Give Your Junk Food a Healthy Makeover

There are those days when the thought of particular junk food has me fixated. While my post-age 40 metabolism doesn’t seem to process 700-calorie snack-cake binges like it used to, my taste buds still request them once in a while.

Fortunately, when you’re desperate for junk food but also committed to eating well, you learn to get creative. Today, we’re going to let you in on some of our best junk food makeovers.

Pizza

Although it is ever so delicious and tempting, pizza is hard on the waistline. According to Papa John’s handy nutritional calculator, two average slices of their mouthwatering pizza with toppings contains 740 calories, 36 grams of fat and 1,720 milligrams of sodium.

Make It This Way at Home

Thankfully, pizza is one of the easiest foods to make healthier. Premade tortillas, flatbreads and pitas make excellent substitutes for thick, white flour pizza crust. These alternatives can be found easily in organic, whole-grain and gluten-free varieties. We’ve made lots of fantastic gluten-free tortilla pizzas at my house.

For the sauce, choose bottled, organic marinara. Marinara typically has more added vegetables than traditional, pizza sauce. It’s also wonderfully healthy and delicious. Topping your pie can be the healthiest part. Go for all sorts of vegetables like chopped tomatoes, green olives, mushrooms, bell peppers, cilantro, red onions, roasted garlic, artichoke hearts, jalapeno slices, spinach leaves, and so on.

Here’s where it gets tricky. While all of these vegetable toppings are incredibly healthy, adding an inch and a half layer of shredded mozzarella to the top of your homemade pizza is not healthy at all. There are a couple of better options, though.

Consider using no cheese at all on top of the pizza. Cheeseless pizza may seem like an odd choice, but it’s surprisingly delicious. You could also use a light sprinkling of high-quality, organic shredded dairy or vegan cheese. This option will give you a nice cheesy consistency and flavor without all of the cholesterol and saturated fat that you would get from a full serving.

Order It This Way When You’re Out

If you want a pie from your favorite pizza place, order it sensibly. Order the thinnest crust available with extra sauce and all the vegetables. Then ask for either no cheese at all or a very light sprinkling of cheese.

Burgers

A juicy cheeseburger is one of those foods that seems to call out to you when you’re hungry. However, consuming too many of them will have you calling out to your cardiologist in a hurry. We checked out the nutrition section at Five Guys Burgers and Fries website. Shockingly, we found that if you order a tasty bacon cheeseburger with a few standard condiments and pickles, you’re looking at 912 calories, 56 grams of fat and 1,805 milligrams of sodium.

Make It This Way at Home

First of all, let’s talk about the burger patty itself. Most restaurants serve patties made from ground beef that’s around 80 percent lean meat. If you want to make a healthier beef patty at home, look for ground beef made from grass-fed cows that’s 95 percent lean meat. This change alone will help you shave off 132 calories and 17 grams of fat from your burger.

Turkey is another option, but make sure you’re selecting lean ground turkey made from white meat. Turkey made from both white and dark meat can be as unhealthy as the fattiest varieties of ground beef.

A third option is a veggie burger patty. All around, most veggie patties are healthier than beef or turkey patties. Look for patties that are made from whole foods like black beans, mushrooms, and vegetables, rather than soy protein and fillers.

Another healthier option for your burger is a serving of cooked produce. Pan-fried cauliflower steaks, grilled portobello mushroom caps or thick sliced, pan-seared avocados are all excellent choices.

As far as toppings go, pile your burger with all kinds of tasty vegetables. Thinly sliced onions are great to give it that classic burger feel. Pan-fry them to bring out their natural sweetness. Sliced tomato, lettuce, pickled jalapenos ― whatever vegetables you would put on a regular burger will work. If you absolutely must have cheese, choose the most natural, hormone-free, organic cheese that you can find, and slice it very thin. You’ll be surprised by how little cheese that you need to get your fix.

For your burger bun, the thinner, the better. I recommend hearty, whole-grain, organic bread over regular buns. One slice, cut in half, normally works well and is more nutritionally dense than most buns. Even so, if you’d rather eliminate grains altogether, consider a nice, full romaine leaf, folded in half with your burger patty inside. Enjoy the same toppings and condiments as you would put on a traditional burger. Ditching the bun can save you up to 300 calories and 5 grams of saturated fat.

