The Best Healthy Swaps for Junk Food

by Kylene Bogden, Sports Dietitian

Have you ever removed an entire food group as a desperate attempt to lose weight? Deprived yourself on a 1,000 calorie plan each day? Followed the latest and greatest fad diet that you recently discovered on Google? No shame in that game. I think it’s safe to say that the vast majority of us have been there at one point in our lives.

Over the past 20-30 years, society has repeatedly told us that counting calories, avoiding fat, relying on artificial sweeteners etc. is truly the way to lose weight. Unfortunately, this could not be further from the truth.

Those days are over my friend.  Let me help you lose weight in the safest and most effective way possible.

What exactly do I mean by that? It means we will be starting with the cornerstone of weight loss, arguably the most essential part of in the process: the removal of added sugar.

In today’s article, we will discuss healthy swaps for junk food as added sugar is your number one enemy when it comes to weight loss.

We All Want Healthy Swaps for Junk Food

If I had a dollar for every time someone came to my office and said, “But I can’t eat that, it’s just too many calories!!” or “Well, I am under my calorie allotment most days so I can’t figure out why I am not losing weight!”, then I would have enough dough to retire at this point.

Science has progressed so far that we now know that counting calories are a very outdated approach. Why? Because a calorie does not equal a calorie!! It’s just not that simple. We are highly complex beings and we all digest and absorb nutrients quite differently. Not to mention that protein, carbohydrates, and fat- our macronutrients- digest differently as well.  The QUALITY of the food that you eat matters so much more than the QUANTITY when it comes to achieving ultimate health and effortless weight loss.

Why is Added Sugar Such a Problem?

Added sugar has swept our country right off its feet- literally! Rates of obesity and chronic disease are at a record high and over time, top researchers finally realized that it was sugar, not fat, that is mostly to blame. How can this be?

ADDED SUGAR IS HIGHLY ADDICTIVE.

Check out the research and you fill find that sugar has proven itself to be just as addictive if not more addictive than cocaine.

Yes, we said cocaine!

How crazy is that? Crazy but true. When we eat sugar, the opiate receptors in our brain are activated and the neurotransmitter dopamine is released. Dopamine is a part of our brain’s “reward center” and when released, we experience an incredible “high” that we can’t wait to experience again. So, we continue to eat sugar. The more sugar we eat, the more we need to be able to stimulate dopamine in that same fashion. Soon enough, we are not only addicted to sugar but hardwired to feel that we need sugar for daily survival.

Before we know it, we are skipping out on nutrient rich foods in order to indulge in sweet treats. The end result? Fatigue, headaches, hormonal imbalance, bloating, trouble sleeping, belly fat and the inability to lose weight.

Added Sugar is Everywhere

Sure, you may not be downing candy bars and soda on the hour but that does not mean you’re not consuming your fair share of added sugar. Not only does sugar make food taste great, but it adds texture and color. Companies will also use sugar as a preservative, a bulking agent, and a way to enhance the fermentation process of many foods.

In other words, be sure to check the ingredient list on your granola, bread, yogurt, etc. since added sugar can lurk in virtually any food product. A few bites here and a few sips there and you may find yourself consuming a week’s worth of added sugar in just one day!

So, how does this translate to real life, usable information for you?

Read on to learn the best healthy swaps for junk food.

Fighting the Love of Morning Strudel or Sugar Laden Bowl of Cereal

How does one avoid the aisles of rainbow-colored, sugar-sweetened cereals and toaster treats?!

For many, this breakfast habit was ingrained in us growing up. After all, foods like cereal and strudel taste sweet and they are extremely convenient when rushing around in the a.m.

The problem? Despite the calories in a bowl of cereal or breakfast pastry being fairly low, the nutrient composition of these foods is poor. These heavily processed items consist primarily of refined flour, sugar, and artificial coloring. Protein, fat, and fiber are virtually non-existent. When it comes to weight loss and setting yourself up for success for the rest of the day, you lost after the first bite.

Just remember, one of the biggest keys to weight loss is controlling blood sugar throughout the day.Foods such as cereal, pastries, and dessert are the biggest offenders when it comes to disrupting blood sugar balance.

Instead, create a flavor profile in your smoothie or bowl of oatmeal that matches your favorite treat. Check out these sweet swaps for inspiration:

Cinnamon Pastry Swap

Love cinnamon pastries? Reinvent your oats. Add 2 teaspoons of cinnamon, a scoop of vanilla protein powder and TBSP of almond butter in your bowl of hot oatmeal.

