Can’t shake an urge that nothing but food will fulfill? The problem is that for many people, one bite leads to another and then another and…you can see where this is going. Some people also eat around the craving, says celebrity dietician Ashley Koff, R.D. This means you eat everything else in sight but the specific food and end up doing more caloric damage. “You can avoid both situations with alternatives that satisfy cravings and ensure you’re getting some healthy benefits at the same time,” says Koff.
A good rule of thumb: When in doubt, try to find a less processed or whole food version of what you’re craving. “Processed foods are engineered to be problematic because they hit the bloodstream faster and cause you to eat more and more,” says Ashley Gearhardt, food addiction researcher at Yale. Satisfying cravings with whole foods can help you avoid overeating and that post-binge sick feeling.
If you want: a plate of gooey brownies
Try: Health-ified brownies. The reason these sweet treats are so tasty is because they’re made with mostly sugar and fat. So try these easy changes: Instead of a cup of sugar, use applesauce or bananas (one cup, mashed) as natural sweeteners in the recipe. Use avocado and chia seeds to get the healthy fats (a cup of avocado can replace a cup of butter!).
If you want: Reese’s peanut butter cups
Try: A square or two of dark chocolate (packed with heart-healthy antioxidants) with a tablespoon of all-natural peanut butter slathered on top.
If you want: potato chips
Try: A handful of veggie chips made with beets or sweet potatoes. Another healthier alternative: look for brands that use the “whole potato” (like Kettle and Whole Food’s 365). This means you’re getting a better balance of sodium and potassium with each bite.
If you want: a Coke
Try: Seltzer water with a drop of vanilla or fresh fruit (like raspberries or sliced limes) for flavor. The carbonation will satisfy your bubbly craving without the sugar and empty calories.
If you want: mac and cheese
Try: Portion-controlled servings from organic brands like Amy’s. Even though some still have relatively high calorie counts (around 400), that’s much less than you would take in if you prepared the whole box.
If you want: a big, juicy burger
Try: A wild salmon burger but skip the cheese and sauces (the patty already contains the fat) and go for grilled vegetables like onions and mushrooms as fillers for added heft.
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