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Hunger Games: Kill Cravings with Alternative Foods

Focused on Health - April 2012

by Dawn Dorsey

When a food craving hits, it knows no mercy.

food cravingsIn a matter of seconds, the thought of a cupcake or bag of chips can go from “A cupcake sounds good” to “I must have a cupcake or I’ll explode!”

And, unfortunately, we usually crave easily accessible, processed, calorie-dense foods that can pack on pounds.

“Calories consumed during a craving binge can amount to 1,000 to 2,000 if you’re not careful,” says Mary Ellen Herndon, wellness dietitian at MD Anderson. “And while you won’t pack on the pounds if you indulge a craving every now and then, you may start to gain weight if you don’t get those cravings under control.”

And, that’s bad news since weight gain that can cause you to become overweight or obese can put you at greater risk for diseases like cancer. Use these tips to help rein in those pesky cravings.

Indulge in moderation

It’s true: cravings often just get worse when you try to ignore them. So, Herndon says it’s often better to go ahead and indulge your cravings, but in a healthy way.

“Don’t be afraid to give in — just a little,” Herndon says. “It may keep you from splurging even more later.”

Take a close look at your cravings, and you’ll probably see a pattern. Herndon suggests making a “Most Wanted” list of the foods you most often crave and overindulge in. Then, create a special stash of healthier options that can calm the beast. 

Satisfy cravings with healthier substitutions

Try these healthy alternatives for commonly craved high-fat, high-sugar foods.

Instead of:Try:
ChocolateFat-free or low-fat chocolate milk (8 oz.), 1 tablespoon dark chocolate chips, 6 almonds dusted with 1 tablespoon of dark cocoa baking powder or 1.5 oz. of high quality dark chocolate (60% cocoa or more)*
CupcakeMini angel food cake rounds (available in packages of six at the grocery store) with light whipped topping, homemade banana, zucchini, pumpkin bread prepared in small muffin tins topped with a dollop of low-fat or high protein plain yogurt sweetened with cinnamon, vanilla extract and a touch of honey
Soft drinkClub soda, chilled water with a lemon wedge, unsweet iced tea
Chips or salty snacksLow-fat tortilla chips, baked potato chips, whole grain pretzels, low-fat rice snacks or mini rice cakes, cucumber slices with pico de gallo or salsa, carrot slices rubbed in garlic or baked kale with garlic powder seasoning
Bacon cheeseburgerTurkey or veggie burger
Ice creamLow-fat frozen yogurt, frozen yogurt whips, no-sugar-added, low-fat ice cream or sugar-free, fat-free pudding cup, frozen grapes, frozen peeled banana, low-fat, high protein plain yogurt with frozen blueberries and fresh mint
DonutCinnamon toast, low-fat flavored bread, like banana, pumpkin or blueberry, sliced apples with cinnamon

Follow this advice and you’ll be better prepared the next time a craving hits. By having a plan, you’ll be more likely to stay on a better eating track and maintain a healthy weight. And, that’s one of the best ways to fight cancer.

*Choose products with the least added ingredients. Read the nutrition labels and modify your portion to accommodate the American Heart Association recommendation on added sugar intake. This means no more than 100 calories per day for women (6 tsp. of sugar or 25 grams) and no more than 150 calories per day for men (9 tsp. of sugar or 37.5 grams). 

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© 2014 The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center