What are your healthy alternatives for your guilty pleasures?
January 23, 2007 2:04 PM   Subscribe

What healthy -- or at healthier -- alternatives do you eat to fulfill cravings for emphatically unhealthy food? Clarification and examples inside.

I am on a path towards an end goal of losing a considerable amount of weight, and basically, a lot of the places I've already found success have been where I've successfully substituted one food for another, while still concentrating on fulfilling the craving. I took a food quiz that indicated that my eating problems were very sense-based, so I've tried to concentrate on things that have strong flavors.

An example: instead of Ben & Jerry's Heath Bar Crunch, I've found that the very tart taste of a Edy's Whole Fruit lemonade bar is strong enough to fulfill the "cold, strong flavor" craving that I often have after dinner. Or, instead of a king-sized Snickers bar, I might have a piece of Life Savers Chocolate and Caramel hard candy, or maybe a small piece of Dove dark chocolate. (No, this isn't a Pepsi Blue post, I'm just giving examples of what I've used.) For some people, Triscuit pizzas might fulfill the pizza desire. And so on.

Basically, though, what I'm asking is: what successful substitutions have you found that fulfill your cravings for something emphatically unhealthy? If you have Craving X, and Product A that fulfills that craving is too high calorie, high fat, whatever, what is your Product B that manages to (happily?) fulfill the urge? Product B doesn't necessarily have to be healthy, in and of itself, it just has to be healthier. For example, in the example above, gorging on the hard candy wouldn't be healthy at all ... but two hard candies is going to be a hell of a lot less calories than a king-sized Snickers bar. Get my drift?

Ask MeFi braintrust, don't fail me now! ;-)
posted by WCityMike to Health & Fitness (72 answers total) 83 users marked this as a favorite
I have general sugar cravings, and often a cup of hot tea, especially a flavored tea, with a bit of sugar or even artificial sweetener takes the edge off.
posted by zadermatermorts at 2:17 PM on January 23, 2007 [1 favorite]

Peanut butter on celery sticks satisfies my craving for salty+sweet and for something crunchy. Plain yogurt (I prefer full-fat Greek yogurt, but there are obviously other options on that score) with a little drizzle of honey and some fresh berries is a great substitute for a sugary dessert.
posted by scody at 2:18 PM on January 23, 2007 [1 favorite]

While this doesn't really answer your question I think that this perspective on food cravings might be interesting to incorporate into your quest. That is, the foods we crave may be reflective of nutrients our bodies need... For example, if you crave chocolate, your body might need magnesium and you can also satisfy this craving with something nutty/peanutty or fruity that is high in magnesium. So instead of a full size chocolate bar, maybe a mini mr. goodbar...
posted by rosebengal at 2:18 PM on January 23, 2007

The first thing that comes to my mind is that if you actually want to lose weight, you're going to have to try to fight these cravings, and reduce your snacking in between meals. I mean, sure, two hard candies is probably better for you than a king sized snickers bar, but you know what would even be better for you? Neither.

I'm a pretty big dude myself, and I hardly ever eat snacks like candy bars or ice cream, nor do I ever drink soda -- habits I generally think of when I think of overweight people. I shudder to think what I'd look like if I gave in to the urges to eat cupcakes and cookies all afternoon.

But if you absolutely must have some sort of frozen snack in the evenings, candy during the day, etc., there are, of course, sugar and fat-free versions of nearly every popular snack and beverage out there. Why not just have those?
posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! at 2:19 PM on January 23, 2007

Dill pickles for potato chips
posted by textilephile at 2:20 PM on January 23, 2007 [1 favorite]

I've found that a nicely flavored green tea (the one I like has lemongrass and ginger) after a meal kills my sugar craving.

I've found that keeping sugarless gum handy works too.

A banana will keep me from reaching for a candy bar-- it's filling and sweet.

I buy a box of Tofutti Cuties ice cream sandwiches on friday, which must last me through the whole weekend.

Once slice of bread with peanut butter on it. Even unsweetened peanut butter still has a sweet taste to it that will kill a craving.

At convenience stores you can usually buy a small pack of peanuts and raisins. Or other nuts with raisins.

Prunes are delicious and sweet, though it takes a while to get used to the texture. A few after a meal can be all the dessert you need.

Buy plain yogurt (lowfat, if you choose) instead of flavored. That way you can control the amount of honey or fruit you put in it, and after a while you get used to it and it tastes just as sweet. Something sweet, cold, and creamy like this is excellent diet food.

Same goes for cottage cheese with pineapple.

I spend a little extra on delicious fruit juices which keep me out of the soda and sweets in a pinch. Natural sugar is stillsugar, but a least the juice has other nutritional value as well-- I particularly like sweet juices that blend in vegetables as well, because after a while you can't even tell the difference.

