of protein and fiber, with over three times as many pieces per serving.” Exactly how much? Well, pistachios give you 49 nuts per serving, compared to just 15 potato chips per serving. (And who eats just 15 potato chips?) Pistachios also have three times the protein, fiber, and pieces per serving compared to chips.
Those plant-based peeps might be onto something. “Nutritional yeast has a parmesan-y taste that pairs well with anything from popcorn and salads to pesto and soups,” says Hayim. “If you like cheesy eggs, try sprinkling a bit of ‘nooch’ into your next scrambled eggs. Bonus: It’s also a nutritional powerhouse that’s rich in vitamin B12 and protein. Compared to cheese which is about 110-calorie per ¼ cup, nutritional yeast is just 45 calories and fat-free.”
Beef often gets a bad rap, but lean beef is actually a great source of important nutrients including protein, iron, and zinc. “In fact, just a three-ounce serving of lean beef provides nearly half the daily value for protein, 10 essential vitamins, and minerals, and has less than 10 grams of fat and just 150 calories!” shares Bedwell. “Besides just tasting great, the nutrients in lean beef, such as protein, iron and B-vitamins can help satisfy you and maintain a healthy weight, build muscles and fuel a healthy and active lifestyle. Plus, research suggests that eating lean beef can also improve cholesterol levels.” A three-ounce serving is about the size of your fist, like a regular-sized hamburger.
Celebrity nutritionist Lisa DeFazio, MS, RDN, tells her clients to make their own quick chips when craving cheese puffs. “Just toss thinly sliced potatoes with olive oil, lay them out on a microwave-safe plate lined with a couple of paper towels, and microwave the slices for three minutes. Turn over and then microwave at 50% power for another three minutes. Continue cooking the remaining chips at 50% power in one-minute intervals until they are all crispy and golden.”
Try these homemade (baked) cumin-spiced beet chips instead of store-bought varieties. St. John explains what to do: “Preheat your oven to 350°F. Wash and dry three medium beets or golden beets (no need to peel). Using a mandoline, thinly slice the beets and in a large bowl, toss beet slices, a teaspoon or two of olive oil, a teaspoon of cumin and half a teaspoon of salt. Spread beet slices onto baking sheets lined with parchment in a single layer. Bake beet chips for 35-45 minutes until crunchy, flipping slices once halfway through baking time. Allow chips to cool thoroughly and blot any excess oil with paper towels. Store in an airtight container.” Voila! You’ll satisfy your salty craving with baked, nutrient dense chips rather than a fried, sodium bomb.
Sounds weird, but don’t knock it until you try it. Soon, you may just be spreading the chickpea gospel high and low. “Instead of this calorie-loaded fried treat, try roasting chickpeas in cinnamon, salt, and a touch of sugar, for a playful twist on a churro,” offers Hayim. “It’s higher in protein and low in sugar!” P.S. With a guilt-free snack as good as this, we promise we won’t tell if you sneak that extra handful.
Lusting over Snickers? Dreaming of Mounds? Can’t get Almond Joys out of your head? “Try KIND’s Nuts & Spices Bars like their new Dark Chocolate Almond Mint or their Dark Chocolate Nuts and Sea Salt,” offer The Nutrition Twins. “You can see and pronounce the ingredients in the KIND bars and they contain delicious flavors. Plus you get nutrients like fiber, protein and antioxidants.” While candy bars give you processed ingredients and can clog your arteries, KIND bars can satisfy those cravings without killing your health goals.
We wish we thought of this ages ago. “Try dates rolled in cocoa powder. Dates are super sweet and gooey and they rank towards the top of the list when it comes to antioxidants. Plus, they contain powerful disease-fighting compounds,” offer The Nutrition Twins. “Roll them in cocoa powder and you won’t believe how much it tastes like the real, decadent chocolate deal. And cocoa powder is rich in heart-healthy antioxidants as well.” Mmm. We’re sold!
“Can’t give up that creamy goodness? Try substituting your favorite tuna or egg salads with avocado,” suggests Hayim. “Avocado provides just a quarter calories compared to mayo and is rich in the healthy monounsaturated fatty acids. Try a tangy egg salad and you won’t even miss the mayo between the peppery arugula and silky avocado!”