Nutrition professionals suggest junk food alternatives

BYU student Tyler Terry keeps his water bottle nearby to keep himself hydrated and stave off unhealthy cravings. (Maddi Driggs)
BYU student Tyler Terry keeps his water bottle nearby to keep himself hydrated and stave off unhealthy cravings. Terry said his water bottle also reflects his personal style. (Maddi Dayton)

Vending machine treats aren’t the only quick snack option for busy students on the BYU campus. Health professionals McCall Weekes and Ginger Bailey said there are healthy ways for students to fill their stomachs rather than succumbing to junk food cravings.

A study performed by Tufts University in 2014 showed the brain scans of adults who participated in a weight loss program for six months. The results of the brain scan suggested a preference for healthy foods and a reversal of unhealthy food addiction is possible.

Ginger Bailey is a registered dietitian practicing in Salt Lake City. Bailey’s philosophy doesn’t eliminate junk food completely but observes “moderation in all things.” Her concern arises when consuming junk food is a habit.

“When people are consuming it on a regular basis it becomes a habit. Then it’s really hard to break later,” Bailey said. “Those junk foods end up replacing other foods that people need to be getting in and that actually do provide their bodies with a lot of good nutrition.”

Bailey said students may feel as if they crave a certain junk food for two reasons: a person’s body may need a certain nutrient, or there is a biochemical feedback that occurs with certain foods, especially fats and sugars, which affects the neurotransmitters in the brain.

“(Sugars and fats) actually chemically affect the brain and increase serotonin levels that make us feel happy. A lot of times we eat something and it makes us feel happy. It’s a way of coping,” Bailey said. “When we’re craving those things, it’s not because we’re really hungry or because our body really needs that, it’s just that we’re trying to actually correct brain chemistry or we’re trying to make ourselves feel better.”

To temper these cravings, local nutrition coach and BYU alumna Weekes recommended making hydration a priority.

“A lot of times when we feel tired, which students often do because of their demanding schedules, we think we need something to munch on or a little bit of sugar to wake us up,” Weekes said. “But if we just have a glass of water over the course of 15 minutes it would subside a lot of those cravings.” 

BYU pre-dietetics student Tyler Terry said he uses hydration as a technique to avoid his cravings.

“One of the most important things for me is always having a water bottle with me,” Terry said. “It keeps my mouth occupied, and obviously there are no calories in water. Staying hydrated keeps your stomach full, even just for a short time.”

Weekes suggested students who are craving high-carb snacks should try quinoa, wild rice, barley, farro, anything whole wheat or brown rice.

“Anything that’s whole wheat is going to be far better for (students) than anything white,” Weekes said. “White flour is best to be avoided.”

Bailey suggests students who find themselves drawn to foods high in trans fats and salt consider snap pea crisps for a salty, crispy satisfaction or nuts. 

“It still gives you that crunchiness, but the fat that’s in that is a much healthier type of fat than just eating potato chips,” Bailey said.

A close alternative to potato chips, according to Weekes, is baking vegetables in the oven at home.

“It’s going to take the same amount of time, but you’re using way less oil, and you can still taste the vegetable over just the oil content,” Weekes said.

Bailey recommended students who crave sweets or anything high in sugar content try banana chips or dried fruits for a quick snack.

“It’s not like it’s straight junk food. You’re not getting straight sugar or just straight processed sugar,” Bailey said. “You’re actually getting good vitamins and electrolytes with it as well.”

Students can add Crystal Light, flavored drops or fresh berries to water to satisfy soda or juice cravings, according to Weekes. She also recommends trying protein bars because “you’re getting that healthy protein, but you’re also satisfying that sweet craving.”

Weekes cautions clients to anticipate the difference when trying to satisfy their cravings with new healthy alternatives. She reminds them as they change their palettes they also need to change their mindset.

“You need to think, ‘I’m trying new flavors, I’m experimenting with new foods,'” Weekes said.

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