Following a healthy diet can be challenging enough, and food cravings can make smart eating even more difficult. From time to time, people may be plagued by intense desires to eat a certain food. Unfortunately, many people (especially people who are watching their weight) tend to get cravings for high-fat, high-calorie, sugary, salt-laden foods and beverages. Giving in to these food cravings can bring on feelings of guilt and shame, especially if you overdo it. However, there are ways to satisfy your cravings healthfully by making smart choices and being careful about portion control.
People can experience different types of cravings. While some people yearn for something sweet, others might crave something salty, savory, creamy, or crunchy. Since the act of eating should be one of nourishment and pleasure, and not of deprivation, guilt, and shame, completely depriving yourself of the foods you enjoy will likely backfire. However, instead of devouring an entire pint of chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream or a family-sized bag of potato chips, try trading in your usual "guilty pleasure" food for a lighter, healthier version.
In the Mood for Salt?
So if you get a hankering for something salty, forego that giant, seemingly bottomless bag of regular potato chips and opt for a serving of baked chips or mini rice cakes (like the ones Quaker© makes) topped with salsa. Other healthy salty snacks include ½ cup of steamed edamame lightly sprinkled with salt, 2 oz of beef jerky, a 100-calorie pack of microwave popcorn, 1 oz of pretzels dipped in nonfat yogurt, or 1 oz of nuts or roasted pumpkin seeds.
Healthy snack ideas that will satisfy even the biggest sweet-tooth include ½ cup light ice cream or frozen yogurt topped with a tablespoon of crushed nuts, 1 oz of dark chocolate, or 1 oz (about 2 sheets) of honey graham crackers. And remember, fruit is always a delicious and low-calorie way to satisfy a sweet craving.
Need Something With Crunch?
For people who crave all things crunchy, reach for whole-grain crackers (such as Triscuit®) topped with 1 oz of light cream cheese or dipped in salsa, sliced cucumbers or sugar snap peas dipped in low-fat dressing or paired with low-fat cottage cheese, or ¾ cup Chex® party mix.
If creamy snacks are what you crave, try a tablespoon of natural peanut butter with an apple or banana. Other ideas include a cup of nonfat Greek yogurt drizzled with a little honey or topped with 1 tablespoon of chopped nuts, ¼ cup of hummus with 6 oz of baby carrots, 1 container of sugar-free pudding topped with 4-6 crushed vanilla wafers, or an English muffin topped with 1 tablespoon of light cream cheese.
Of course, the take-home message when it comes to cravings and snacking is to pick something that has a mixture of complex carbohydrates, healthy fats, and protein to keep you satisfied in between meals. Also, aim for a snack that is less than 200 calories in order to stick to your goals. On a final note, if you're overwhelmed by a craving and happen to overindulge, try not to beat yourself up over it. A healthy diet is not ruined by one snack, one meal, or even one day. Lace up your sneakers and go for a brisk walk or kick up your work-out the next day.
Kari Hartel, RD, LD is a Registered Dietitian and freelance writer based out of St. Louis, MO. Kari is passionate about nutrition education and the prevention of chronic disease through a healthy diet and active lifestyle. Kari holds a Bachelor of Science in Dietetics from Southeast Missouri State University and is committed to helping people lead healthy lives. She completed a yearlong dietetic internship at OSF St. Francis Medical Center in Peoria, IL, where she worked with a multitude of clients and patients with complicated diagnoses. She planned, marketed, and implemented nutrition education programs and cooking demonstrations for the general public as well as for special populations, including patients with cancer, heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimer's disease, obesity, and school-aged children. Contact Kari at KariHartelRD@gmail.com.