Replace that Junk Food with Healthy Snacking

What exactly is “junk food”? Junk food is a term that we use to describe foods that are not healthy for us. We generally use it to describe processed snack foods such as chips, cakes, cookies, sugary drinks, candy, desserts, and other foods that offer no nutritional value.  Foods that are laden with sugar, sodium, saturated, hydrogenated, or trans fats high in calories classify as junk food.

Can junk food be consumed in moderation? That is a tricky question for most of us.  Some people can have a small amount for a treat and then go right back to healthy eating.  Most of us have a more challenging time with that; we crave more junk food once we start to eat it. Even when we know it is not good for us, we can’t seem to stop ourselves from eating it. The Mayo Clinic cites 60% of the calories in the average diet come from unhealthy food. The reason we can’t stop eating it has to do more with our brain than our taste buds. Sugar creates an addictive cycle for many of us because sugar influences our brain’s ‘pleasure center’.

The Addictive Cycle: 

When we eat high sugar foods (sugar, processed bread, cake, candy, cookies etc.), we experience a spike in our blood sugar levels. This triggers an increase in two ‘feel good’ neurotransmitters: serotonin and dopamine. Both ‘feel good’ neurotransmitters make us feel ‘good’ ‘happy’ and ‘soothed’. The spike in serotonin after we eat sugar is a process that is tied biochemically to the high insulin levels that our pancreas must push out to deal with the sugar in our bloodstreams. Those beta cells deep within our pancreas hold not only insulin but also serotonin, and when insulin is released, so is serotonin.

Sugar intake will also stimulate the release of another ‘feel-good’ neurotransmitter called dopamine which floods the pleasure center of our brains; the same ‘pleasure center’ that gets activated with opioid drugs and other addictive substances.

Is it any wonder that so many of us have a real struggle with junk food?

Eating too much junk food laden with sugar and unhealthy fats causes a roller coaster ride for your blood sugar levels. It ultimately will contribute to weight gain, drain your energy, and affect your overall health. Sugary foods will cause a quick rush of high blood sugar, which stimulates the brain’s pleasure center with a flood of dopamine and a surge of serotonin that goes into your body’s systems and makes you feel good. This feeling is quick and temporary. Then your energy crashes, and so does your mood. What do you do? You grab another ‘fix’. This creates an addictive cycle that is hard to break.

Healthy Snacking:

Yes, you can snack and be healthy! Snacks are often associated with junk food-processed cakes, chips, cookies, and candy. Consuming these snacks regularly can lead to a range of health issues and weight gain. Today, consumers are demanding better snack options, and there are so many new healthy foods to choose from! Ditch the junk food and focus on snacking foods that enhance your health instead!

Healthy snacking will:

  • Bridge the gap between meals to prevent hunger
  • Improve concentration for driving or the task at hand
  • Improve mood and avoid the “hangrys”
  • Maintain healthy blood sugar levels
  • Supply nutrients to enhance your diet and weight loss
  • Prevent overeating at the next meal
  • Provide a nice break and a delicious small meal

Try to include three key nutrients in your snacks:

  • Fibers
  • Healthy fats
  • Proteins

Including these three nutrients will ensure you are getting a healthy snack that will satisfy those cravings.

Focus on including fruits and vegetables into your diet. According to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control), only 1 in 10 Americans consume enough fruits and vegetables each day. Snacking should work into your recommended daily calorie intake. Use the Rolling Strong application to ensure that you are staying within your daily targets.

Follow these guidelines when planning your snacks:

  • Snacks are generally 200-300 calories.
  • Eat every 3 to 4 hours to stabilize blood sugar and prevent hunger.
  • Include a snack between lunch and dinner to help prevent overeating late in the day.
  • Plan and package your snacks ahead of time (try the small snack bags).
  • Tread carefully with packaged foods that are often high in calories, fat, and sugar.
  • Opt for single-serving containers when available (hummus, cottage cheese, cheese, peanut butter etc).
  • Pack a small cooler each day with your snack, and have it within reach, ready to eat.

Great snacks suggestions for truck drivers:

  • Apple and peanut butter (fiber in the skin of the apple, protein, and healthy fat in the PB)
  • Yogurt with berries (check the sugar content of the yogurt)
  • Homemade trail mix (nuts, whole-grain cereal, raisins, popcorn, a few chocolate chips)
  • Hummus and vegetables (carrots, cucumber, radish, celery, cherry tomato)
  • Low-fat, single-serving cheese and whole-grain crackers
  • Fresh fruit topped with granola (use granola as a condiment)
  • Guacamole and veggie chips
  • Roasted chickpeas or edamame
  • Hard-boiled egg and a slice of whole-grain toast
  • Tuna in the pouch and whole-grain bread
  • Low sodium, low sugar jerky, and an orange
  • Cottage cheese and no sugar added pineapple
  • RX Bar (save this for when you need a packaged food)

Snacking can be an excellent way for you to maintain self-control at meals, include more fruits and vegetables into your diet, and enhance your overall health. Keep in mind planning and prepping your snacks for the week to help you achieve a healthier diet. Talk with your Rolling Strong Coach for more healthy snacking suggestions.


Christy Coughlin, Wellness Coach

Cindy Luisi, Wellness Coach