Don't get tricked into buying lowfat items that are super high in sugar. Very dark chocolate is super fattening, but contains little sugar-- however hard candy, which is marketed as "fat free" guarantees that you're consuming more sugar than you can work off, so it all becomes fat anyway.

Buy bags full of frozen, unsweetened berries. You can add them to your ice cream or yogurt for extra flavor; when manufacturers make something fruit flavored, they sweeten the fruit.
posted by hermitosis at 2:20 PM on January 23, 2007 [1 favorite]

When I'm craving potato chips I find that walnuts (bulk-purchased from a restaurant supplier) are a great substitute snack. Plus they're high in Omega 3.

For saltiness, you can't go past stuffed olives. Mmm.
posted by Paragon at 2:22 PM on January 23, 2007

I wrestled with this question last month, and in the end I found that it's much easier to moderate portions, rather than do substitutions. If you avoid the bad food there's always some neuron in the noggin that's thinking about it. If you have the bad food and keep the portions down (and eat slowly and with filler like lots of water) you can appease that neuron. It's also weird but since I've been cutting down portions I've been getting cravings for genuinely healthy food like veggies.

So as not to derail, substitutions that do still work for me include:
* appealing forms of water (bottled/seltzer/sparkly/etc) rather than sodas -- and plan accordingly if I decide to submit to fast food, as the sodas there are what get you
* small cheddar slices on crackers rather than chips/cookies
* vodka with dash of fruit juice instead of beer (health aspects dubious, but the Irish in me approves)
posted by rolypolyman at 2:22 PM on January 23, 2007

A small square of the nicest dark chocolate you can find tends to be more satisfying than even a king-size bar of cheap chocolate.

I know people who mix fruit juice and seltzer water to satisfy their fizzy, sweet drink cravings.
posted by martinX's bellbottoms at 2:22 PM on January 23, 2007

I find that coffee substitutes for chocolate fairly well.

For chips and things, I try to remind myself that what I'm after is merely "salty" and so anything that can be salted usually works. Such as edamame, a hard-boiled egg, peanuts, etc.
posted by xo at 2:26 PM on January 23, 2007

Seconding the dill pickles... pickles are crunchy and sizable, and have relatively few calories as long as you don't get sweetened varieties.
posted by rolypolyman at 2:27 PM on January 23, 2007

soy delicious purely decadent ice "creams" match my disgusting ice cream cravings pretty well-- a lot of the flavors have chunks and goos but they have a lot less fat than the dairy equivalents (probably more than fruit bars, though). fruit smoothies are pleasantly sweet and cold also, and if you make them at home they are still great with no added sweeteners. actually, various vegetarian and vegan alternatives, like veggie burgers, and soy sour cream are usually lower fat.

popcorn also works for me...plain popped corn with some oil, salt, and seasonings if you want. even if you use some butter it's probably better than a lot of savory snacks like fried chips and a tiny amount of actual corn puffs up to what feels like a pretty big snack.

oil and vinegar type dressings with no oil, or with water or another liquid to diluit the vinegar instead of oil...personally i really want the vinegar taste and don't miss the oil at all.

skim milk if you drink milk, low fat yoghurt for pudding, lightly sweetened muffins for cake.
posted by lgyre at 2:30 PM on January 23, 2007

I can't speak for the poster, but I have found that portion control for unhealthy items usually means trusting yourself to measure it out, which for some people doesn't work at all.

If I go to have my daily peanut-butter cup, but I know for a fact that there are 5 more in the bag, I will probably not stop at one. That's why I only buy sweets in single servings, as a way of limiting the damage that I can do in a moment of weakness. Sure, I could always just go to the store and get more, but having to do so buys me valuable time.
posted by hermitosis at 2:31 PM on January 23, 2007

WCityMike, I'm dieting as well, and this is a GREAT post! Thanks so much.

I've found eating mixed nuts is REALLY good for curing the salty/crunchy craving - what I've been doing is actually making my own mixes. I have a plastic pour-spout tupperware that I use, and combine all my favorite nuts (only going with one salted option, to cut down on sodium). What I have now is: peanuts, walnuts, cashews, raisins, cranberries, yogurt drops and sesame cracker sticks. Any trail mix substitutions will work great - dried fruits and nuts are really filling and it's fun to make the mix yourself.

I too supplement with REALLY good chocolate, a piece or two at a time. The other night we actually melted a few pieces and then did a fruit fondue thing with pinapple and apples and kiwi - fun!

I also buy some mixes I really die for - I'm addicted to that cheesy Chex mix - but I separate out the bag immediately into little baggies or small tupperwares - only a serving at a time. I feel too guilty to open up another one, and as time goes on, I'm feeling pretty satisfied with my little "snack packs."

