Tips For Making Your Favorite “Bad” Foods Healthier

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As runners, we try our best to eat healthy for the majority of the time. We watch our intake, and make sure we are getting in quality nutrients, vitamins, and minerals while being careful not to overeat. Some of us even follow a specific diet or meal plan created by a doctor or sports nutritionist or dietitian, to be sure we are getting in exactly what foods and in the right amounts that will best fuel our running.

But, let’s face it, we’re all human. We all have those food weaknesses that are our Achilles Heel when it comes to sticking to our meal plans. For some of us, that might be carby, salty, savory comfort food like Grandma used to make (served in heaping portions) or a sweet tooth that just can’t say no to chocolatey layers, caramel sauces, and ooey, gooey treats.

While indulging is certainly okay on occasion, many of us are still left craving them on a random Tuesday afternoon. So what’s a hungry runner to do? Luckily, we have listed some helpful tips for “healthifying” some of those indulgent foods so that they can easily fit into your everyday meal plan!

Breakfasts

Mama wasn’t wrong when she said breakfast is the most important meal of the day.  We need a hearty, substantial breakfast to rev up our metabolisms, fuel our brains, and soak up some of the jitters that those two (er…three or four?) cups of coffee bring on.  Some of us have a soft spot for hearty breakfast casseroles, others for that sugary bowl of cereal, and some of us go weak in the knees at the sight of one of those green and white cups filled with cream, sugar, chocolate sauce and topped off with dollops of whip. Fortunately, there are some healthier alternatives you can choose from that are just as tasty but will definitely satisfy you, perhaps even for longer.

For casseroles, swap out ground sausage or bacon with turkey sausage, turkey bacon, or ground chicken sausage. Another great, low-calorie meatless option is to get black bean burgers from the freezer aisle, thaw and cut them up, and throw them in.

Cereals seem to be a staple in households with young kids, in bachelor pads with single men, and portioned out into baggies in the bags of runners and athletes. We get it. It’s a quick carb source, and it’s delicious! But the sugar content in most store bought cereals is crazy high, leaving you with a sugary crash just a few hours later. If you are a diehard cereal fan, try opting for a cereal with whole grains to keep you fuller longer.  Also look for a cereal that has 10 grams of sugar or less. Or for a delicious alternative to cereal, try overnight oats.

To make overnight oats, simply throw some steel-cut oats, a container of your favorite Greek yogurt (or almond milk), chia seeds, and whatever other mix-ins you want like nuts, seeds, peanut butter, or protein powder. Stir it up and let it sit in the fridge overnight. In the morning you’ll have a quick, ready-made breakfast that is easy to eat. Plus, the complex carbs of the oatmeal (as opposed to the simple carbs in cereal) break down slower to keep you fuller, more satisfied, and focused throughout the morning.

Finally, get a little creative with your coffee order. Choose an iced or regular drip coffee instead, then ask for steamed almond milk and a sugar free flavored syrup. (If you want, you can even just go with a low calorie latte that is made entirely of low calorie almond milk, instead of whole milk like the full-fat latte option.) Finally, top with cinnamon and a bit of zero-calorie sweetener and you have a delicious morning cup of joe with only a fraction of the sugar, fat, and calories.

Lunches, Dinners, and Snacks

Think about all those “bad” (but oh so good!) lunch and dinner favorites that are typically reserved for birthdays, celebrations, and special occasions. We are talking pizza, burgers, nachos… and the list goes on! Those meals, while delicious, are calorie bombs with a lot of carbs and fat. Not to mention, they typically do not sit well the evening or day before a big training day or race. Luckily you can still enjoy your favorites with a few swaps.

Cauliflower has been all the rage recently because of its versatility and ability to be used instead of other starchy, more calorie-laden carbs. Pulse a chopped up head of cauliflower in the food processor for a few seconds and you’ve got yourself the perfect rice substitute for use with your favorite stir-fry or as a side dish to any meal. Or mix it together with an egg and some water to form a pasta crust that, when baked, still comes out crunchy and delicious.

By Tony Webster from Minneapolis, Minnesota, United States [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
You can also coat cauliflower pieces in buffalo sauce, bake, and have a “buffalo popper,” to replace deep fried buffalo wings. Speaking of deep fried, opt to dredge your foods in panko bread crumbs instead of flour and bake them or pan fry them instead of deep frying in oil.

Sweet potatoes are another great swap for carbs like bread and chips. For your favorite nachos, try them made with slices of sweet potatoes instead of tortilla chips. Avocado sweet potato toast is another popular and tasty recipe. Instead of bread, toast up a slice of sliced sweet potato and top it with avocado, chicken, and your favorite spicy sauce for a great and healthy lunch.

Apple slices make another great swap for sandwich bread or crackers. Round slices of apple taste delicious when peanut butter and jelly layered between them. Or use apple slices to scoop up your favorite nut butters and dips. (In fact, using a variety of vegetables to eat with dips instead of crackers or chips can save you tons of snack time calories.)

Desserts

Many of us know the following struggle: we stick tooth-and-nail to eating cleanly throughout the day, but come about 8 or 9pm, our sweet tooth cravings kick in. And sometimes it seems that, not matter how full we are after dinner, we always have room for dessert. Luckily, you don’t have to sacrifice taste for pleasure when it comes to our healthy dessert swaps.

Mashed up avocados, bananas, and chickpeas make for excellent substitutions in baked goods. Use avocados in place of butter for your brownies, chickpeas instead of flour for your blondies, and bananas instead of eggs in most baking recipes. Applesauce is also a great substitute for oil in cakes and cookies, and you can make an incredibly creamy and delicious French silk pie using tofu instead of cream.

Sources

  1. Kate Bratskier, WELLNESS 07/02/2015 10:10 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017 6 Healthy Breakfast Swaps That’ll Supercharge Your Mornings, Huffington Post Article, Dec 06, 2017
  2. Katie at Helpful Homemade, Tofu French Silk Pie, Blog Recipe, Apr 05, 2017
  3. Maven at The Healthy Maven, Healthy Avocado Brownies, Blog Recipe, Aug 15, 2015
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