The 10 All-Time Most Tempting Junk Foods (and smart alternatives)

These common health offenders are incredibly tempting for even the most disciplined person from time to time. We bring you some sensible alternatives for those moments when you are wavering.

1. French fries

This is the ultimate junk food for most of us – and America’s #1 consumed “vegetable”. (Shudder.) French fries satisfy that craving for fat and saltiness, but because they are actually a starch, your blood sugar pays the price. Part of the reason they are so addictive is that there is a tremendous amount of oral reinforcement – much like smoking a cigarette.

Here are a couple of ideas: You can make yam fries at home – simply slice, coat with egg whites and a seasoning like Lawry’s, and bake instead of frying. When you’re at a restaurant, get creamed spinach or buttered broccoli instead of fries to kill those fat-salt cravings while providing fiber and vitamins. At convenience stores, go for a stick of string cheese. At fast-food joints, get a small salad and enjoy some grated cheese or creamy dressing to mimic the saltiness and fatty mouth-feel of a french fry.

2. Donuts

Take hydrogenated fat and bleached worthless flour. Combine. Now deep fry in lard. Wow, sounds excellent! A fluffy, tender, sweet donut is a brutal temptation found in seemingly every office in America. Just say no, and bite into trail mix instead. Cashews and pistachios are particularly good as substitutes because they are so fatty and contain a hint of sweetness.

3. Chips

Like french fries, chips quickly become addictive with each additional crispy bite. The combination of sodium, trans fat, and empty sugar (the starch) makes the chip one of the most nutrient-deficient and simultaneously unhealthy foods on the planet. Chips are easier to control, however, as they usually aren’t offered to you at restaurants. You have to hit up the vending machine or take home a few packs from the store. Simply stop doing that, silly! To deal with snack cravings, go for nuts. Also consider if you are drinking enough water every day. Properly hydrated bodies don’t crave as much salt. Try it!

4. Ice cream

Ice cream and milkshakes are incredibly satisfying because they are loaded with fat and sugar. Just ask Mark. He used to tear through an entire carton of ice cream every night in his running days! To kill the ice cream craving, a smart idea is to simply allow yourself a planned indulgence once a month with the absolute richest, highest quality ice cream around. That is usually enough to satisfy cravings and also remind you why you have given up junk food in the first place (oh, those sugar hangovers). You can try the malitol and “no sugar added” varieties, but they’re loaded with chemicals and are rather sorry alternatives, in our opinion.

5. Fried…oh, fried anything!

You get to a restaurant and have the best of intentions: fish and vegetables only! That’s terrific, except for the fact that you’ve ordered fried fish. Breaded and deep-fried seafood, chicken, cheese and snacks are weak points for many people. But the truth is that extra flavor – from seasonings like garlic, sea salt, herbs, and good stock – can fool your mouth pretty easily. Now that we know fat isn’t bad for us, be generous with the olive oil or butter and you’ll satisfy your body’s cravings without wandering into trans-fat sugar-shock territory. At home, you can pan fry chicken, fish, pork chops or a small steak at searing high heat with some butter or coconut oil to lock in a crispy natural crust that is just as good as anything breaded and deep fried. And stay away from the 88 deadliest foods.

6. Candy bars

This is easy: simply indulge in a small portion of dark chocolate and berries or a piece of fruit! You can also whip up a protein smoothie with fruit instead of chomping down on bars. Trail mix provides chewiness, fiber, and the salty-sweet taste we love. In fact, there’s just no reason to eat a candy bar with all the wonderful dark chocolate and exotic fruits available these days! The best part: these alternatives are good for you.

7. Soda

If it’s not a fried latte, it’s a can of Coke. Sweet drinks in general are the nutrition world’s minefield, and your body doesn’t need any of these sugar bombs going off inside it. If you can go cold turkey, good for you. Alternatives include diet soda, which we don’t recommend, but sometimes baby steps are in order. You might try seltzer water with a squeeze of orange, lemon or a few raspberries for flavor. Water doesn’t have to be boring: add a sprig of fresh mint or a few slices of cucumber.