Oh, another product recommendation to add to your list is a frozen dessert called "Smart Ones." They come in little cups and are Key Lime Pie, Strawberry Shortcake, etc. They microwave in a few seconds and are REALLY delicious.

Good luck on the weight loss, it sounds like you're on the right track! It's really fun to realize you're changing your habits for the better, isn't it?
posted by agregoli at 2:31 PM on January 23, 2007 [1 favorite]

Two chocolate graham crackers pretty much obliterate chocolate cravings for me. They're suprisingly good.

Another thing I find really satisfying is really acidic/vinegary food. Something about the acids really make my brain convinced that I've eaten something incredibly substantial. I have no idea why. That's why I put cholula sauce on practically everything.
posted by contessa at 2:34 PM on January 23, 2007

The first thing that comes to my mind is that if you actually want to lose weight, you're going to have to try to fight these cravings, and reduce your snacking in between meals.

Alternatively, you could consider eating 5 or 6 light meals spread evenly throughout the day, rather than eating 3 full meals and struggling to avoid snacking between them. You may find that "grazing" like this is a more natural, satisfying way to eat (it's pretty much how I eat most of the time), and it can be just as healthy as a strict 3-meal, no snacks diet. Here's a week's worth of 6 meals a day, all of them 2,000 calories or less.
posted by scody at 2:40 PM on January 23, 2007 [4 favorites]

There are two goals here, of course: losing weight and eating healthier. Just bear in mind that many of the suggestions so far (e.g. nuts, fruit juice) are much healthier overall than the alternatives, but are still quite high in calories.

When I have to snack, I find ordinary popsicles to be a good option -- refreshing, relatively low-cal, and they take a long time to eat.

For a refreshing fizzy drink, try an Italian soda (without cream, of course). Just mix a half ounce shot of Monin syrup with club soda and plenty of ice. It has approximately 1/3 the calories and 1/3 the sugar of a can of coke. Just don't use that flavourless Torani syrup they serve in most coffee shops.
posted by Urban Hermit at 2:46 PM on January 23, 2007

Eating something healthy yet high in calories in a portion-controlled way is the goal, yes? Unless you want to eat healthy low-cal foods all day long (I do need time to do other things besides eat)...I myself like to be efficient with these things.
posted by agregoli at 2:51 PM on January 23, 2007

Nonfat hot chocolate mix + skim milk + 6-8 large ice cubes in the blender, blend until mostly smooth, top with fat-free Cool Whip or other fat-free topping crap (there's a fat-free Reddi-Whip now). Delicious, fat free, low calorie, high calcium and very satisfying.
posted by biscotti at 2:51 PM on January 23, 2007

OK, this is gross, but....I'm a total salt freak, like, I salt foods til I can *see* the grains of salt pile up on top of them. I DIP hard boiled eggs in bowls of salt.

That said, I have found that taking a small pinch of (very coarse) sea salt and just chomping on it not only satisfies my salt craving (duh), it also in some weird way makes me satisfied not to snack further on anything at all.
posted by tristeza at 2:54 PM on January 23, 2007

One of my faves is taking a sweet potato, baking it till it's oozing-in fact, overbaking it- then letting it cool off (I put mine in the fridge.) When it's chilled it tastes sweet and puddingy plus it's very filling.
posted by konolia at 2:58 PM on January 23, 2007

Here are some relatively healthy things I like to snack on:

Air-or-microwave-popped, unbuttered popcorn. This is the best substitution ever. You can eat quite a bit of it, with all the salt and spices you want, and only get 50 or 100 calories. For toppings, I recommend nutritional yeast (it tastes cheesy and rich, but it's not bad for you), curry powder, or lemon salt (if you can find the kind you put in Mexican beer, it is very good on popcorn). Popcorn is a great substitute for chips.

Dill pickles (they're crunchy, flavorful, and contain very few calories). These kill just about any craving for me. If you make them hot, they're even better at cutting appetite -- I like to cut up some hot chiles (habanero, jalapeno or Thai bird's eye) and throw them in the brine.

Cucumber & yogurt salad (Slice cukes, mix with plain yogurt, a bit of salt, and fresh or dried mint. Other spices (cumin, cayenne) are optional. This tastes way more indulgent than it actually is, and it lasts some days in the fridge. Good when you crave something rich and creamy.

Whole Grain Triscuits are surprisingly filling, and not as bad for you as many other crackers are. If you crave crackers or chips, have a small number of these with some healthy topping (I like mustard, chopped veg, pickle/chutney, or yogurt mixed with hot sauce).

Sauerkraut or boullion can be good when you crave something warm and filling. They have a strong flavor, but not many calories.

