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The Least Worst Junk Foods

7 min read

By Emily Lockhart

Medically Reviewed by Julie Ching, MS, RDN, CDE

From time to time it strikes, sometimes with warning signs, but often out of nowhere. It’s a craving for junk food, and it can be powerful. These cravings are sometimes triggered by stress, and when that is the case, people often crave fat and sugar. However, there are ways to tame the cravings without blowing a healthy eating plan altogether.

There are so many different foods readily available these days that it can be hard to keep track of the worst offenders, the nutritional all-stars, and the break-even snacks and treats. Read on before the next craving hits!


Perogies are easier than ever to make at home. Frozen varieties are readily available at grocery stores and just need to be pan fried in a bit of oil or butter until brown. Topped with a dab of sour cream, they are wonderfully tasty and full of contrasting textures.

The good news is that perogies have modest fat and calorie levels and a decent protein boost. Plus, because they are utterly satisfying, you don’t need many to feel full—think 5 maximum. You can make this treat even healthier by serving some carrot sticks alongside the perogies and calling it a reasonably healthy meal that ticks all of the savory cravings boxes.


Ok, so there’s nothing nutritionally good about Twinkies, but they are so small and portion-controlled that they provide their own damage control. There are only 135-calories and 4.5-grams of fat in one, so you can enjoy it with a cup of tea and not feel too bad about it.

Now mind you, should you want to break your Twinkie addiction there are some delicious baked goods that offer a bit of extra nutrition through oats, quinoa, dried fruit and other ingredients that provide more than just a sweet hit.


You could do worse than binging on some all-corn, lower sodium nacho chips because they provide a source of fiber and some contain added nutritional powerhouses like flax seed. Others boast organic blue corn that is minimally processed.

Here’s how to make this snack even better, though. Try your hand at whipping up some homemade salsa, which makes the most out of nutritious, ripe tomatoes and antioxidant rich onions. Load up the chip so you are getting more salsa than chip, and have a super tall glass of iced water to offset the salt levels—squeeze some fresh lime in there for optimal refreshment.

Chocolate Milk

By now you’ve likely heard the news touting chocolate milk as an effective post-workout recovery drink. Experts espouse the virtues of the drink for providing an optimal blend of protein and carbohydrate to aid in muscle recovery.

However, keep in mind that very few people work out hard enough to require anything other than water as a post-workout beverage. There is also more sugar and calories in chocolate milk than white milk, which does add up over time. So the bottom line is indulge, but don’t go overboard. Consider cutting the chocolate milk with plain 1-percent or skim milk and opting for water after exercising.


Oh gosh, there is something so smooth and delicious about guacamole. It is extremely satisfying and goes well with some low-salt all-corn tortilla chips or some high-fiber crackers. The main ingredient in guacamole is avocados which are great for bodies because they contain carotenoids, fiber and folate. They sometimes get a bad rap because of the higher fat content, but it is almost all unsaturated fat—the good kind.

Here’s how to indulge in guacamole without overdoing it: keep the serving size to a realistic ½-cup. Limit your dippers, whether nachos or veggies by placing them on the plate and not mindlessly diving into the bag time after time. When the guac and the sides are done, so is the snack.

York Peppermint Patty

When nothing but a sweet chocolate treat will do, turn to a peppermint patty. They’re delicious and surprisingly low in calories and fat, with 140- and 2.5-grams respectively. The dark chocolate provides a wee amount of antioxidants, and the cool mint tingle makes it more unlikely to overeat or switch to another snack, similar to the strategy to brush your teeth when you want to avoid overeating because of the clean mint taste in your mouth.

One caveat, though, is that they are still high on sugar. An even better chocolate indulgence would be a small square of high quality dark chocolate containing at least 80-percent cocoa content.

Keith Homan /


When you want a burger, nothing else will do. The juicy beef contrasting with the deliciously melted cheese…yum. But some varieties are nutritional land mines that will set you back an entire day’s worth of fat, calories and sodium. However, there is a way you can have your indulgence of choice without overdoing it.

