12 Tricks to Make Your Guilty Pleasure Foods Healthier

Updated: Oct. 02, 2019

We spoke to health experts who say cookies, nachos, and ice cream don't have to mean a trip down Guilt Lane.

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Add turmeric to your cheesiest dishes

If you’re the type to slather on nacho sauce, dip into a rich bowl of queso, or load your pasta with just about anything that has a melted texture, turmeric could be your new best friend. Why? Because turmeric’s bright yellow color can turn any naturally white, real-seeming cheese into the nacho-looking stuff which means you can fool just about anyone into thinking they’re dipping into the ooey-gooey nacho sauce they secretly love at movie theaters and stadiums. Aside from cutting back on chemical preservatives found in the pre-made yellow sauces, turmeric adds a potent dose of antioxidants that help curb inflammation. “Turmeric contains an ingredient, curcumin, which has incredible anti-inflammatory properties. It’s been linked to a reduction in all sorts of diseases,” explains Stephanie Greenspan MS, a registered dietitian in New Jersey. “It has been linked with a reduction in all sorts of diseases, such as cardiovascular disease, arthritis, cancer, and depression.” While eating turmeric-laced nachos probably won’t stave off heart disease, it may take the edge off the guilt associated with eating a whole plate. Here are 16 other foods that fight inflammation.

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Replace sugar with raw honey

This hack won’t save calories, but it’ll offer the same great flavor with so many more perks than the white stuff. Just check out these seven benefits of honey. Try using honey in place of sugar and faux-maple syrup on pancakes, waffles, and other desserts. “Raw honey is better than sugar for several reasons,” says Greenspan. “It’s less processed, and locally sourced honey contains trace amounts of the pollen in your area, leading to the possibility of decreased allergies. Honey also has trace amounts of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidant which can counteract inflammation in the body.” Raw, unpasteurized honey like Golden Door Wildflower Honey, is antibacterial and anti-fungal as well, which can help soothe illnesses and digestive woes naturally.

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The guac is extra, but it’s worth it

While everyone knows the guacamole is extra (in calories and cost), it’s worth it when it comes to adding a creamy layer of flavor to burgers and sandwiches. “Skip the cheese on your next burger,” suggests Stephanie. “Avocado on a burger is better than cheese because it’s a healthy fat which contains fiber, vitamins, and minerals, and while cheese is loaded with saturated fats, avocado is full of heart-healthy monounsaturated fat.” You can try adding an extra layer of sweet, zippy flavor with our mango guacamole recipe.

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Add a dash of cinnamon to your sweetened coffee drinks

You probably already know that cinnamon is a great calorie-free coffee hack for added flavor, but what you might not know is that it’s a great healthy addition to sweetened drinks, too. “It’s thought that cinnamon improves blood glucose levels by decreasing insulin resistance,” says Greenspan. One study even found this popular spice to aid in weight loss.

grilled cheese
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Cut half the fat from your grilled cheese

Grilled cheese sandwiches are hard to resist. No joke—cheese-and-bread combos are literally addictive—and that’s thanks in part to the high fat content of butter-slathered bread and cheese. Experts say nix the frying pan and butter trick—just load your slices with the regularly scheduled cheese and your choice of healthier toppings like tomatoes, hot pepper slices, or anything else you’d dream of in a fancy grilled cheese, and pop the sandwich in a George Foreman grill. You’ll save 100-200 butter-related calories depending on how heavy-handed you are.


Swap your canned tuna for a lower-mercury option

While it may be tempting to load up on canned tuna when there’s a sale at the local supermarket, it’s important to pay attention to where your fish comes from, because not every tuna-topped bagel is created equal. “Mercury in tuna is dangerous because it can lead to neurological, vision, and hearing problems,” says Greenspan. “It is especially dangerous to consume for pregnant women and young children due to their continued development.” There are healthier tuna options out there, though, like Elite Wild Tuna, which boasts the lowest mercury levels of any brand on the market at ten times lower than FDA regulations.

ice cream
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Eat ice cream packed with fiber

Eating an entire pint of ice cream used to mean ingesting an entire day’s worth of calories and fat in one TV-watching session, but brands like Halo Top have gotten wiser and are adding fiber and protein to keep down the calories, fat, and cholesterol while still tasting like binge-worthy real ice cream. “A meal or snack that is high in fiber will help you feel fuller, longer,” shares Elizabeth Shaw, MS, RDN, and co-author of Fertility Foods Cookbook. “Since the majority of soluble fiber you eat isn’t digested until it reaches the large intestine, it also serves as food for your gut bacteria.” In other words, eating fiber-packed ice cream is a great excuse to eat the whole pint.

hot sauce
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Eat less by adding a dash of hot sauce

One noteworthy study found that adding hot red chili peppers to your food can curb your appetite, which is the thinking behind many nutritionists suggesting a dash of hot sauce on our favorite binge-worthy foods like tacos, burgers, and french fries. You can add a dash to nuts to make a satisfying protein-packed snack, like these spicy peanuts. Hot sauce is also a great accompaniment to indulgences like fried eggs, poutine, mashed potatoes, and just about anything with meat—and offers way less sugar than ketchup. “People may be unaware of just how much sodium, sugar, and preservatives are contained in their favorite condiments,” says Kevin Peake, president of Tabanero Hot Sauce. “Some hot sauces, like ours, use less sodium and only small amounts of natural sweeteners like agave.”

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Swap your baking flours

Regular white flour may taste delicious, but it offers little in the way of nutrients, fiber, and protein, and can cause serious issues for people with gluten sensitivities. These flourless pecan cookies offer all the same sweet, satisfying flavor as their typical cookie counterparts, but are gluten-free and fiber-rich. “Use nut flours such as almond, pecan, or coconut in place of regular flour,” explains Greenspan. “Or look for store-bought brands using nut flours, black beans, or chick peas.”

sweet potato
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Load up mac and cheese with sweet potato

It may sound weird, but dietitians swear by adding a half cup of mashed, baked sweet potato to macaroni and cheese dishes. Since added sweeteners are typically found in the store-bought stuff, the subtle hint of sweet will work well against the salty, fatty cheese backdrop, and the deep orange color will blend nicely with the yellow and white tones of your cheesiest pasta dish. Sweet potatoes are super healthy thanks to being high in fiber, vitamin A, and a variety of other vitamins and minerals. Plus, kids won’t even notice it’s there.

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Add more protein

Adding protein to your favorite foods is a great way to feel more satisfied according to Elizabeth Shaw. Adding seeds, nuts, and beans to typical savory snack foods is expected, but even baked favorites like cookies are getting hearty doses of protein now. Brands like Oatmega are adding as much as 13 grams of protein to their cookies, which is basically a full serving of tissue-building good stuff, proving that you don’t always need to eat meat to meat your daily protein quota.


Add herbs everywhere you can

Herbs deliver many valuable nutrients, which is why dietitians want us to use them more often. Herbs can help us deal with diabetes, improve our brain health, and cut back on the need for added sweeteners and salt in prepared dishes. Try foregoing extra salt and instead adding sprigs of fresh mint to desserts and salads, home-grown basil to your pastas and pizzas (yes, it really makes a difference!), rosemary to meats and potato dishes, and thyme to your classic tuna salad. Try the seven other herbs that improve brain health.