Low-fat string cheese. This is tasty, cheap, and if you pull off the strings one-by-one it takes a good while to eat. I try this when I have "real food" cravings, like if I want to have dinner 2 hours after lunch. :)
posted by vorfeed at 3:05 PM on January 23, 2007 [2 favorites]

I've heard from various sources, and seen it in my own habits and cravings, that a lot of munchie craving is actually your body needing water. I try to drink herbal teas whenever I get an unreasonable craving, and try to cut out as much sugar- or caffeine-laden beverages as possible. Not all, but most.

Buy an herbal tea sampler or two (there's usually a two-for-one sale at most grocery stores) and try it for a week. Also note that I've found that it's important to use filtered water for making tea. I don't know how your tap-water is, but around here a glass of unfiltered tap-water will dehydrate you worse than a cup of coffee!
posted by lekvar at 3:08 PM on January 23, 2007

A cup of green tea and a banana helped with my post-lunch I'm-bored-in-an-office chocolate craving.
posted by The corpse in the library at 3:16 PM on January 23, 2007

A glass of chocolate milk made with skim and Hershey's syrup calms my chocolate jones before I eat a bunch of ice cream, etc.
posted by docpops at 3:25 PM on January 23, 2007

Candied/crystalized ginger slices (available in a lot of bulk food stores) cures me of my strong flavour/sweet/chewy cravings, with the added benefit of being spicy, which I've heard is an appetite suppressant. (Not sure how true that is, but I never eat a ton of it at a time.)

Diet hot chocolate for the sweet/creamy cravings.

Pickles for the salty/crunchy cravings.
posted by Kololo at 3:28 PM on January 23, 2007

I mean, sure, two hard candies is probably better for you than a king sized snickers bar, but you know what would even be better for you? Neither.

Geez, don't begrudge the poor guy two hard candies. A whole 48 kcal. Compared to a 541 kcal Snickers bar loaded with fat, this is real progress.
posted by grouse at 3:30 PM on January 23, 2007 [1 favorite]

I was checking out the Real Simple link from SCody (thanks -- I think I'll try that) posted and found this too: "Satisfy Your Cravings with Wholesome Snacks"
posted by nnk at 3:32 PM on January 23, 2007

In my work, we promote realllllllly small steps for making healthier changes in the diet (since in our area you CAN'T say "don't eat Spam" or "don't eat chips). So things like if you NEED something salty and crunchy, have the Lay's baked chips (the plain have less fat, but now baked chips also come in doritos, cheetos, etc). Only drink 100% juice, and dilute it if possible.

When you're cooking ground beef at home, after browning it, drain it in a collander (this reduces approx 1/2 the fat). THEN run some hot water over it (which reduces in about another 25%). Then put back in your pan, add your seasonings, etc.

Avoid sugar substitutes like Splenda or any aspartame, since it makes you crave more.

Like scody, we suggest the celery and peanut butter, but then add raisins for "ants on a log". And, like biscotti, making that transition to nonfat/skim milk is really essential. But do it in baby steps, whole to 2%, 2% to 1%, 1% to skim.

And then allow yourself a fun-sized (halloween sized) candy once in awhile. Depriving yourself may drive you to binge once given the opportunity!

Good luck!
posted by lil' ears at 3:38 PM on January 23, 2007 [2 favorites]

I've been changing up my eating habits lately in this direction, here is my list. These aren't one for one, but they're ways of subbing in better for worse.

- iced tea instead of juice or soda
- skim instead of real milk, soy milk if I want something creamier
- olive oil for butter [esp on bread]
- roasted garlic over some other savory (mashed potatoes?) good for snacks
- dried fruits &c for desserts [including papaya spears, candied ginger and dried apricots] I keep these out and available so they're easy to grab when I walk in the door
- toasted walnuts or pecans over processed mixed nuts
- sorbet over ice cream
- turkey overy hamburger (this one has become a solid preference since I started a while back)

Some of the stuff I checked out and was surprised to find very little health difference. Like, the difference between whole wheat english muffins and regular english muffins is basically zero so if I wanted to do something healthier I'd have to move to healthier crackers, matzoh or wasa bread.
posted by jessamyn at 3:46 PM on January 23, 2007

Making myself fill up on "good" choices before I go to the bad choices is the cornerstone of my diet, and the only thing that really works long term for me. Nothing is disallowed, but if I want the ice cream, I make a deal with myself that I have to eat lots of broccoli or whatever first.

Lately I tried some Weight Control instant oatmeal by Quaker and it is AMAZING! Oatmeal + whey protein + splenda. When I eat this I am absolutely not hungry for at least 6 or 7 hours.

(and all the other tips above are great too - tried most of them. The Monin syrup with club soda is great. I was a Coke addict)
posted by vronsky at 3:52 PM on January 23, 2007 [1 favorite]

Nuts instead of potato chips, definately.

But to resist the cravings completely, I found that the movie Supersize Me! cured me of wanting softdrinks and the book Don't Eat This Book by the same guy cured me of wanting potato chips (even if I have replaced them with the odd small bag of nuts).

