Health-conscious consumers are discovering that they can have their cake and eat it too—as long as that cake is made from healthy ingredients like sweet potatoes.
The Atlantic recently reported on the increasingly popular practice of making “fake junk foods” by making unhealthy food with healthy ingredient substitutions. For example, an enterprising home chef can use a device called a spiralizer to shave zucchini into thin strands that become “pasta”, and someone with a sweet tooth can curb their cravings by blending frozen bananas into something called “nice cream”. You’ve likely already seen ready-made healthy junk food alternatives on the shelves of your local grocery store—kale chips that take the place of potato chips are just one popular example.
When eating healthy food substitutions, many people feel that they can enjoy large portions of meals that mostly taste like the guilty pleasures they love, without having to worry about going over their daily recommended caloric intake. However, some nutritionists are concerned that there could be negative consequences of throwing portion control out the window in favor of junk food alternatives.
The Potential Downsides of Faking Your Junk Foods
The main problem with the fake junk food trend is that it can encourage overeating. Research has shown that people eat up to 35% more of a food when they perceive it as healthy, and in the process, they may end up consuming more calories than they think. Additionally, in their attempt to add flavor to faux junk foods, some home cooks may unwittingly exceed their daily recommended values in other nutritional categories. For example, carrots can be roasted and dressed up to taste like hot dogs, but when you start adding salt, soy sauce, or condiments, you may end up consuming a high level of sodium, which increases your risk for high blood pressure.
The Benefits of Healthy Food Substitutions
While there are potential pitfalls to healthy junk food alternatives, there’s also something to be said for any trend that encourages people to incorporate more fruits and vegetables into their diet. The USDA recommends that adults consume two and a half cups of vegetables and two cups of fruit every day, but few Americans adhere to these guidelines. According to a CDC report, less than 18% of U.S. adults meet the daily recommendations for fruit consumption, while less than 14% meet the recommendations for vegetable consumption.
Fruits and vegetables are recommended to be a large part of a healthy diet, as pictured in this diagram, but few people actually meet the recommended portions shown here.
Incorporating more fruits and vegetables into your diet has numerous health benefits; these food groups can provide valuable nutrients, help you manage your weight, and reduce your risk for heart disease, stroke, and some cancers. If you want to consume more fruits and vegetables but find you have a hard time working them into your daily diet, it may help to disguise them as fries, pasta, burgers, or other foods that you like.