Order It This Way When You’re Out

Ordering a more sensible burger at a restaurant is easier than it used to be. More restaurants are now offering at least some type of vegetable patty for health-conscious consumers. If they have it on the menu, a vegetable patty will almost always be lower in saturated fat, cholesterol, and overall calories than a turkey or beef patty.

When a vegetable patty isn’t an option, ask for a grilled chicken breast instead of the burger patty. Load it up with all of their vegetable toppings and ask for a lettuce wrap instead of a bun.

Mint Chocolate Chip Milkshake

Ahh, the mint chocolate chip shake. It’s a cool, refreshing and delectable delight for the taste buds. But that’s where the benefits end folks. We poked around on the Steak ‘n Shake website to find that a regular size mint chocolate chip shake contains 750 calories, 21 grams of fat and an astounding 115 grams of sugar. That’s a lot of refined sugar. It’s more refined sugar than average adults should have in an entire workweek.

Make It This Way at Home

Fortunately, you can still enjoy a delicious mint chocolate chip milkshake with little to no refined sugar. It takes a touch of planning, but it’s worth it. Trust me.

Buy extra bananas next time you shop. Once the bananas have started to get brown and speckled, peel them and put them in a sealed container in your freezer for eight to 10 hours. That’s the time-consuming part. The rest is easy.

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 peeled frozen bananas
  • 1 cup fresh spinach
  • 1/8 teaspoon mint extract
  • 1 cup unsweetened, plant-based milk
  • 1 pinch salt
  • 1 tablespoon chocolate chips

DIRECTIONS

For a single-serve shake, pull out two frozen bananas and put them into your blender. Add spinach, mint extract, milk, and salt. Blend until very smooth. Finally, toss in some chocolate chips ― regular or stevia-sweetened ― and pulse until the chips are broken up a bit. That’s it, folks. Here you have a very tasty, mint chocolate chip milkshake without 115 grams of refined sugar. I promise you can’t taste the spinach leaves at all. They add color and nutrition to this shake.

Order It This Way When You’re Out

There aren’t a lot of healthy milkshake options when you’re dining out. But if you feel that you absolutely must have one, order a kid’s sized shake instead of a regular one and split it with a friend. You’ll still get to enjoy the flavors of a mint chocolate milkshake, but you won’t accidentally slip into a diabetic coma before you finish drinking it.

Popcorn

Can a person enjoy watching a newly released movie without popcorn? We don’t recommend that you even attempt it unassisted. But do give this junk food a full makeover. The folks at AMC Theatres shared that a big tub of their hot buttered movie popcorn contains 1,090 calories, 49 grams of fat and 2,650 milligrams of sodium. Yes, you read it correctly ― 2,650 milligrams. That’s well above the daily recommended limit of sodium for adults.

Make This Way at Home

While microwave popcorn is easy to make at home, it’s not good for you. Our friends at Natural News wrote about the hidden dangers of microwave popcorn recently. They warned us that some of the ingredients in the artificial buttered popcorn flavoring, namely diacetyl, 2,3-pentanedione and 2,3-hexanedione, have been strongly linked to obstructive lung cancer. Many brands also contain hydrogenated oils and the jury is still out on the toxicity of the inner bag lining. While the highly toxic chemical perfluorooctane (PFOA) was recently banned from use in the lining of the popcorn bags, very similar chemical linings have replaced the slick coating, and they are currently causing alarm in the health community for various reasons.

We recommend air popping the corn and adding your own toppings afterward. Start by popping organic popcorn kernels. Then, toss the air-popped corn in a bit of olive oil, coconut oil or melted butter, and sprinkle on some toppings. Nutritional yeast is excellent for adding a delicious cheesy flavor to your popcorn. Ground rosemary, sea salt, granulated garlic, and black pepper are also excellent popcorn toppings.

Order It This Way When You’re Out

There are ways to eat popcorn at the movies without regretting it. If you’re not shameless enough to smuggle in your homemade popcorn in baggies duck taped to the love handles beneath your shirt, order it at the concession stand and ask them to make it without the butter and with a touch of salt. Most theaters are happy to offer unbuttered popcorn to their patrons.

Give Your Junk Food a Healthy Makeover

When you’ve got a craving, but you don’t want to give in to eating straight-up junk, makeover your guilty pleasures into healthier foods that will fuel your body effectively and keep you feeling great.

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