Junk food: 6 balanced options to replace junk food

Industrial fries, nuggets, burgers and pizzas… Junk food, also called “junk food”, is a real scourge for our health. However, there is no need to deprive yourself of your favorite food when you replace some industrial ingredients with fresh products. Discover six healthy alternatives to junk food.

It's a fact: we very often prefer sweet, fatty, salty foods... Nothing beats a piping hot petit four, chocolate ice cream or a good tray of fries! Except perhaps… alternatives that are a little lighter, but just as tasty? Learn how to trick your taste buds using a few replacement tricks. But first, a quick update on what junk food is.

Definition: what is junk food?

Appearing in the 1960s to 1980s, the term “  junk food” was created to designate all the industrial food that was booming at that time, but also the industrialization of production methods and the reduction in prices of fatty and sugary products. The prefix “bad” is loaded with meaning: this pejorative word literally denounces the damage this new industrial food has on our health.

Food high in fat, sugar, salt, calories, and low in nutrients can be considered junk food. Sometimes, junk food can simply be the fact of having a “poor diet”, according to Larousse , by consuming “poor quality food products, harmful to health”. And no matter how much we tell ourselves that it is better to avoid it, it happens more often than we think that it lands on our plates.

Why shouldn't you eat junk food?

Rich in calories, salt, bad fats and sugar, junk food has little nutritional value or even no benefit for health. For example,  industrial prepared meals and fast food are often very salty , high in calories, and contain saturated fats , additives, etc. Industrial drinks and sodas of all kinds are also full of additives , sugars , sweeteners . and generally do not contain any nutrients: they are “empty” calories!

Junk food is  dangerous for your health, and numerous studies prove it  : among the ills attributed to junk food, scientists report obesity, cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, diabetes and even cancer.

“The World Health Organization (WHO) warns of the global epidemic of obesity and its consequences, starting with the development of chronic diseases,” recalls the non-governmental consumer defense organization Foodwatch (source 1 ). France is not immune to this phenomenon.

Examples of the Most Common Junk Foods

Several foods embody the ultimate junk food , and are part of the daily lives of many of us, especially young people:

  • Nuggets;
  • Kebabs;
  • The chips ;
  • Industrial hamburgers;
  • Industrial pizzas;
  • So-called “aperitif” salty biscuits.
  • Industrial cakes;
  • Donuts;
  • The candies ;
  • Pastries…

The good news is that we can trick our brains while still pleasing our taste buds. Simply replace certain foods with more natural ingredients, which help us create healthier meals. First step: replace certain foods that are too salty, too sweet or too fatty with more balanced versions .

What is an alternative to industrial chips and fries?

Want to snack on greasy fries or crispy chips? Avoid going through the fryer box by opting for baked sweet potato fries , drizzled with a little olive oil and seasoned with paprika.

  • To replace the chips, cut the sweet potatoes into thin slices using a mandolin (be careful with your fingers), and dry them in the oven. You will benefit from the nutritional benefits of this type of potato while enjoying yourself;
  • To avoid ketchup or industrial sauces , prepare a white sauce made from natural yogurt, the juice of half a lemon and chives.

Another alternative  :

  • Cut a sweet potato (or, failing that, a classic potato) into strips, mix two tablespoons of olive oil, a teaspoon of vinegar, sprinkle with freeze-dried garlic, paprika, pepper and sea ​​salt;
  • Bake at 250°C for 30 minutes, then enjoy.

Stop industrial pizzas, prefer “homemade” ones!

A good slice of pizza that smells like cheese would make anyone drool. But instead of opting for an industrial product, prepare the pizza of your dreams yourself! Pizza dough made from wholemeal flour, fresh tomatoes, mozzarella, a few basil leaves, a drizzle of olive oil, and that's it. Preparing your own pizza is also a fun activity to do with family or friends, where everyone can choose their ingredients.

If you can't resist an industrial pizza, preferably choose a "Neapolitan" , "Margarita" , or a "Vegetarian". They are less fatty and provide more nutrients. As for garnishes, opt instead for tuna, ham or tomato sauce and avoid crème fraîche, chorizo, sausage, minced meat, etc.

Chocolate, always dark and with at least 70% cocoa!

