No matter how hard you try, unhealthy foods are almost impossible to avoid. Junk food assaults us on our way to work, at the grocery store checkout and even on TV. While completely avoiding junk food is practically impossible, at the very least, you can satisfy your cravings by replacing junk foods with healthy substitutes.
To guide you on this transformation, AskMen has compiled a list of the top 10 junk food substitutes.
By Jacob Franek , Health Correspondent
Use as a substitute for: Microwave popcorn
A few years back, the public was shocked when workers at a popcorn factory fell ill to a condition known as popcorn lung. The respiratory disorder was caused by inhaling diacetyl, a chemical used to give bagged popcorn its buttery flavor.
The risk to consumers eating popcorn was thought to be low; however, in 2007, American popcorn addict and self-proclaimed popcorn bag-sniffer, Wayne Watson, sued manufacturers after he developed popcorn lung. Manufacturers have since made changes, but if you’re still concerned, why not pop your own organic corn?
Use as a substitute for: Candy
As far as nutritional content is concerned, candy is about as bad as bad as it can get. Loaded with unhealthy refined sugar, candy offers nothing beneficial to the body - no fiber, no protein, no vitamins or minerals - only empty calories.
Despite the fact that refined sugar is firmly linked to obesity and diabetes, the average American citizen still consumes 24.7 pounds of candy each year! To counter candy cravings, try switching to dried fruit alternatives, like figs, apricots or dates. While still on the sweet side, these dried fruits are full of fiber and important minerals like potassium.
Use as a substitute for: Chocolate bars
Let’s face it, some men and women absolutely adore chocolate. The problem is that many popular chocolate bars are high in calories, refined sugars and saturated fats - all of which have been linked to adverse health events. Even more worrisome is that many U.S. candy companies are silently substituting real cocoa for more cost-friendly alternatives like vegetable oil.
The result is “chocolate-flavored” candy and not the real thing. To ensure that you are still getting heart-healthy flavonoids from your chocolate, substitute those brand-name chocolate bars for organic or milk-free dark chocolates that are high in cocoa content and free of additives.
Use as a substitute for: Cake
It’s no mistake that there is a cake named after the devil himself. After all, most cakes are brimming with refined sugar and can easily exceed 300 calories per serving with 10 or more grams of saturated fats and little to no protein or fiber.
Thankfully, you can be your own cake-manager by choosing a healthy alternative like banana bread. Whip up a loaf using whole wheat flour, wheat germ, ground flax seed, and some crushed nuts and you’ll have a recipe for health success!
Use as a substitute for: French fries
It’s no secret that French fries are the darling of the American fast-food industry. This deep-fried finger food may taste great, but fries are also dangerously high in sodium, trans fat and calories. A large box of popular French fries will cost you anywhere from 500 to 600 calories.
To satisfy those salty urges, whip up some homemade, oven-roasted sweet potato wedges instead. Sweet potatoes are an excellent, antioxidant rich, anti-inflammatory alternative to white potatoes. Just brush with olive oil, add a pinch of sea salt and roast.
Use as a substitute for: Calorie-rich energy drinks
Energy drinks are notorious for their sugar content. Even one small drink may contain well over 100 calories. Energy drinks are also loaded with caffeine, which can cause irritability, nervousness and sleeping problems. Additional ingredients like taurine, ginseng and ginkgo biloba are claimed to boost energy, but in reality, there is little-to-no scientific evidence to support such claims.
For the calorie-conscious men who are in need of hydration and energy, drinks like POWERADE ZERO are a great alternative, offering up all of the body’s electrolytic needs with zero sugar and calories.
Use as a substitute for: Potato chips
Potatoes are back on the most wanted list, only this time in the form of potato chips. Although the snack food industry is rapidly changing to meet the health demands of consumers, many chip varieties are still on the salty side and loaded with saturated fats. Potato chips, along with fries, have also been indicted for containing acrylamide, a possible cancer-causing chemical.
Help your health by skipping chips next time you’re feeling snackish and instead fill your gut with whole wheat pita pockets that are packed full of fiber and antioxidants like phenolic acid. Dip in hummus to add protein and flavor.
Use as a substitute for: Soda
Most sodas, including diet sodas, are 100 percent nutrition-free. That’s right, no benefit whatsoever. In fact, drinking only a few sodas a day may lead to tooth decay, obesity, diabetes, and even heart disease. And it’s not just the calorie content that’s worrisome, it’s also the sweetness. Even low-calorie diet drinks are dangerous because they can feed your sweet tooth, leading to downstream sugary snacking.
Let your soda cravings fizzle by switching to a nice glass of mineral water with a touch of lime or lemon instead. Limes are high in vitamin C and also contain flavonoids with anti-cancer and antibiotic properties.
Use as a substitute for: Ice cream
Ice cream may be decadent and delicious, but it’s also bad for your health. A 2003 study by the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) found that a single scoop of premium ice cream contained about 250 to 350 calories and a half-a-day’s worth of saturated fat.
To avoid this calorie-heavy nightmare, opt for organic probiotic yogurt. Early evidence on the health benefits of probiotic bacteria looks promising with studies showing that probiotics may help prevent stomach and urinary tract infections. Lastly, yogurt is also full of calcium.
Use as a substitute for: Sugary cereals
Lucky Charms may be magically delicious, but it's also full of empty calories. Even cereals touted as “healthy” have a great deal of added sugar and, often, little fiber. If you need a healthy breakfast alternative, try boiling some steel cut oats.
Oats help to stabilize blood sugar, they reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and can lower your cholesterol. To improve taste, add a few antioxidant-rich blueberries and granola and you’ll be serving up some health magic.
More from AskMen.com:
Fight aging and obesity - exchange your junk food for these healthy alternatives.