It’s been a long, hectic day, when all of a sudden you pass your local bakery and simply must have that gooey fudge brownie. Translation: Lots of butter, sugar, chocolate…and calories. You gobble it down, lick the fudge off your fingers, then proceed to feel guilty about indulging in such a decadent treat and resolve to forgo sugar. Smart idea? Not really. A better approach would be to analyze when and where these cravings tend to occur. Once you determine your vulnerable times, you can plan ahead and have healthy treats at hand. Simple substitutions to reach for the next time you have that insatiable urge to splurge on something that is…

• Sweet. If you’re in the mood for something sinfully delicious, chocolate may be your guilty pleasure. If so, have some emergency backups around such as a 60-calorie chocolate pudding cup, topped with fat-free whipped topping. Or how about a rich dark chocolate peppermint patty? It’s got 70% less fat than candy bars and only 140 calories. Be sure to buy the single patties and not a huge bag of minis, or you may not be able to stop at just one! Maybe you’re yearning for a slice of strawberry shortcake smothered in real whipped cream (to the tune of about 400 calories). Instead, you’d be much better off having a slice of low-calorie angel food cake, topped with thawed Lite Cool Whip, fresh strawberries and a fresh raspberry purée. This version offers all the deliciousness for half the calories, along with the nutrition from the fresh berries (fiber, antioxidants and many vitamins and minerals—especially vitamin C and potassium).

• Salty and crunchy. If you find yourself eating out and need some crunch with your sandwich, you don’t have to give yourself a big hit of sodium by grabbing a bag of chips. Instead, head to the salad bar and have some thick carrot slices to satisfy that urge to crunch. If you feel you must have some chips during your favorite miniseries, you can make your own healthy version of potato chips by using extra-thin sliced potatoes (coat with olive oil, season and bake at 400°F for about 30 minutes). Dying for fatty, salty movie popcorn? Try buying popcorn kernels and popping them up in a microwave popper. Add your own seasoning and a spray oil, and you avoid the added calories, bad fat and sodium found in the commercial brands. Or you can munch on seaweed snacks, the latest nutrition trend that’s delicious, not fishy at all, and truly addicting. Most seaweed snacks, available at many major supermarket chains such as Walmart, Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s, house a cocktail of nutrients, including vitamins A and C, calcium, iodine, potassium, iron and magnesium. And all this for a measly 50 calories a pack!

• Fast food. If a juicy burger with the works is on your mind, make your own veggie burger or portobello mushroom burger at home and add on all the toppings (this satisfies your craving for a fraction of the fat and calories). It’s not fast food, but definitely a tasty substitute. Or what if you just have to have that gooey, cheesy slice or two of pizza? Make your own by using a whole-wheat pita or tortilla topped with tomato sauce and lots of melted low-fat mozzarella cheese. In the mood for Chinese fried rice? Try making your own using cauliflower rice (chop florets in a blender to make the “rice,” then fry in extra-virgin olive oil and season with a touch of low-sodium soy sauce and pepper).

The truth is, it’s OK to splurge on unhealthy foods once in a while. It’s when these indulgences become a daily habit that these less-than-nutritious choices can harm your health and lead to weight gain. If you try these healthy and satisfying swaps, you can (occasionally) have your cake and eat it, too!

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