8. Pizza

Oh, the greasy, melting cheese atop that fluffy, crispy crust of starch. Toss in some “meat” toppings and it really doesn’t get any worse. Pizza is America’s favorite dinner and corporate America’s default lunch: we eat 100 acres of the stuff daily. No wonder we’re so overweight and diabetic. A better alternative is a grilled chicken breast with marinara and melted provolone, or a salad jammed with chewy, satisfying ingredients like cheese, chicken, boiled eggs, artichokes, nuts, and mushrooms.

9. Cookies

It’s often easy enough to turn down pie or cake or some other dessert. But those blasted cookies are everywhere! Meetings, church, school plays, sporting events, games, even in the waiting room! You might need to consider keeping a steady supply of trail mix or nuts in your purse or glove compartment if cookies are a weakness for you. Though even a little sugar can get you back into the craving cycle, if you are someone who can control your intake easily, consider just eating one bite of the cookie. And we also recommend going the route of ice cream and planning an indulgence in one amazing cookie every month or so, rather than stuffing yourself with the unsatisfying little dried buggers that pop up everywhere. After a few of those, you don’t feel good and may still crave the decadent cookie anyway.

10. What’s your biggest dietary temptation and how do you control it?

Photo by Sarah Bara Wears Mascara

Further reading:

Foods That Fight Inflammation

5 Tips to Avoid Temptation

If You’re Gonna Cheat, Do It Right

16 Ultimate Super Foods

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30 thoughts on “The 10 All-Time Most Tempting Junk Foods (and smart alternatives)”

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  1. I don’t really have any cravings. None of those things exists in my head. I would never buy such stuff myself, when I’m out grocery shopping I don’t even see them. The biggest danger is birthday parties etc., cause if it’s there I may go bananas even though I normally don’t think about crappy food at all.

    1. Same boat…

      at the grocery store, the only packaged item I’d ever buy is canned tuna. Other than that, it’s fresh fruits and veggies, and meat from a real butcher.

      But, somebody left a bagel on my desk this morning at work, and that thing was in my stomach in 30 seconds.

  2. Jonas, you are lucky!

    I have a terrible time with cravings – it’s something I’m working on training myself out of. Your mention of “the craving cycle” gives me hope that, like an addiction, it will get easier with time. Habits work like that too, I hope. Right?

    Anyway. Right now my biggest craving is peanut butter. The problem isn’t that it’s a bad food, it’s that I crave it at night, when I’m likely to let one small spoonful turn into… more. So I have some with breakfast, when I’m more on top of monitoring my portions and not just noshing. That’s the planned indulgence tact, I suppose. Just on a day-by-day basis.

    I know they’re processed, but I feel like soy crisps are a much-lesser-evil alternative to potato chips, too. Plain or just salted ones don’t have any sketchy flavorings or anything.
    For salt cravings I also love pickles. Great mouth-happy crunch, and bonus – no calories.

    For cookies I make a raw-food recipe – food processed dates and almonds (pre-soaked), mixed with coconut flakes, cinnamon, and nutmeg, and then rolled into little balls and coated with a little more coconut, chilled in the freezer to set. (You can mix in dark chocolate chips for added punch.) It’s a little labor-intensive (and time alone kills some cravings) but they keep in the freezer or fridge pretty well. Although the dates have some sugar, it’s all healthy whole foods. It’s closer to cookie dough than cookies, but still delicious.

    (Longest comment ever? Cravings and I have a complicated relationship… Thanks for a great article on the subject!)

  3. It’s amazing that I have gone through three months of seeing a half gallon of Blue Bell Homemade Vanilla ice cream in the freezer and haven’t attacked it once. I love the stuff!! I don’t know if I should follow that once a month advice–it might turn into “all month!” 🙂

  4. I’ve found that baking a pizza at home is much more satisfying than anything you can purchase. There are some delicious whole-grain crusts that go well with spinach/collard greens, artichokes, peppers, onions and mushrooms.

  5. Haha, I like the ice cream one. There is no alternative to a rich, delicious scoop of ice cream. Never! I’m on board… planned indulgence.

