Can moderate amounts of junk food be part of a healthy diet?

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Judy Caplan
Nutrition & Dietetics
Yes! The key is to eat healthfully most of the time. When you nourish your body on a daily basis your body can better handle the occasional junk food. With that said, why not make the junk food you choose healthier? Order burgers on whole grain buns or better yet try a grass fed burger or a veggie burger. If you eat French fries make sure they are not fried in trans fat. Sweets like dark chocolate can be healthful. Once in a while we all crave our old favorite junk foods, just be sure that most of the time you are getting plenty of fresh fruits and veggies, whole grains and healthy oils. A little junk should not derail your healthy diet.
For many people, the worse a food is, the more likely they are to want it. But there's only so much junk food we can eat before it catches up with us (usually in the form of heart disease). The good news is, you don't have to swear off your favorite foods to keep your heart healthy. You just have to know how to make small changes in order to enjoy them in healthier ways. Here are some strategies to lighten up seven of the worst junk foods for your heart so they can have a (small) place in your diet.
  • Top pizza with veggies instead of pepperoni and sausage.
  • When eating pasta, choose whole-grain noodles and keep the serving size to 1 cup. Add fresh chopped herbs, vegetables sautéed in olive oil, and lean protein, such as beans or chicken.
  • For submarine sandwiches, use whole-grain bread and roasted turkey or chicken breast instead of cured meats.
  • At fast-food restaurants, choose the grilled chicken sandwich and hold the fries. Supplement with fruit and yogurt instead.
  • Instead of sodas, drink unsweetened iced tea or coffee when you want caffeine. If it's the carbonation you crave, try seltzer with a dash of fruit juice and a twist of lime.
  • If you must eat pancakes, make them with whole-grain flour, walnuts, and berries, and go easy on the syrup. A better breakfast option is a whole-grain English muffin with ham and eggs.
  • Make Mexican dishes healthier by choosing chicken over steak, black beans over lard-filled refried beans, brown rice instead of white, and vegetable condiments such as salsa, pico de gallo, and guacamole in place of sour cream and cheese.
Dr. Lydie Hazan discusses how teens can moderate their junk food intake, rather than giving it up completely, and still maintain good health. Watch this video from Discovery Health.


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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.