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How to Swap in Healthier Foods for Junk Food

With our busy schedules, from school to sports to work, it can be challenging to find time for ourselves. But self-care is essential.  

Part of caring for yourself involves what you put into your body, but many junk foods are more accessible than healthier options. Some even look and taste better! So, it’s easy to fall into not-so-great eating habits. However, eating well has many benefits.  

Why seek out healthier alternatives? 

As cheap and fast as McDonald’s and other fast-food chains are, it’s easy to grab for something convenient, but there is a dark side to eating junk food.  

Eating high volumes of sugar, salt, saturated fats, and preservatives – often found in fast food – can lead to many health issues, such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease, digestive issues, and much more. That’s just the beginning. Not only does junk food affect the way our body physically functions, it also affects our mental health by increasing our risk for anxiety and depression. Consuming high amounts of fast food has also been found to cause learning and memory problems, fatigue, irritability, and mood swings.  

Finding time to prepare healthy foods can benefit you in many ways. It can help you build your body’s immunity and strengthen muscles and bones. It can even help improve your mood, mental health, energy levels, and outlook.  

So, how can you break unhealthy eating habits?  

Humans are undoubtedly creatures of habit; once we find comfort in our patterns, they can be challenging to change. The best way to break an unhealthy habit is by tweaking tiny things in your diet and taking baby steps toward long-term lifestyle changes. For example, for many of us, it’s unrealistic to switch to an entirely plant-based diet in one day after years of mainly eating junk food. As incredible as it might sound to make big changes, it is not easy, and you will most likely end up failing and returning to old habits.  

The truth is breaking old habits does not happen overnight. So, try to go slow and make small changes you can keep up long term – like swapping out junk foods (or sugary drinks) every so often for healthier options. You could start with your drinks; then, once you feel good about your choices, you could move on to improving your snacks. 

 Healthy substitutes  

When adopting a healthier diet, try making healthier substitutes or consuming smaller amounts of less healthy options. For example, you may be a frequent coffee drinker and load your daily coffee with excessive cream and sugar. If you are not a fan of black coffee but are trying to improve your drinking habits, you can always try using a little less cream and sugar. You could also swap out the cream and sugar for healthier options or not use them at all. 

When it comes to healthy snack alternatives, there are lots of good choices. For example, hummus and crackers or nuts are great for salty cravings. Or, if you want something on the sweeter side, fruit can also be a healthier alternative.  

For dinner and lunch, instead of stopping at Burger King or KFC, you can spend some extra time preparing healthier options at home. When making your own food, it’s essential that you include ingredients that will make a balanced meal. A balanced meal should include carbohydrates, fruits and/or vegetables, protein, and healthy fats 

Carbohydrates – commonly found in potatoes, quinoa, rice, whole grain bread, and beets – are the primary energy source for your body. You can get sufficient protein from chicken, turkey, fish, crab, and other poultry and seafood products. If you can tolerate dairy – it can be consumed through milk, cheese, or low-sugar yogurt. When it comes to fruits and vegetables, variety is key. Lastly, healthy fats are generally unsaturated. These can be found in fish, nuts, seeds, healthy oils, such as olive oil, and avocados.  

Testing the waters  

Now that you have some excellent ideas to help you tackle your eating habits, it is up to you to test them out. If you try and struggle, you can always get help from family, friends, dieticians, nutritionists, or other health providers.  

Eating healthy doesn’t necessarily need to involve a strict diet but a healthier lifestyle where you swap in more nutritious alternatives to your favorite junk foods. Keep in mind though that an important part of balanced eating is still indulging in ice cream and your favorite soda now and then.  

 For more info on this topic, check out these resources: 

Author: Summer Wildbill is a member of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla based in Pendleton, OR. She is a rising high school senior who dreams of being a journalist.

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