Avoid anything with artificial sweeteners, they're much worse for you than real sugar. High Frutose Corn Syrup is also evil (it's tendatively linked to insulin resistance).
posted by krisjohn at 3:57 PM on January 23, 2007 [1 favorite]

I don't know how helpful this is, but getting rid of snacks altogether is what helped me reduce cravings the most. It sounds stupid, but a lot more thought goes into eliminating snacks than you'd imagine.

First, scody's idea of eating 5-6 small meals per day is where you want to start. Second, find healthier replacements for various foods you usually eat. Unprocessed foods and whole grains are your best choices. Using these replacements has actually reduced my cravings for certain things. I used to think I "needed" a bottled Frappucino and Snickers Cruncher bar for breakfast, but replacing it with sugar free chocolate soy milk and two pieces whole grain toast has completely removed the cravings I used to have for those foods.

I know a lot of people disagree, but for me, having high protein cereal bars (South Beach, Kashi, Slim Fast) and 100-calorie snacks in the house helped me immensely. I don't even miss cookies and candy anymore.

Third, stop buying snacks and desserts that will sit around your house and office. It will take a long, long time, but eventually you'll discover certain foods aren't necessary for you. I struggled for a year to get "off" fast food but I've finally managed it. It took me more than a year to stop drinking soda. You'll get to where you won't even think about buying these items and the cravings will disappear as well.

Of course, if there is a snack you just must have, denying yourself won't work. Make it a treat, eat in moderation.

This is lifestyle change. Getting rid of cravings is hard, and it's trial and error as to what will work.

Again, I'm not sure you want to get rid of cravings, but the easiest way to manage them is to not have them. Just my experience. YMMV.
posted by smashingstars at 4:04 PM on January 23, 2007

Oh, as nnk's link suggests, Larabars are fantastic -- rich, satisfying, healthy (lots of fiber, plenty of nutrients, no refined sugars, etc.), and all under 220 calories. (I haven't tried their new Jocolat "brownies" yet, though, but I can vouch for plenty of the other flavors.)
posted by scody at 4:05 PM on January 23, 2007 [1 favorite]

I also used to use lots of sugar in my coffee. Now I just use milk, but if I want that sweet creamy taste I get a light coffee frappucino from you know where. Once or twice a week it really fulfills that need.
posted by vronsky at 4:13 PM on January 23, 2007

Response by poster: M.C. Lo-Carbi: The first thing that comes to my mind is that if you actually want to lose weight, you're going to have to try to fight these cravings, and reduce your snacking in between meals. I mean, sure, two hard candies is probably better for you than a king sized snickers bar, but you know what would even be better for you? Neither.

I don't consider that entirely realistic, and, moreover, I don't think a 30-calorie hit for sucking two hard candies that are going to keep a chocolate-caramel taste in my mouth for (if not crunched) 10-20 minutes, compared to a 560-calorie hit for a King-Size Snickers ... well, suffice it to say that after long battle with my cravings, I think this sort of substitution concept works. Simply denying yourself tastes you desire altogether makes it Forbidden Fruit. (Then again, if it was fruit, it wouldn't be forbidden ... )

martinX's bellbottoms: That's a brilliant idea, the juice/seltzer thing. I'm gonna have to try that.

The ideas thus far are fantastic. Keep 'em coming!
posted by WCityMike at 4:20 PM on January 23, 2007

If I drink water and/or chew gum, half the time my cravings will go away. Having baby carrots, an apple, a banana, or other easy-to-eat produce on hand also helps. Sometimes I think I don't really want to eat well, but if I force myself to eat better first the unhealthy craving may disappear.

When that doesn't do the trick, my cravings tend to fall into these categories:
- salty
- carbohydrate
- fat
Often, I will crave two or more at once.

* Instead of pasta or bread, popcorn or a rice cake. Or just less bread, less pasta.

* I've noticed that when I crave fat, eating something with more protein often leaves me just as satisfied.
* Instead of a candy bar or some kind of butter-drenched food, yogurt, a small cube of cheddar cheese, a handfull of nuts or a tablespoon of peanut butter.

* Just look for a healthier salty food. Salty popcorn is better than salty pasta, for example. Or put salt on edamame or something that's good for you.

Carbohydrate & fat:
* Instead of a candy bar, a rice krispie treat or a slice of cheese and cracker or popcorn with a little bit of butter.