  6. I forgot another substitution! For pizza. My roommate used to make this all the time. Grill rounds of eggplant, and when they’re mostly-cooked, top with tomato sauce and some sort of healthy(er) cheese, then broil till cheese is melted. I bet you could make little bite-sized ones with zucchini, too. I also sautee zucchini (just olive oil and sea salt) and then mix with tomato sauce and cottage cheese, but that’s getting into weirdo food territory. 🙂

  7. I battle a chocolate addiction on a daily basis. It seems that right after lunch or dinner, my sweet tooth kicks into high gear, and, no matter how full I may be from the meal I just finished, I crave some chocolate. Dark chocolate, of course. I can sometimes go a few days at a time without it, but my wife knows that the house must stock a steady supply of dark chocolate to satisfy my nigh addictive impulses.

    I’m also tempted by raw almond butter on a somewhat daily basis. I’ll go looking for something in the fridge, and the almod butter stares back at me, beckoning me to grab a spoon from the drawer and eat just a spoonful, which then turns into two or three spoonfuls before I muster the self-control to put it back in the fridge.

    I’m usually pretty good about not eating doughnuts or cookies, unless someone else bakes them, in which case, all bets are off. I have been known though to purchase Double-Stuffed Oreos and go to town.

    I rarely ever drink soda. The only time I really indulge is if I’m drinking, in which case my beverage of choice is Jack and Coke or Vanilla Stoli and Coke. Not the healthiest of options I’m sure, but, then again, neither I’m sure no matter what I would be drinking, alcohol just ain’t gonna do a body good in the quantities I sometimes indulge in.

    Wow, this really makes me come off pretty bad. The truth is, I have very little self-control when I’m around deliciously unhealthy food. I’m getting better, but I do, on occasion, binge, and, I can assure you, the resulting digestive turmoil keeps me gunshy for a short period of time.

    Now that I’m trying to cut out refined carbohydrates and breads, I find that I crave plain brown rice or poppyseed bagels.

    I can truly identify with those people who claim sugar and carbohydrates are addictive, as I’m pretty sure I’m a closet (though somewhat now more exposed) addict.

  8. Bread. I crave a sandwhich sometimes. Or just toast with butter.
    So…. Sami’s bakery has this millet and flax bread (brown rice flour, millet and flax, sea salt. that’s all). 2-3 slices a month for me takes care of the craving. toasted with some organic butter. Or tempeh and avocado on it. yum.

  9. I’ve got the same chocolate addiction as Mike. The healthier I eat, the more chocolate i crave.. there are days I completely mess up and only have time to grab a quick sandwich, and those days i dont even want to think about chocolate..
    When I’m having eggs, tomatoes and spinach for breakfast, big huge salad with tune for lunch, pieces of chicken and walnuts for snacks and a nice piece of steak with a whole plate full of veggies for dinner all i want is chocolate.. the 1 bit thing doesn’t work for me.. I’ve tried, but as soon as I open up a bar, i eat at least half 🙁
    The only thing i’ve come up with so far to limit the chocolate intake is to take f/e almond or hazelnut covered chocolate, or a bar with hazelnuts and cranberries.. but it still feels like way to much….

    1. One thing that helps me with the chocolate cravings is to have pure dark coco powder (unsweetened) in the house. I like to add it to my morning coffee. If you do dairy it is great in full-fat plain yogurt or milk. Otherwise, it’s pure heaven mixed with coconut milk! This way you get the taste and antioxidants without the sugar from the bars… which never last more than an evening in my home. 🙂

  10. Naomi – A trick that works for me is to, when I buy a chocolate bar, break it into reasonable servings, and put each in a little ziploc bag in the cupboard. That way I can grab one baggie and either bring it to work to have with lunch, or eat at home, but it’s a bigger mental barrier to reach for a second bag than to break off a little more from a big bar. It’s not fool-proof, but it helps.

  11. Cool Mint Chocolate Clif Bars are my biggest craving.

    I’m lucky in that the stuff mentioned holds no interest to me at all.

  12. Another chocolate fan. Fortunately, I’m picky about chocolate, preferring the dark stuff high in anti-oxidants. I buy Lindt’s because their dark chocolate varieties contain no milkfat. The 75% Ecuador cocoa and mint are my favorites. The nice thing about good chocolate is that only a little satisfies. An occasional alternative to chocolate is maple butter. Like dark chocolate, maple butter is incredibly rich, so a little dab is enough to please the palate.