Fruity Cereal Swap

Dream of a fruity flavored bowl of cereal with a little crunch? Make a shake with a scoop or two of strawberry protein powder, 1/2 cup frozen pineapple, 1/2 cup frozen blueberries, 1 cup unsweetened almond milk, 1 TBSP chia seeds.

Chocolate Swap

More of a chocolate fan? Try a nutrient dense breakfast pudding. Soak 1 cup of pecans overnight. Drain the next morning and blend in blender with 1 banana, 1 can of unsweetened coconut milk, 1 scoop of almond or peanut butter and 2-3 teaspoons of cacao powder. Pour into a bowl and eat with a spoon. Tastes great hot or cold. (Makes 2-2.5 servings.)

What if I Just Can’t Function Without that Delicious Flavored Latte…

Whether it be the sugar, the caffeine, or both, so many of us are dependent on our daily flavored lattes. Some of us can’t speak English without one first thing in the morning. Others need one to get through the last half of the workday. And then of course, there are those of us who take advantage of both occasions.

Regardless of your style, liquid sugar is one of the fastest ways to accumulate body fat. Add a mega dose of caffeine on top of that and you are sure to fail with your weight loss efforts, especially if this is a daily or even weekly routine.

Combining caffeine with sugar results in a surge in cortisol in our bodies. Cortisol is your body’s main stress hormone. It is responsible for managing your body’s use of carbohydrates, protein and fat. Cortisol also plays a role in blood sugar production. When you are under stress (or consuming large amounts of caffeine each day), you are causing your  body to feel that “fight or flight response.” Cortisol then alerts your body to produce more glucose in order to “fight” . When your body thinks it is “fighting” each day, this causes a constant rise in blood sugar, ultimately prompting fat storage, particularly around your midsection.

If you just can’t live without caffeine, try incorporating a natural source of caffeine to your morning breakfast. That is the best way to experience the energy boost without the added sugar and blood sugar crash.

Try mixing a shot of espresso into your bowl of peanut butter, banana oatmeal. Instead of using water or milk in your morning smoothie, use a cup of iced green tea as the liquid. Or, if coffee is your love, use a cup of coffee as the base of your smoothie.

Many of my athletes also enjoy the coffee flavor of the Garden of Life Sport Organic Plant Based Protein as their morning protein powder for oats and smoothies.

If the flavor of coffee is solely what you love and you could take or leave the caffeine, then why not switch to some amazing organic water processed decaffeinated coffee? Water processing does not use chemicals to extract the caffeine out of coffee. This means you can still enjoy the rich flavor without sacrificing your health.

Hot Cinnamon Latte:
1 cup Swiss Water Processed Decaf
1 teaspoon of cinnamon
Pinch of nutmeg
2 TBSP of canned pumpkin or sweet potato puree
Splash of unsweetened almond milk (or use enough until you are comfortable with the color of your coffee)

Frozen Peanut Butter Latte:
1 cup cold Swiss Water Processed Decaf
1 frozen banana
1 TBSP unsweetened peanut butter
1 cup unsweetened almond milk
Optional: sprinkle of unsweetened cocoa powder

Blend and enjoy!

If you would like to take it one step further, replace the decaf with Michael’s favorite caffeine-free coffee replacement (yes, it is actually ZERO caffeine), Capomo Maya Nut Coffee Replacement.

The best part of all? You will save money while shrinking your waistline.  Think about it, a $5.00 late 3x a week amounts to $780 a year. Over 5 years, that is $3,900! Think of how many better things you could do with that chunk of change.

Problem: I am not Human without My Afternoon Chocolate

Is chocolate really the answer for your afternoon pick-me-up or is instead a lack of sleep, poor meal timing, or even worse, the moment your caffeine high finally comes to a halt?

If sleep is great, meals/snacks are balanced and not skipped, and you are not a caffeine addict, then there can be a time and a place for good quality chocolate!

Believe it or not, dark chocolate is FULL of disease-fighting antioxidants and powerful minerals.However, most chocolate on the market is laced with preservatives and some brands barely even contain any cacao (the purest form of chocolate).