I occasionally, but rarely, crave anything sweet. When I do, I just have a teaspoon of sugar or honey and I'm good.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 4:33 PM on January 23, 2007

If I'm cooking at home, roasted cauliflower helps me when I want fries with my burger. Sliced thin, tossed in a tiny bit of olive oil, salt, and seasoned with assorted things (my favorite is garlic and a bit of parmesan) and cooked in the oven till it starts to brown. It's warm and salty and I really don't miss the fries much.
posted by jheiz at 4:38 PM on January 23, 2007 [3 favorites]

Chocolate/sweets cravings - I think tootsie rolls are a good option because a serving is 6 rolls (which should be PLENTY to satisfy a craving and should take a considerable amount of time to eat) = 140 calories and 3 grams of fat

A square of bakers chocolate isn't a bad option, either. A serving of semi-sweet is about 70 calories and 4 grams of fat.

These probably aren't IDEAL solutions, but they are healthier than, say, a king size snickers.

For crunchy/salty cravings, usually some celery stuffed with a square or two of laughing cow cow cheese (5 squares = 35 calories and 2 grams of fat) usually does it for me. Cheese flavored popcorn cakes are also good.

Another good salty-type snack is lettuce (I know it is strange, but I love iceburg) with a mixture of soy sauce and lemon juice. Yes, lots of sodium, but not much in the way of calories.
posted by necessitas at 4:39 PM on January 23, 2007 [1 favorite]

My favorite substitute for C\hhicken nuggets is the Quorn brand of fake chicken nuggets (made out of micoprotein, don't ask). They're much less fatty/much better for you, and taste better than the real thing. Quorn can be found in some supermarkets like Albertson's in the frozen food aisle, or at health food stores.
posted by np312 at 4:40 PM on January 23, 2007

Clementine oranges make a good sweet snack. They're maybe fifty calories apiece, so even if you really have the munchies and put away five of them you're not doing too bad.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 4:47 PM on January 23, 2007

I would personally caution against replacing high-fat food cravings with zero-fat options. It's one thing to say "I want something sweet", but "I want a snickers bar" might actually mean "I'm hungry and need real food." Learning how to distinguish between hungry, cravings, and a combination of the two is really invaluable. To lose weight you might need to be hungry sometimes, which sucks. If you are actually hungry when you get these cravings, eating sugar (like hard candy or popsicles) might just lead to feeling hungrier and more deprived, which then might lead to overeating your "healthy" substitution. I think that is why so many people here are urging you to learn portion control instead of trying to substitute.
All that being said, if I have a sugar craving that I know is simply a craving (say, after drinking or when anxious), I chew cinnamon gum. I rarely have salt cravings, but dill pickles are awesome for that. If I'm craving something unspecified I'm usually just hungry, so I have some full-fat cheese or peanut butter (or a real meal if it is mealtime). And nthing the suggestion that you just don't keep empty junk snacks in your house, or if you must, limit it to one kind (only the popsicles, or only the hard candies). Variety is great but it also makes you eat more.
posted by ch1x0r at 4:53 PM on January 23, 2007

Check out hungry-girl.com. They have tons of low-calorie substitution ideas in a feature called "Chew the Right Thing." In general the site has tons of useful suggestions for ways to eat low-calorie things that also taste good.

Some of my personal favorites include Jell-o with Cool Whip Free on top. I also love this peanut butter called Better n' Butter, which is sold at Trader Joe's -- 2 tbsp have only 100 calories. Hungry Girl is big on House Foods tofu shirataki noodles, which are also sold at Trader Joe's -- an entire packet of noodles (about a bowlful) has only 40 calories.
posted by hazelshade at 4:55 PM on January 23, 2007 [1 favorite]

When I really want chocolate but can't bring myself to eat even a small portion of it, I eat a dill pickle. The strong flavor kills any hankering I might have for sweet.
posted by wallaby at 5:10 PM on January 23, 2007

For sweet cravings:

Sliced apples sauted in butter-flavored Pam with cinnamon and Splenda (guilt-free apple pie)

Air-popped popcorn, 2-3 sprays of butter-flavored Pam, sprinkle of Splenda (tastes like kettle corn)

Fresh peaches or strawberries with low-fat sugar-free whipped topping (better than peaches and cream)

Toasted whole wheat bread, 2-3 sprays butter-flavored Pam, sprinkle of cinnamon and Splenda (cinnamon roll-ish)

Layer sugar-free vanilla pudding, nilla wafers, sliced bananas, refrigerate over-night (yummy)

Blend until smoothe: low-fat soy milk, frozen strawberries, Splenda (strawberry milkshake)
posted by dudiggy at 5:15 PM on January 23, 2007 [1 favorite]

Chocolate cravings: A sandwich of old-fashioned peanut butter on whole grain bread works for me, as does (oddly) a ripe, juicy pear. Or any time you'd have a Snickers, try your favorite kind of Clif-esque bar instead. Even if not low-calorie, these are satisfying and healthier.

Soft drinks: I've developed a taste for unsweetened (not diet or sugar-free - entirely unsweetened) sodas. Flavored Calistoga or your local equivalent is a nice treat once you stop expecting that tooth-rattling sugar blast.

