Healthy Substitutes for Unhealthy Food Cravings

By Maylin Rodriguez-Paez, RN

Most of us get unhealthy food cravings at least once in a while.

Even if you’re not tempted by the sight of fresh donuts or frosted cupcakes, surely there’s something unhealthy you crave at times.

I, for one, am totally guilty. I love food, and it’s pretty hard for me to completely ignore unhealthy but savory treats.

Of course, just because you’re tempted doesn't mean you have to fully “submit to temptation.”

As a matter of fact, sometimes you can substitute your unhealthy food craving with something that is actually healthy. Sound reasonable?

Here are some solid ideas for dealing with unhealthy food cravings like a champion. Don’t fully submit to temptation. We can help you!

Why Do You Crave Unhealthy Foods?

1. Your diet:

Your diet could very well be the reason. When you eat sugar (or starchy foods), it causes your insulin levels to spike. This, in turn, makes you desire more sugar.

The solution is to avoid high-carb, sugary foods and include more fiber and protein in your diet. Both help to prevent blood sugar spikes.

Supplements can also help. Chromium and cinnamon extracts, for example, maintain healthy blood sugar levels.1,2 And remember when your blood sugar levels are balanced, you’re less likely to crave sweets.

2. Your brain chemistry:

Your brain chemistry could be the other reason why you get unhealthy cravings. When you crave carbs, your brain may actually be looking for a boost of certain neurotransmitters.

Serotonin levels spike when you eat carbs. Dopamine also surges when you indulge in your favorite sweets. Supplementation could help to balance your neurotransmitters and may prevent unhealthy food cravings.

Saffron extract, for example, has been suggested to boost serotonin and dopamine levels.3 In studies, women taking it report an improved mood and a decreased desire to snack. They’re also less likely to binge on carbs.4

Healthier Substitutes for Unhealthy Foods

To avoid indulging, you need to have a plan in place for when those unhealthy cravings hit. Yes, you could just ignore that piece of cake offered to you at work, but wouldn't it be nice to treat yourself with something when the mood hits?

So the next time you get a craving, take this list of substitutes out. It could save you some calories and grief in the long run.

Give these ideas a shot:
Food: Healthier Substitute(s):
Candy Nuts, fresh berries, homemade dried strawberries
Ice cream Unsweetened yogurt with fruit or frozen, low-sugar smoothie
French fries Baked zucchini bites
Chocolate bars Unsweetened dark chocolate coca nibs
Nachos Avocado spread with quinoa crackers
Pie Apples (or your favorite fruit) with almond or cashew butter
Lasagna Stuffed peppers or tomatoes with lean protein
Mashed potatoes Sweet potatoes, mashed green plantains or mashed cauliflower
Potato chips Kale chips or your favorite homemade baked veggie chips with hummus
Soda Naturally flavored seltzer water or seltzer water splashed with a hint of juice
Milkshakes low-sugar smoothies with avocado base
Bonbons homemade whey balls
White crackers Low-carb almond crackers or quinoa crackers with hummus
Pasta Spaghetti squash
Fried foods Lightly breaded and baked foods
Cake Homemade protein chia bars

Tip: A good snack incorporates protein with carbohydrates. It’s the right combo to prevent blood sugar spikes.

What About You?

How do you deal with unhealthy food cravings? Have any tricks up your sleeve? Please share!


  1. Int J Diab Dev Ctries. 2010 Jul-Sep;30(3):153-61.
  2. Eur J Clin Invest. 2006 May;36(5):340-4.
  3. BMC Complement Altern Med. 2004 Sep 2;4:12.
  4. Nutraveris; 2006. Unpublished study.


C. Pietsch said...

Mayonnaise on a sandwich? Try spreading it with hummus or mashed avocado instead.
Also---dilute all those creamy salad dressings with the brine from a jar of green olives or dill pickles. This also works with potato salad and summer-time cold pasta salads.

LifeExtension said...

C. Pietsch - Thanks for the tip!

Gloria B said...

Thanks for the great tips, I will definitely use them. When I am craving a brownie, which I just have to have every so often, I make a Red Bean Lava Brownie (Recipe at It has protein from the whey and fiber from the red beans and deals with you your chocolate cravings in a good way.

LifeExtension said...

Gloria B - Glad you liked the tips! Thanks for sharing your recipe. It looks delicious. :-)

Eion Katchay said...

To live a healthy life you need to eat healthy food and keep yourself healthy in all aspects. You need to replace your unhealthy food with the healthy one. You need to avoid all the food stuff that has high amount calories in them. Apart from this, we also need to do some sort of physical activity in order to keep ourselves healthy. It could be in the form of swimming, running, jogging, cycling or workouts. The aim here is to burn more calories then what you take or at least equivalent to your intake.

LifeExtension said...

Eion Katchay - Exactly! We agree 100%

Lana @ Bordeaux wines said...

Even though we avoid junk food still we have to be more cautious about the regular food.

LifeExtension said...

Lana @ Bordeaux wines - Yes! That too. :-)

Anyclean said...

It's the same with me, I also love food and I never refuse to eat chocolate or chips when offered. Even if I am not hungry, If I see food in front of me, I become hungry.

LifeExtension said...

Anyclean - Some of us are just built that way: we want to eat what we see. :-)

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C. Ullmer said...

It is good to follow the rule that "you might not be hungry, you might be thirsty." When you mind craves something, instead of reaching for an unhealthy food item, try drinking a glass of water.

Tonisha Pitman said...

Well said, informative and straight to the point. Cheers.

Life Extension said...

Tonisha Pitman - Thank you!

Jena said...

Even though we avoid junk food still we have to be more cautious about the regular food.

Anonymous said...

I try to keep single servings (bags) of mixed nuts on me. Or, canned fruit. Sometimes a protein bar/cookie will do the trick!

Life Extension said...

Anonymous - Nice suggestions! Just watch out for the canned fruit. They're often high in sugar and may contain a toxin called BPA.

Jacqui said...

I believe that food cravings are driven by lifestyle - if you do a lot of exercise then you tend to crave healthy foods which wil repair and strengthen your body.

Emma Mason said...

Healthy eating requires you to have healthy daily lifestyle routine. Thanks for sharing with it us, i appreciate it.

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