Why do we crave creamy, crunchy, fried dishes that cause bulging waistlines, higher cholesterol and rising blood pressure? Because they taste good, of course! Read on for the 10 worst foods you’re eating and the healthy substitutes to reach for when you just have to indulge…
Nine out of 10 American consider themselves healthy, according to a 2013 survey from The Atlantic.Yet two-thirds of American adults are overweight or obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).The bottom line: Americans eat too much and exercise too little. And the calories we consume usually aren’t from nutritious, low-cal, high-fiber foods such as fruits and vegetables, or whole grains, or from healthy proteins like lean meat and low-fat dairy foods.
Instead, we reach for artery-cloggers: processed cheese that squirts from a can, frosted pastries filled with sugary jam, snack bags of cookies or crackers and pretty much anything deep-fried.But you don’t have to write off unhealthy foods completely.Instead, get to know the worst choices and then meet some healthier substitutes that offer flavor without quite so many bad ingredients:
Worst Food 1: Chips
One ounce of regular potato chips has 152 calories and 10 grams of fat (3 grams saturated).If you eat just three ounces a week, in one year you’ll have consumed 23,400 calories and added about seven pounds to your waistline. And that’s from just a couple handfuls – which barely constitutes a satisfying snack for most of us.
Healthier Substitutes for Chips: Rice cakes and popcorn cakes are no longer the tasteless Styrofoam-like disks they once were. Now they’re available in lots of flavors, so you can satisfy a salty craving without hitting the potato chips.Try Quaker Quakes Rice Snacks or Orville Redenbacher’s Popcorn Cakes instead; both have less than 100 calories per serving.For a more exotic crunch, try dry roasted edamame, usually lightly salted and with a satisfying crunch. Thirty grams of Trader Joe’s roasted edamame provides 14 grams of protein and 20% of your daily iron in only 140 calories.
Worst Food 2: Non-Dairy Topping
As luscious as they are, Cool Whip and its kin are mostly corn syrup and hydrogenated vegetable oil – stuff you definitely don’t want floating in your arteries.
True, one tablespoon of Cool Whip is just 32 calories – but who stops at just one?Healthier Substitute for Non-Dairy Topping:
Top desserts with low-fat vanilla yogurt instead. One tablespoon has half the calories plus a healthy dose of calcium.
Worst Food 3: Doughnuts
White flour, vegetable shortening, white sugar – and it’s deep-fried to boot.One glazed Krispy Kreme doughnut packs 200 calories and 12 grams of fat, including heart-stopping saturated fat, trans fats and cholesterol.An old-fashioned cake doughnut is even worse: 300 calories, 28 grams of carbohydrates and a whopping 19 grams of fat, including 5 grams of saturated fat and 4 grams of trans fats.
Only 30% of our calories should come from fat, says the American Heart Association. That’s about 65 grams in a 2,000-calorie daily diet.Nosh on a couple doughnuts with your coffee, and you’ve reached your daily fat quota.Healthier Substitute for Doughnuts:
Keep down the carbs with a whole-grain bagel. Half a Pepperidge Farm whole-wheat bagel has 125 calories, less than a gram of fat and 3 grams of cholesterol-lowering fiber.
Worst Food 4: Fettuccine Alfredo
Strips of pasta drenched with butter, cream and parmesan cheese – what’s not to love?How about its fat and calories! A 3-ounce serving (about the size of your fist) has 543 calories and 33 grams of fat (19 of which are saturated!).
Healthier Substitute for Fettucine Alfredo:
Request whole-wheat fettuccine with a tomato-based marinara sauce. One cup of whole-wheat pasta has 197 calories and almost 4 grams of fiber. And half a cup of marinara sauce has just 92 calories.If whole-wheat pasta isn’t available, ask for spinach pasta instead; it’s popular and nutrient-rich.
Worst Food 5: Sausage
Whether you fry them for breakfast or boil ’em in beer, sausages are a health hazard. A 2015 World Health Organization (WHO) study found that sausage, bacon and other red meat are linked to bowel cancer.A single pork link packs 217 calories and 19.5 grams of fat.Healthier Substitutes for Sausage:
Choose chicken or turkey sausage. Five links of Aidell’s chicken apple sausage have only 100 calories and 8 grams of fat (2.5 grams saturated).
Or go vegetarian: MorningStar Farms sausage links, made from soy protein, contain 80 calories for two links, with 3 grams of fat and 9 grams of protein.
Worst Food 6: Fried Chicken
A fried chicken breast has nearly 400 calories and 22 grams of fat. The Colonel’s fried fowl has to go.What do you expect when you batter and fry chicken, skin and all?Healthier Substitute for Fried Chicken:
Grilled, skinless chicken breasts are finger-lickin’ good. Rub them with a fiery spice rub – try a green chile-lime seasoning – throw them on the barbecue and you have great flavor for 189 calories per 4-ounce breast.
Worst Food 7: Imitation Cheese in a Can
Some people love this stuff.But they ignore their protesting hearts: Two tablespoons – about the amount you’d put on two crackers – packs 276 calories and 21 grams of fat, 13 grams of which are saturated.Healthier Substitutes for Imitation Cheese:
Go for the real thing. Soft cheeses like Brie have about 100 calories per ounce.Goat cheese is even better: One ounce has 76 calories and 5 grams of protein.
Worst Food 8: French Fries
One large order (6 ounces) of fast-food fries from a typical restaurant contains roughly 570 calories, half of which are from fat. (That’s why we love them!)
And since it’s hard to pass up a burger (such as a Burger King Whopper) when you’re ordering fries, you can tack on another 670 calories and 39 grams of fat if you’re getting a combo.Healthier Substitutes for French Fries:
Order kid-size fries instead, which have only 230 calories and 13 grams of fat.At home, try sautéed tempeh, a fermented rice and soy mixture found in the refrigerated health-food section of the grocery store.Just slice the tempeh, sprinkle it with soy sauce and sauté in a little olive oil until brown. A half-cup – about three or four half-inch slices – contains only 197 calories.And, unlike fries, tempeh is loaded with protein and offers a good source of iron, magnesium, zinc and vitamin B6.
Worst Food 9: Soft White Bread
You may as well have a candy bar.A slice of white bread offers little more than 65 calories of white flour, a simple and rapidly digested carbohydrate that causes your blood sugar to rise and crashAnd because it has so few nutrients, white bread leaves you feeling hungry for the fiber and vitamins your body needs.Healthier Substitutes for Soft White Bread:
For the same number of calories, a slice of whole-wheat bread offers nutty flavor, 2 grams of heart-healthy fiber, protein and nutrients like selenium, magnesium and potassium.You can also substitute whole-grain bagels, English muffins, scones and muffins for white bread.The fiber in these whole-grain options will help fill you up, too, so you eat less.
Worst Food 10: Fried Wontons
These delicate triangles, often filled with meat, shrimp or cream cheese, are deep-fried to a crispy crunch.And while they may seem harmless since they’re bite-sized, pop a few too many in your mouth and they’ll add up to a whole meal.Just four crab and cream cheese-filled wontons have 311 calories and 19 grams of fat – too greasy a treat for anyone trying to stay fit.Healthier Substitute for Fried Wontons:
For a little crunch, try brown-rice sesame crackers. Five crackers have just 140 calories and 6 grams of fat, 1 gram of fiber and a hefty dose of calcium.They’ll also satisfy that salty snack craving. (Just don’t eat the whole bag.)