Hot drinks: many herbal teas taste quite sweet without any added sugar. Flavored black teas are worth a try if you want the caffeine.

Snacks on which you will still need to exercise portion control: Replace potato chips and onion dip with corn chips and guacamole. Avocados are very filling. Or have lightly-salted mixed nuts. Not just peanuts. Almonds are good.
posted by expialidocious at 5:26 PM on January 23, 2007

I find it useful to snack on things that provide that satisfying--whatever--but are just too painful to eat in any quantities. Bitter dark chocolate; wasabi green peas; really sour lemon candies.
posted by Jeanne at 5:36 PM on January 23, 2007 [1 favorite]

this stuff is genuinely tasty! (and organic and vegetarian)


their indian and mexican foods rock.
posted by oigocosas at 5:43 PM on January 23, 2007

I usually don't like the "diet" food options for snacks, but what about all those 100 Calorie Packs? There are lots of them available now (salty and sweet), they're already portioned for you and they don't taste totally diety (IMO). I also love broccoli with a bit of fat-free dressing for dipping. I'm horrible about cutting fresh veggies at home, so I usually buy the pre-cut varieties. Sugar snap peas are also wonderful for snacking. When I must have a something sweet - sugar-free jello mixed with a bit of sugar-free cool whip.
posted by youngergirl44 at 6:16 PM on January 23, 2007

Cauliflower mash is a great substitute if you need/want something carby, creamy, or comfort food-y.

Do this:
-Chop up a head(or half a head) of cauliflower
-Put in a double boiler/steamer and steam the crap out of it (usually 20 minutes)
-Dump the cauliflower in a bowl, add a tablespoon or so of margarine, juice of half a lemon, and some salt. Mash with fork until very finely mashed.
-Eat slowly with a spoon. Sometimes I like to top mine with a little parmesan cheese.
-Repeat as needed.

Really good. Creamy and filling but hardly any calories aside from the margarine.
posted by click at 6:32 PM on January 23, 2007 [1 favorite]

I just read this suggestion in Cosmo: When you get a craving for x (x being an unhealthy diet-killing type food), eat a small portion of x, then eat a bunch of y (y being a healthy substitute for the "bad" x). For instance: you crave chocolate cake. Eat a sliver of chocolate cake, then eat a couple of grapes or other such fruit to satisfy the rest of your craving. After the first few bites, junky food accomplishes its mental craving satisfaction, while the other food bulks up your snack with healthy eating. Just be careful that a "sliver" of chocolate cake does not turn into a "monster super chunk slice". Good luck, and congrats on the first step to becoming a healthy you.
posted by nursegracer at 8:13 PM on January 23, 2007

I like San Pellegrino sparkling mineral water instead of soda. I've gotten to like the taste so much, now when I have a soda for some reason, I wish it was the mineral water instead. Doesn't feel sticky and heavy on a hot day, either, like Coke or the other sodas. You'd probably find it in a higher-end grocery like Metropolitan Market (formerly Larry's).
posted by ctmf at 8:23 PM on January 23, 2007

GO BRUSH YOUR TEETH! it's insane how often people eat to kill a nasty mouth-taste. whenever you crave a snack, go brush your teeth and use some mouthwash. enjoy your minty clean muth and watch that craving disappear.
posted by twistofrhyme at 9:28 PM on January 23, 2007

Popcorn + chilli powder + sprinkle of parmesan = yum city.
posted by softlord at 10:32 PM on January 23, 2007

the small square of good dark chocolate as a dessert and THEN brushing is working for me pretty well.
posted by BillBishop at 10:50 PM on January 23, 2007

Icecream is not evil.

Icecream is not evil. You can loose weight with it, I have done so. It sooths and satisfies. 110 grams is a reasonable portion.

The things that bring on weight problems are more likely to be carbs such as bread and crackers.
posted by Goofyy at 1:53 AM on January 24, 2007

Really high-quality hot chocolate, like Lake Champlain is a great satisfier of chocolate cravings, plus you can make it with skim or lowfat milk.

For salty, I eat a lot of marinated artichoke hearts and mushrooms.
posted by miss tea at 4:33 AM on January 24, 2007

For salty I like a very good tomato (which is a little hard to find, especially in winter. Sorry about that) sprinkled with salt. Better if I can take a bite out of the tomato, sprinkle salt in, have another bite, rinse and repeat till the tomato is gone. This is usually done in the yard or over the kitchen sink.
posted by bilabial at 6:36 AM on January 24, 2007

I'm a little surprised by the amount of salt suggested in some of these craving-reducer suggestions - salt is so bad for you. Even pickles are in brine so you shouldn't overindulge in those either. I LOVE salt and it's part of my diet plan to cut down on it, and I realize that all in moderation, etc., but some of these snacks would not be good without it and I see that as a negative.