  13. Because of food allergies (wheat, corn, soy, eggs) almost all junk food is out for me. If I have a craving, doesn’t matter, can’t eat it. BUT, I can eat Lay’s Wavy potato chips and certain flavors of Breyer’s and Dreyer’s Ice Creams. And ooooh, man, I wrestle with those. I just feel gross for days after indulging (because I don’t do it on a small scale), but I want to anyhow. Once a month… I’ll try to employ that.

  14. Naomi, my diet is virtually identical to yours and I, too, crave dark chocolate a lot. I indulge it! I eat it with almond or cashew butter or figs or blue cheese. Dark chocolate is really my only source of sugar outside of fruit and wine or beer, so I don’t worry too much about it. 🙂 I do splurge once a month or so on bad carbs like a fried appetizer or a dessert, but boy do I pay the price afterwards (headache, moodiness)…and wonder why on earth I did it! 😉

  15. Ahh Sara, you do indeed sound just like me 😀 Also have that monthly fall back, and exactly the same results.. it’s kind of a good thing tho, because it does really stop the craving for a while ^^
    Maybe I shouldnt worry about the chocolate to much.. Only thing that really bothers me is spots.. only just came out of my teen years (i’d like to think so at least) so they still come easily..
    Maybe Jaime’s trick will work for me, thanks for the tip 🙂

  16. I would vote for any sort of a nut butter, but I don’t really consider nut butters to be junk food (excluding the sort with hydrogenated oil). We just bought some with white chocolate in it and boy is it tasty tasty stuff. The only junk I have found myself craving in the recent past is candy corn, and after I caved and bought some…yikes, did I feel like I wish I had not.

  17. I have really bad cravings for pastry foods and pasta so I TRY to not think about it and think about yummy healthy foods.

  18. You mentioned candy bars but forgot candy all together.

    Here’s an alternative to skittles (my fav candy of all time): Frozen small dark grapes.

    I sh*t you not… pop these frozen graps into your mouth and chew on them, they taste just like skittles. Can’t get enough.

  19. Olive bread with butter. For 2 years I had an iron will and could resist any junk, in fact in that time I had about a mouthful of chocolate in 2 years. But today I’m not that strong and the minute Olive bread is in the house it’s only a matter of time before I give in and dig into that bread and I always feel sick after. Always. I still don’t know why I do it, I should just stop and dig into some nice beef heart cooked in lard. Nice.

  20. The sugar addiction drives me insane! I made sunbutter cookies made with almond flour and sweetened with raw honey. She wasn’t crazy about them, but guess who was?! Although they are grain free and sweetened with honey, they are still sweet…And now it’s been 3 days and I’m having terrible difficulty curbing the sweet craving. I’ve been indulging in granola (made with fresh squeezed orange juice, zest, dates, cashews, almonds, and macadamias) with coconut milk to be trying to make it a better choice. The problem is I am consuming this late night when I’m not even hungry and just trying to fill a void. Any suggestions on how you kicked your sugar habit would be greatly appreciated!

  21. I crave Kashi GoLean! Crunch cereal… ALL of the time. Junk food according to the Blueprint. I miss it

  22. French fries: do them in duck fat. Then they’re so expensive, you’ll treat them as an extravagance rather than some icky 99cent thing from McGarbage.

    Pizza: Meatza is too heavy and too much like a giant burger for me. I do cheezza. Saute all the toppings you like. Add a little tomato sauce. Add mozzarella and turn off the heat. When the mozz is melted, slide onto a plate.

  23. If it’s fatty, crunchy and salty, I want it. Chips and french fries are two of my favorite things on the planet, though I haven’t touched either in months. It helps if I salt and season my healthy Primal foods. I’m admittedly a bit heavy-handed with the sea salt, but I figure that’s better than eating loads of starchy junk foods for the same effect. Lately I’m loving sweet potato and onion hash fried in bacon fat until crispy.

    Never really been much of a sugar/sweets person, fortunately.

  24. Hi Charissa, I eliminated my sugar cravings first with a sugar substitute (in my case it was sucralose), and second reducing the amount of the sweetener in small steps. The first two months I was in constant panic to not have enough of the sweetener at home or in my bag to resist real sugar. Than it disappeared completely. No more sugar for me, no more sweetener, no more cravings. Life has become much easier.
    But I still eat occasionally ice cream (only the best in town).