The next time you feel like foraging in the cupboard or fridge, consider that mindless snacking can pack on the pounds. Here, Cleveland Clinic registered dietitians team up to offer you seven healthy alternatives to time-honored comfort foods:
1. Crunch time: Rethink chips & dip
Crunching your way through a big bag of salty potato chips, corn chips or cheese doodles will make your fat, calorie and sodium intake skyrocket. Onion or ranch dip adds calories, saturated fat and sodium.
Instead, try 1-ounce snack packs of tortilla, multigrain or baked, reduced-fat potato chips — or measure out one serving in a small bowl. Scoop up salsa (loaded with lycopene and vitamin C, but watch sodium content), hummus (filled with fiber and protein, but make sure there is no added oil) or yogurt-based dip (providing calcium and protein).
A big bowl of ice cream seems like a great way to treat yourself. The bad news is that it’s high in saturated fat, sugar and calories.
Instead, try an all-fruit frozen bar, ½ cup of low-fat ice cream or frozen yogurt, or sugar-free popsicles or fudge bars. Make your own treat by stirring blueberries or raspberries into fat-free yogurt and freezing. Or try frozen grapes. If you must have the real thing, go out for a single scoop — or better yet, a small soft-serve cone. Stick to chocolate, vanilla or strawberry (forget rocky road or cookies and cream) and then take a 30-minute walk.
3. PB&J: Time for an upgrade
Talk about a comfort food — peanut butter and jelly sandwiches take us straight back to childhood! Peanut butter has fiber, protein, B vitamins and monounsaturated fats, but it’s high in calories. Store brands have added sugar and salt. Traditional white bread has little nutritional value, and jelly is 100 percent sugar.
Instead, try spreading just 2 tablespoons of all-natural peanut butter (no added salt, sugar or oils) or almond butter on whole-grain bread. Sweeten with sliced bananas or strawberries, or with 1 tablespoon of pure fruit spread, or drizzle with a teaspoon of honey. Or forgo the bread entirely, and spread natural peanut butter on apple slices.
4. Thirsty? Get tough on soft drinks
Pop open a can of soda when you’re thirsty, and you’ll feel refreshed. But you’re basically drinking sugar water with zero nutritional value. For a healthier alternative, try making a juice spritzer. Add a splash of soda water, diet ginger ale or diet lemon-lime soda to half a cup of 100 percent grape, orange or cranberry-blend juice with ice. Or cool off with diet tonic water and a wedge of lemon. Better yet, try water — it truly is “the real thing!”
Leftover birthday cake just begs to be eaten. Store-bought cakes are high in sugar, saturated fat and trans fat (especially that fabulous buttercream frosting).
Try baking homemade angel food or sponge cake, then dressing it up with a fruit topping or spreading fruit-flavored “lite” yogurt on top. Or choose to limit the damage by ordering a single decadent piece of cake at a restaurant and sharing it. Having a party? Send extra dessert home with your guests or toss it.
6. Starved? Build a better sandwich
Old-fashioned bologna-and-cheese sandwiches, typically made with white bread, are high in fat, saturated fat and sodium. Bologna and other processed deli meats also contain preservatives and other agents linked to increased risks of heart disease, diabetes and cancer.
Instead, buy low-fat, reduced-sodium turkey, chicken or lean beef slices, or water-packed tuna. Place them on whole-grain, rye, pumpernickel, light or thin-sliced bread. Top with reduced-fat cheese, avocado slices, lettuce, spinach leaves, alfalfa sprouts, shredded carrots, or thin-sliced apple or cucumber for extra vitamins, nutrients and fiber (plus moisture, flavor and crunch).
Slathering sandwiches with ketchup, mayo or butter only adds unwanted fat and/or sugar. But don’t settle for a dry sandwich — try mustard (experiment with flavored and hot varieties), hummus without added oils, low-fat olive- or canola-oil-based mayo or sandwich spreads, or low-fat cream cheese.
Maxine Smith, RD, LD, Outpatient Nutrition Therapy; Julia R. Zumpano, RD, LD, Preventive Cardiology and Rehabilitation; Kathleen McLaughlin, RD, LD, Inpatient Nutrition Therapy; and Andrea Dunn, RD, LD, CDE (Certified Diabetes Educator), provided these nutrition tips.