I don’t know one self-respecting mama who doesn’t have a secret stash of junk foods hidden in a desk, drawer or closet somewhere in her house: a supply of those tasty treats that you tell your kids they can’t eat, either because they’re loaded with sugar, cream, food dyes, salt, (or a combo therein), but you pop into your mouth when you think it’s safe and no one is looking, anyway. But maybe you don't have to snack on the sly after all... because it turns out that certain junk food can actually be healthy.
Junk food gets a bad rap, and in some cases, it’s definitely deserved. But in other instances, it really isn’t. We’ve convinced ourselves that all junk foods across the board are toxic and should never be consumed, but that’s really not the case at all. In fact, when eaten once in a while, they might be downright good for your health.
“As with any food group, healthy included, it is important to pay attention to serving sizes and portion control so that you stay balanced with these foods," says Anita Mirchandani, a nutritionist and fitness expert in New York City. "It can cross over to 'unhealthy' once you consume too much!”
Whichever junk food it is that gets your engine going, be sure to read the labels first to make sure you’re not taking in too much of the bad stuff, (like salt, sugar, or fats), which can end up making you feel worse off. And then check out these 15 surprising junk foods that are really, truly healthy. It just might make you want to share your goodies with your kiddos. Or not. Your choice. I won't judge.
The French fry counterpart might seem like a big red blob of badness, but it can be good for you. Ketchup — or more to the point, tomatoes — contains the antioxidant lycopene, which works to lower your body’s risk for heart disease. Look for a natural version to reap the biggest benefits.
Buttery crackers are delish, but not always the best for you. “Look for different grain sources for crackers, such as seeded or rye, for a better bang for your buck,” says Mirchandani. Crackers that are lower in sodium and higher in fiber can be a healthier snacking choice.
What nuts have in calories they well make up for in healthy fats and micronutrients such as niacin, magnesium, and Omega-3 fatty acids. Look for unsalted varieties to reduce your sodium intake and practice portion control to ensure you don’t pop too many peanuts at a time.
Yogurt is one of those foods that masquerades as a healthy food, but can be a junk food, too. It really all depends on what it comes with. “Avoid fruit on the bottom and check the ingredients,” advises Mirchandani. “Less is more!" To make sure that you eat the healthiest form of yogurt, opt for Greek (it has higher protein), and avoid added sugar and dyes.
Not all chips have to leave your fingers greasy, salty or orange to be good — or good for you. “Chip varieties are extensive!” says Mirchandani. “Brands like Late July use organic ingredients and Bean Fields is a bean-based chip.” This results in higher levels of fiber, for an overall healthier snacking experience.
Where this little kernel of goodness goes bad is the toppings — specifically butter, salt, and extra cheese. You know, all the things that make it so tasty. But eaten alone, popcorn is pretty good for your health. It’s high in fiber, low in fat and sugar, and is a cholesterol-free food.
Since it’s made from oil, vinegar, and egg yolks, mayonnaise isn’t exactly the healthiest thing to smear on your sammie. Mayo has about 90 calories per tablespoon, so the fat and calorie count can make it a big no-no. If you love your mayo, though, look for low-calorie options or try one made with an avocado oil base, which is a healthier fat source.
8. Ice Cream
You certainly might not think of ice cream as a smart food choice, but according to University Health News, ice cream does offer some health benefits. It contains calcium, potassium, and magnesium, all of which are good for you. But before you break out the banana splits, keep in mind that ice cream (with its high fat and calorie content), truly is a treat that you should indulge in once in a while, not on the daily.
9. Dark Chocolate
Dark chocolate is delish, and it’s also really good for you, too. Packed with antioxidants, fiber, iron, it can also help lower blood pressure and can reduce your risk for heart disease, Healthline reported.
10. Peanut Butter
Whether you smear it on toast, crackers, or spread it on bread and slap it together with jelly, peanut butter is one junk food that you shouldn’t feel guilty about eating. Full of healthy fats, peanut butter can be good for you, including managing blood sugar levels and it even helps with weight loss, according to Medical News Today.
11. Black Licorice
If you’ve got a wicked case of heartburn, try chewing on some black (not red) licorice. This movie theater staple aids in digestion, and can also help soothe sore throats and improve weight loss, reported WebMD. Just don’t eat too much at a time, advised health.com. When consumed in high quantities, black licorice can cause an irregular heartbeat.
12. Graham Crackers
When it comes to cookies, graham crackers are a healthier alternative. Lacking the added sugar from frosting and fillings, these little flat crackers can satisfy your kid’s cookie request without packing on the pounds.
Pizza unfairly gets the label of junk food, primarily because of how it’s prepared. Too many fatty toppings can lead to pizza being high in calories and fat, but it doesn’t have to be that way. If you prep pizza at home, you can opt for healthier fixins’, like broccoli, low-fat cheese, and low-sodium tomato sauce, for example. Again, it’s all about how you make it that matters.
14. Pork Rinds
15. Beef Jerky
You might wonder how a cured (and very tough) meat might be good for you, but it is. Women’s Health reported that beef jerky packs in the protein and is low in fat, which makes it great for people watching their weight. But what makes it iffy is its high sodium content, so just read the labels to make sure to find a lower-sodium solution. A better bet: find jerky that is organic or grass-fed.
The old saying goes that you can’t have too much of a good thing, and that’s definitely the case for all kinds of food, healthy and otherwise. Make sure to not go overboard no matter what you’re eating, and speak to your doctor first if you’re unsure how a specific food might affect your overall diet or health.