If you just have to have your afternoon chocolate, follow these guidelines:

  • Choose a bar that contains 80% cacao or greater.
  • Read the ingredient list carefully. It should contain cacao, a natural sweetener, usually cocoa butter and maybe a natural flavoring agent such as vanilla bean. That’s about it.
  • Feel like you can’t stop after one square? Break two small squares off of your bar and spread a little nut butter or sunflower seed butter on each piece. This not only adds a new flavor dimension, but helps you to feel more full with less chocolate. Plus, if dark chocolate tastes bitter to you, adding a little peanut, almond or cashew butter to your bar helps tremendously to offset that taste. You can dip the pieces in the nut butter or spread the nut butter in between the pieces to make a little chocolate sandwich.

Word to the wise for those who are caffeine sensitive: a daily dose of mid-afternoon chocolate is potent enough to keep you awake at night.  Keep a journal and track symptoms if you think this might be a problem.

What if I Need Something Sweet After Dinner to Feel Complete

Newsflash! If you still crave sugar after dinner, even after you have strictly removed all added sugar from your diet for at least 10 days, then it typically implies one of two things:

A) There is something deeper below the surface. Very common examples include nutrient deficiencies or yeast overgrowth. Both of these situations are typically a result of eating the Standard American Diet for so many years as well as the frequent use of medications that are known for throwing off the balance of bacteria in your gut (antibiotics, NSAIDS, contraceptives, etc.).

Great quality, high fiber, whole food, feeds the good bugs in our gut! If we repeatedly choose to eat foods that are processed and filled with sugar, those bugs are not fed properly. Pair that with a load of medications and now all of our good bugs start to disappear and the bad bugs overgrow.

In some cases, good bugs overgrow and when they start to dominate our intestinal lining or other places in our body, it can be problematic.  Yeast, or candida overgrowth is often the end result of this process. Common symptoms of yeast overgrowth include bloating, fatigue, itching and EXTREME sugar cravings that do not go away despite appropriate dietary changes.

B) Your dietary intake during the day is not meeting your estimated needs. I am referring to high quality protein and fat intake. Each meal should contain a palm full of protein. Eggs, beans, chicken, fish, tofu etc. it doesn’t matter, just pick something! Each meal should also include roughly 1-2 TBSP plant-based fat. Think chia seeds, flaxseed, olive oil, guacamole, and almond butter!

Eating enough dietary fat is one of the best ways to demolish sugar cravings for good.

When I say intake, I am also referring to meal timing. If you eat once early on in your day and then do not eat again until you come home at night 6-7 hours later, you are going to be in trouble. Blood sugar will be so low and your body will feel so deprived that you feel the need to play “catch up”. Your brain starts to demand sugar and excess quantities of food to help your body achieve that state of normalcy again.

So, beat yourself to the punch. Set a timer on your phone to eat roughly every 4 hours when awake. 3 meals and afternoon snack works best for most individuals but you will want to tailor the approach to your unique schedule and training demands.

But that Late Night Bowl of Ice Cream is how I Relax

Are you a little cookie monster before bed? Does a bowl of ice cream (or maybe 3) help you to doze off?

I get it, sometimes there is just nothing to replace that cool, creamy mouth feel.  So, lets try a much healthier version of that cold, smooth treat.

Step 1: Grab a can of full fat or light coconut milk. (This will be in the dry aisle of your grocery store, typically in the ethnic section.)

Step 2: Open the can and stir together the oil and cream so that it is one blended substance.

Step 3: Pour approximately half of the can out into your blender and blend with 1 cup of your favorite frozen fruit or 1/2 cup of two of your favorites. (I love strawberry and mango).

Step 4: Pour into a bowl and eat immediately with a spoon.

BOOM! Done! Cold creamy mouth feels with ZERO added sugar PLUS a dose of antioxidants from the fruit and added minerals from the canned coconut.

Would I recommend eating before bed every night? No, but this will suffice as a nice treat 1-2x/week. Just be sure to leave 1-2 hours between your evening snack and sleep for optimal digestion.

At the end of the day, no human should be trapped in a world where all they can think about is measuring portions and counting calories. Weight loss can be stress and starvation free and strategies such as mindful eating can assist in helping achieve success that is sustainable.  These approaches, combined with eating whole foods and using a sweet swap approach to eating your favorite treats are helpful for all athletes. Not only can some trimming and weight loss be achieved, but overall health will improve as well!

Interested in working with Kylene? Email her today at kylene@paragoncle.com. Simply looking to learn a little more? Follow Kylene on instagram @FWDfuel




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