I tend to use garlic salt on things where feasible - it has a stronger "kick" so to speak so I use far less than I would if I used regular salt.
posted by agregoli at 7:31 AM on January 24, 2007

My main one is a big mug of good hot cocoa instead of a candy bar. Yes, hot cocoa has sugar and fat, but not nearly as much as the candy bar I really want. Plus, it takes a few minutes of sipping to disappear, making it very satisfying.
posted by timepiece at 8:22 AM on January 24, 2007

For savoury snacks with a lot less fat & salt than peanuts
I drain a tin of chick peas, sprinkle them with either mild curry powder or chilli powder a bit of black pepper put them on a baking tin then put them in the oven on medium heat for about and hour and a half.
posted by Wilder at 8:41 AM on January 24, 2007

salt is so bad for you

Depends on the person, yes? I use more salt than most people. My blood pressure is low -- not too low, I get compliments in the doctor's office. My mother and mother-in-law are the same way.
posted by The corpse in the library at 9:09 AM on January 24, 2007

Celery with hummus is a good snack. Incredibly filling, crunchy, delicious.
posted by Sara Anne at 9:55 AM on January 24, 2007

Still not recommended by anyone to have a high-salt diet, yes? If they've changed this, please let me know.
posted by agregoli at 9:56 AM on January 24, 2007

As far as I am aware, one wants to avoid excessive salt intake because it causes problems for people with certain identified conditions (such as high blood pressure). If your health is fine with your current salt intake, why worry about it? Except that yummy salty things are frequently also yummy caloric things, so watch out. MedlinePlus, however, warns that keeping salt intake moderate is a good habit to get into when you're healthy, so you aren't compelled to have more salt than is good for you when you're not.
posted by grouse at 10:21 AM on January 24, 2007

As far as I am aware, one wants to avoid excessive salt intake because it causes problems for people with certain identified conditions (such as high blood pressure).

I'd really doubt that if you had a high salt intake diet, that your health wouldn't be affected at some point. Grouse, you're right that it's better to correct any bad habit no matter what your current state of health - your health isn't ever guaranteed to stay great.
posted by agregoli at 10:37 AM on January 24, 2007

Interesting (albeit a tad bit old! article about salt intake)

Salt may also be linked to other health problems. "One of the aspects of salt that has been neglected," says Stamler, "is the growing evidence that high-salt intake is bad news for other problems ... such as aggravating asthma, gastric cancer, kidney stones, osteoporosis ... a wide range of problems."

But we digresss. Apologies to WCityMike and everyone else.
posted by agregoli at 10:40 AM on January 24, 2007

Still not recommended by anyone to have a high-salt diet, yes? If they've changed this, please let me know.

I am on a high salt diet, doctor's orders, because I have Addison's Disease.

posted by tristeza at 12:50 PM on January 24, 2007

Salt is not bad for you at all unless you have HBP. Just asked a doctor friend about this.
posted by vronsky at 1:38 PM on January 24, 2007

Personally, I have found that eating foods that contain a good percentage of GOOD fats keeps me full and keeps my cravings to a minimum--unless I have PMS; then all bets are off. That said...

If I just want that "full" feeling in my stomach after I've already eaten, and/or I want some crunch, I enjoy baby carrots. If I want something a little "extra," I dip them in hummus.

For "chips," toast pita bread and dip in hummus or drizzle with olive oil.

For chocolate, have some chocolate. Just buy a single serving...if you're like me it doesn't pay to have it around the house. (High quality chocolates and not those highly processed ones that contain high fructose corn syrup are much healthier.)

For hard core sugar cravings, I get fat-free meringue cookies from Trader Joe's. Yum.

I personally do not like to snack on fruit as I find it increases my cravings. I try to eat my fruit during meals.
posted by mintchip at 7:36 PM on January 24, 2007

i'm with the tea drinkers. stash vanilla nut creme decaf tea with splash of milk is delicious and a regular dessert for me. yum yum yum.

love the dill pickles thing too. but i just love dill pickles anyway...

sometimes i can tell i want protein right before bed. i eat an egg--maybe not super healthy, but it's better than cooking up a hamburger or even a ham sandwich, say.
posted by ifjuly at 2:49 PM on January 25, 2007

Salt is mostly bad when it not balanced by an intake of potassium. My suggestion of tomato with salt stands, provided the person who eats it is eating more fresh fruits and vegetables and nearly no high sodium canned goods/other items. Humans historically had a high intake of potassium and an erratic intake of sodium. So, we're pretty well designed to shed potassium very quickly but our bodies hold onto our sodium.

It's not the salt that's pad as much as it's the Sodium part of the equation. Messes up that handy Sodium Potassium pump thing that our hearts love so dearly.
posted by bilabial at 5:44 PM on January 26, 2007

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