Portion size is key here, and the McDonald’s cheeseburger offers all the satisfaction of a cheeseburger with minimal damage. Weighing in at 290-calories and 11-grams fat, this is a modest indulgence that isn’t horrible for the diet. To keep the treat in check choose a cheeseburger or fries, not both.

Peanut Butter Cookies

Cookies and milk, one of the all-time best pairings. And you may think that it doesn’t really matter what variety of cookie you pick once you’ve got your sights set on the morsel in question. The fact is, though, that peanut butter cookies offer double the protein of front-runner chocolate chip. That type of protein boost can offer satiety much faster than other more empty calories—and that means that (hopefully) you can stop at just one.

Take for example the Subway peanut butter cookie. It has 4-grams of protein compared to 2-grams in the chocolate chip variety. Think the white chocolate macadamia nut cookie offers the same protein hit from the nuts? Think again. It, too, only offers 2-grams of protein.


Pop quiz: what food is most likely to be in people’s top 5 favorites? Yup, it’s pizza. For breakfast, dinner or a late night snack, pizza is popular and delicious. However, when laden with extra cheese and a variety of fatty meats, the levels of fat and sodium skyrocket, making this a treat to bypass. So how to make it healthier? Start with a thin crust option. Less crust, less calories and fat, plain and simple.

The next rule is that for every 1 meat topping you must add 3 veggie toppings. So if you want pepperoni, that’s fine—but balance it with a mix like tomatoes, onions and green pepper. Want to add bacon? Fine, but you’d better make way for 3 more veggies—perhaps mushrooms, olives and broccoli. The extra veggies will help fill you up so you won’t be able to eat as many slices as usual.

Stevia Soda

The sugar in soda is not good; the artificial sweeteners are not much better. But sometimes a soda is the only thing to pair with pizza or a burger and it is oh-so very thirst quenching. Well, soda is back on the menu with the latest version of stevia-sweetened soft drinks. Stevia is a natural sweetener that is much lower in sugars and calories than regular white sugar. It also doesn’t have the artificial properties or taste of aspartame or sucralose.

Try a version like Zevia that’s been around for long enough to get all 15 flavors right, and there are zero calories in each variety. There are no GMOs and the company has also removed the caramel color. Pop, fizz, ahhh. Refreshing.

Kyle Oster /


Wait, what? Everyone’s favorite anytime, anywhere food? Yes, it’s true, prepared the right way and with portion control, bacon does not have to be a contributor to beer guts. Take the pre-cooked versions available. Two pieces contain only 80-calories, 6-grams of fat, and 6-grams of protein. That’s not the worst nutritional profile out there.

Perhaps you think two slices is just not enough? Consider keeping the serving size to two, but making the luscious bacon stretch by adding it to a sandwich made with toasted whole grain bread, avocado slices, fresh tomato, lettuce and pepper. Or pair the strips with a couple of scrambled eggs with some veggies thrown in for good measure. But bacon does have sodium and nitrates, so it’s still just a sometimes food.

Rice Pudding

Feeling like something extra smooth, creamy and delicious? Worried that you’re about to take down a pint or 3 of Ben and Jerry’s all by your lonesome? Dive into a snack cup of rice pudding instead. Yes, there is still a rather hefty load of sugar in there. But for a 113-grams serving there are 120-calories, 2-grams of fat and 4-grams of protein. That’s manageable for a treat that delivers on the satisfying mouth feel of a cool creamy treat.

What makes this snack even smarter? Rice pudding pairs particularly well with superfood cinnamon. Add a healthy sprinkle on top and you’ll gain the disease-fighting properties of this super spice. These include positive effects on cholesterol levels and blood sugar levels for people with diabetes. So grab a spoon and dig in!


Julie Ching is a Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator in Los Angeles. She decided to become a Dietitian after traveling through Europe, South America, and Asia and discovered a passion for food. She now works with people of all ages and varying disease states to improve their health. She is passionate about teaching people about nutrition so they can live their best life while still considering their cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds.

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