If you love chocolate, you probably have irresistible and regular desires to bite into a bar. First of all, you should know that chocolate is not necessarily junk food; it has been proven that it brings many benefits: it is a natural antidepressant, promotes sleep , stimulates and regulates the nervous system... provided you consume it in reasonable quantities, and choose it carefully!

The solution is simple: avoid very sweet, white chocolates, with little cocoa content and toppings (caramelized almonds, nougat, praline, etc.). Opt for 70% dark chocolate . This way, you satisfy your cravings while limiting sugar intake.

How to eat low-calorie, sweet ice cream?

Very popular throughout the year but especially in summer, ice cream is considered by many consumers as a “lighter” dessert than a cake or pastry. Fresher, less heavy , a scoop of ice cream provides around 60 kcal. This is less than most traditional desserts. But some industrial ice creams often hide high doses of sugar and fat!

To enjoy them without sacrificing your figure and health, prepare your own frozen desserts by mixing frozen fruits in a blender. You can then add dried coconut or a few dark chocolate chips to make your ice cream more delicious.

Caution: do not confuse ice cream with ice cream, which has a higher fat content and is made up of sugars, milk, milk cream and flavorings.

How to replace overly salty petit fours?

Petits fours, these marvels that we devour without looking at them throughout the evening... And here is the finished platter, without even noticing it! Result: after a few hours of incessant snacking , a stomach ache appears, and a feeling of bloating.

The alternative solution for an aperitif then consists of preparing fruit and vegetable chips cut very thin and cooked in the oven at 200°C for half an hour with a little salt and a drizzle of olive oil. Plantains, apples, beets, zucchini... Anything lying around in the fridge goes through the mandolin before being roasted and gobbled up by our petit four hand vacuum cleaner! And at the end of the evening, fewer side effects than with small industrial ovens!

How to replace a very sweet dessert?

After a cheese pizza, we think that nothing could fit in our stomach. Except, perhaps, a tiny banana split or a donut covered in sugar and filled with strawberries?

For a healthier alternative , you can blend two bananas with a teaspoon of vanilla extract and a few drops of peppermint extract. Mix until you obtain a creamy paste, then grate in a little dark chocolate. It's delicious and a little less caloric.

Another tip, if you prepare a “homemade” cake: you can easily replace the fat with vegetables (zucchini, avocado, carrots, beets, etc.). The butter can be replaced by cottage cheese, almond puree... and instead of adding a big handful of sugar, think of natural fruit sugars: banana, sweet potato...

How to avoid eating junk food in general?

It’s not just by replacing “junk” foods with healthier, more natural foods that you can have a healthy diet. In addition, a poor diet combined with a sedentary lifestyle is an aggravating factor. We can never say it enough: get moving! It is essential to  practice physical activity , whether it is simply by walking an hour a day or by going to your swimming class, dance class, basketball class... No need to do five hours of sport a week, sometimes, half a week. hour is enough!

It's also a good way to avoid snacking  : instead of going home and slumping on the sofa eating a bag of chips, you get busy. When returning from sports, we avoid grabbing a kebab and a soda, we prefer a portion of pasta, rice, fruit with almonds... and lots of water.

A poor overall diet worsens the health consequences of junk food. If you find it impossible not to indulge in nuggets and fries, compensate on the side by eating fresh fruit or plain fromage blanc , for example. That will already be a win!

Junk food: Foodwatch denounces marketing aimed at children

In 2023, Foodwatch analyzed the composition of 228 children's drinks and foods. Survey results: 9 out of 10 products should not be marketed to children  because they are too fatty, too salty or too sweet according to WHO nutritional criteria, indicates the NGO in a  published report in 2023. She denounces “  junk food marketing  ” and calls for supervision of these “deleterious practices”.

To do this, Foodwatch defends a change of approach , “to move from self-regulation by companies to binding regulations on labeling, advertising, and taxation,” she indicates. This involves three measures:

  • “Mandatory nutritional labeling  on the front of packaging. In this context, the reference value for sugar consumption must be in line with WHO recommendations;
  • France must  ban advertising and marketing targeting children  under 16 for very fatty, very sweet or salty products (based on nutritional profiles established by the WHO);
  • The tax on sugary drinks must be increased, with a target of 20% of the sale price. This tax should be based on the amount of sugar present in the drinks.”