It's hard to be perfect. No matter how good you try to be, there are times when every guy turns to the dark side: calling back the girl you know is wrong for you, just because you know she's so much fun in the sack. Hitting the Best Buy electronics department, even though you know your rent check is a week late. Or even piling your plate with junk food when you know you should be reaching for a more responsible (and boring) piece of fruit.
Sound familiar? Well, the good news is we've found a way to eliminate some of that guilt. Twenty ways, in fact. Twenty foods you may have considered junk that are actually OK to eat. We're not talking fat-free, sugar-free cookies here, or baked Styrofoam-like potato chips. No, these are classic "junk" foods.
They're processed. They're a bit higher in calories and fat than we might prefer. And they certainly shouldn't be staples of your diet. But they do have some redeeming qualities. And if you've got a craving and you plan to indulge, you'd be hard-pressed to find a better option.
What you're craving: Hot dogs
What to buy: Hebrew National Beef Franks
Since these dogs are kosher, they're made with a higher quality of meat; they also lack artificial colors and flavors. For an even leaner option, reach for Hebrew National Reduced Fat Franks. They're still junk food, but they have next to no fat and a third of the calories of the regular variety.
What you're craving: Ice cream
What to buy: Breyer's Natural Vanilla
Sure, it's made with sugar, but at least this ice cream takes the minimalist approach. With only six ingredients, it's about as wholesome and natural as a processed food gets.
What you're craving: Sausage
What to buy: Armour Brown 'N Serve Lite Original
File this under It Could Be Worse. (We are talking about sausage, after all.) But at least with Armour Lite, you're only getting 8 grams of fat for a serving of three links, compared with 19 grams in a full-fat option.
What you're craving: Fries
What to buy: Cascadian Farms Wedge Cut Oven Fries
Junk foods are notoriously low in potassium, a mineral your body needs for normal muscle function, heartbeat, and fluid balance. One serving of these potato wedges, however, supplies more potassium than a banana, and almost no sodium-a rarity for most potato products.
What you're craving: Bacon
What to buy: Butterball Turkey Bacon
While Butterball Turkey Bacon is no nutritional gift, it is significantly better than the porker variety. Three strips serves up about 100 calories and nearly 8 fat grams. Not so bad, considering that you know you're gonna want to be swinelike and eat the entire package.
What you're craving: Candy
What to buy: Hard peppermint candies
Besides being individually wrapped-creating an instant, unavoidable form of portion control-these red-and-white disks are überpotent, helping satisfy your taste buds quickly (and helping you eat less in the end).
What you're craving: White bread
What to buy: Sara Lee Soft & Smooth
You've tried, but you can't resist white bread, no matter how many times you're told to eat more whole grains. This bread is a good compromise. It's a blend of enriched white and whole-wheat flour, but by the taste, you'd never know it.
What you're craving: Pizza
What to buy: Amy's Spinach Pizza
Even if you eat the whole pie, you're taking in only 930 calories and 36 grams of fat (24 of them being the heart-healthy kind). Still feeling guilty? Think of the 36 grams of muscle-building protein and 6 grams of fiber you get in the process, as well as about 20% of your daily calcium quota.
What you're craving: Doughnuts or cake
What to buy: Twinkies
They've got enough preservatives to last decades, but who the hell cares? At 300 calories and 10 grams of fat for two cream-filled delights, Twinkies trump almost all other ready-to-eat cakes. Just one thing: no deep-fried Twinkies, OK?
What you're craving: Pie
What to buy: Pecan pie
Yes, one slice sets you back almost 500 calories and 20 grams of fat. But since pecans are the kingpin of all nuts when it comes to antioxidant content, at least eating this pie instead of cherry or apple helps slay many of the disease-triggering free radicals running rampant in your body.
What you're craving: Canned pasta
What to buy: Chef Boyardee Ravioli
Aside from a couple of chunks of pasta and a lot of sodium, the main thing you're downing when you eat ravioli is tomato sauce. And cooked pasta sauce is the absolute best source of the cancer-fighting antioxidant lycopene.
What you're craving: Canned soup
What to buy: Dinty Moore Turkey Stew
As canned soup goes, this turkey-and-tater combo is remarkably low in fat (3 grams) and high in total protein with 10 grams per cup. Even better: The turkey in the stew is an excellent source of glutamine, an amino acid that provides your white blood cells with chow for energy to defend you against cold-inducing viruses.
What you're craving: Something doughy
What to buy: Frozen soft pretzels
Less dense and lower in calories and carbs than a bagel, pretzels are also cholesterol- and trans fat–free. To keep these street treats snack-worthy, however, brush off as much of the salt topping as possible before you nuke them.
What you're craving: A TV dinner
What to buy: Hungry Man Jumbo Rigatoni With Meat Sauce
For a frozen meal, this one rocks: It's packed with 28 grams of protein, yet it has just 16 grams of fat and only 620 calories. The biggest bonus (besides no cleanup)? It also supplies 45% of your daily vitamin C needs-essential for making the collagen that keeps skin and muscles toned.
What you're craving: Cookies
What to buy: Gingersnaps
Ounce for ounce, gingersnaps naturally contain less sugar and less fat than almost any other cookie you can buy. And since the ginger flavor is so potent, a few cookies will fill you up much more quickly than a whole bag of gut busters like Oreos or double-chocolate chips.
What you're craving: Crackers
What to buy: Triscuits
Snack on just 12 Triscuits and you'll get 6 of the 38 grams of fiber you need each day. And if you think fiber is only good for keeping you regular, think again. Studies show that people who take in the most fiber also have the lowest levels of C-reactive protein (a known risk factor for heart disease and cancer) in their blood.
What you're craving: Chicken nuggets
What to buy: Perdue Baked Chicken Breast Tenderloins
These glorified McNuggets are baked in the factory, rather than being fried like your typical chunk of frozen chicken. Aside from that, like all poultry, they're still a great-tasting-and super-convenient-source of muscle-building protein.
What you're craving: Chocolate
What to buy: Hershey's Extra Dark
Dark chocolate may be the perfect food. It's loaded with a chemical called phenylethylamine that mimics feelings of being in love, along with feel-good compounds called cannabinoids and antioxidants called polyphenols, which have been shown to help reduce heart-disease risk.
What you're craving: Potato chips
What to buy: Wise Lightly Salted
Wise chips actually look like real potato slices-not processed potato blobs. What's more, the chips are crispier and less greasy than a standard chip and contain significantly less salt than most other brands.
What you're craving: Cheese
What to buy: Cabot 50% Light Cheddar
Most low-fat cheeses do an excellent job imitating rubber. But Cabot Light is the exception to the rule. Made with skim milk, one ounce of this cheese (available shredded, in blocks, and in to-go packs) contains just 70 calories and 20% of your daily calcium requirement. And it melts!