Get smart about cravings
We all have favourite comfort foods. The trouble is, many snacks we reach for when we’re stressed, tired or just plain hungry aren’t very good for us—they’re often high in fat, salt, sugar and calories and low in nutrients. The next time you’re craving chips or ice cream, check in with your body to see if you’re really hungry. “Have you eaten in the past three to four hours? Are you having hunger pangs? Or are you trying to fill an emotional void or deal with stress?” asks Edie Shaw-Ewald, a registered dietitian in Nova Scotia. “Give yourself 15 minutes and do something else—go for a walk or jog, grab a book or clean out a closet—and sometimes the craving will subside.” If the hankering persists, though, read on for alternatives to six common cravings.
The craving: Potato chips
If you’re craving chips, slice some pita bread and toast the pieces with a sprinkle of salt. “Pita chips are low in fat but give you that crunch and some salt,” says Shaw-Ewald. “You could also use cinnamon sugar, or savoury spices like cumin or chili powder.”
Popcorn is another healthy alternative, as long as you don’t put a lot of melted butter or salt on it. Air-popped is best; avoid the fat-laden microwave versions.
The craving: Chocolate
The stuff most people crave is milk chocolate, which is high in fat and sugar. Instead, pick dark chocolate with at least 70 percent cocoa—the flavour is so rich that you only need a small piece to feel satisfied, plus it’s loaded with disease-fighting antioxidants. You can also slurp your treat, says Shaw-Ewald. “I like to have a cup of hot chocolate, made with plain dark cocoa, milk and a bit of sugar.”
The craving: French fries
This deep-fried snack tends to be high in fat, sodium and calories. Choose a healthier spud instead—sweet potatoes have a lower glycemic index (you’ll feel satisfied longer), and they’re high in antioxidants such as beta-carotene, says Shaw-Ewald. “Satisfy a craving while nourishing yourself,” she suggests. “Cut a sweet potato into wedges, drizzle with a little olive oil and roast in the oven. Sprinkle with salt or spices like cumin or curry powder.” There are many other healthy potato recipes. If nothing but fast-food fries will do, have a small serving. Eat slowly and enjoy it, then return to healthier noshing for your next bite.
The craving: Doughnuts
Love doughnuts and other baked goods? You can still enjoy them—but minimize the damage with smaller portions. Shaw-Ewald suggests occasionally enjoying a couple of doughnut holes rather than a whole doughnut. “We get the most satisfaction from the first couple of bites anyway,” she says. “Just don’t tempt yourself by bringing a 12-pack home.”
Also try creating healthier versions of your favourites. If cinnamon rolls are your weakness, try toasting a slice of whole-grain bread sprinkled with cinnamon.
The craving: Ice cream
Pick lower-calorie soft-serve over the creamy type, and ask for a small or kid-sized serving. “The first three or four licks are probably best, so you don’t need a huge amount to satisfy a craving,” says Shaw-Ewald, adding that it’s a good idea to go out for a single cone rather than buying a whole tub. Eating at home? Try fruit- and vegetable-based “ice creams” (they’re delicious) like pumpkin or banana soft serve or raspberry sorbet. You’ll be amazed at how they satisfy your craving.
If you think frozen yogurt is a healthier treat, think again: “You could get about the same calories as from ice cream, and maybe more sugar,” says Shaw-Ewald. Fruit sorbet or a frozen fruit bar (without artificial flavours or colours) would likely be better choices. “Check labels to compare the calories, fat and sugar, and make a decision based on that.”
The craving: Pizza
Take-out pizza tends to be high in sodium and dripping with grease. Spare your waistline by making your own. “You can design it to be healthier. I always start with a whole-wheat pita and put on a nice tomato sauce or pesto,” says Shaw-Ewald. “Add lots of vegetables and just a sprinkling of cheese—you can get a skim-milk mozzarella.”
If you do get delivery, ask for a thin crust, double the veggies and half the cheese, she advises. “And skip the processed meats. They’re high in fat and sodium, and they have nitrates, which are carcinogenic.”