Here at Three Foragers, we talk a lot about eating clean, wholesome foods to nourish your body and mind. However, in my view, a vital part of a balanced life includes junk food. Delicious, decadent, glorious food that has zero nutritional purpose but has a ton of emotional benefits including experiencing delight, joy, nostalgia, camaraderie, and happiness from a shared eating experience. After all, what’s the point of life without dessert?
The key with eating junk food is knowing how to indulge in a healthy way. In this blog, I’m going to talk about a framework for eating junk food that’s not about swapping in “healthy versions” or having cheat days. Instead, we make an effort of being mindful and enjoying the full experience of a high-fat, high-sugar treat in ways that are balanced and can be sustainably incorporated into your and your family's lifestyle.
1. Go Out for a Treat
Instead of stocking up on junk food at home, treat yourself to a restaurant or cafe that specializes in your favorite treat of choice. Specialty shops have perfected their craft and you’d get to enjoy new or unique treats that you might not even find in the grocery store or would want to attempt to make at home.
For us, we make an effort not to keep any ice cream in our freezer. If we wanted to eat ice cream, we would go out to our favorite ice cream shop to treat ourselves. This way, you can enjoy your favorite treat in moderation and have a fun dining experience with friends or family, rather than having an entire bowl disappear without realizing it while watching your regular TV program.
2. Don’t Buy the Diet Food Version
While diet versions of junk food may seem like a healthier option, they often contain artificial sweeteners and fillers that actually be can be harmful to your health.
For instance, research has shown that consuming zero-calorie sweeteners is associated with increased waist circumference, inflammation, higher risk for metabolic syndrome, and deterioration of gut microbiota  . It is also increased risk of cardiovascular disease with higher consumption .
Artificial sweeteners and zero-sugar versions of food give your tastebuds a similar hit of sweetness to caloric sweeteners like honey or sugar, but they react with your brain and body chemistry in different ways that may cause unintended consequences.
When it comes to low-fat versions of food, these are designed to have much higher sugar content and other filler ingredients in order to compensate for the lack of fat in the food, which is where tons of flavor come from.
Diet versions also play with your psychology in that it can let you justify eating these foods more often because they are diet or “healthy” versions, when really you are just using up calories on food that has low nutritional value on a regular basis. Instead, the focus should be on eating nutrient-dense, whole foods for the majority of your diet and indulging on a super yummy, satisfying treat on occasion.
This belief is why I created our Honey Caramels - candies that are only full of real ingredients like honey, cream, and butter. By focusing on using the full flavor of each ingredient instead of trying to trick my brain, I know that our caramels will be able to fully satisfy not only my taste buds but also the whole signaling pathway in my body that tells me that I am nourished.
3. Make Your Own Junk Food
Who honestly doesn’t love warm gooey brownies straight out of the oven? Instead of buying the packaged version at the grocery store, making your own treats allows you to do a few things:
- Consume fresher and tastier baked goods
- Removes the temptation of having ready-to-eat junk food in your house.
When you buy any food from the grocery store, one of the main priorities of the food distribution system is that food doesn’t spoil and go to waste, NOT that it tastes the best. You see this in the produce section with tomatoes that are unripe and watery compared to rich, flavorful homegrown garden tomatoes.
All the processed food in the middle of the store are even more optimized for shelf life rather than flavor. Processed cookies, cakes, and other desserts are full of extra ingredients that don’t add any flavor but serve only to preserve the shelf life.
What ends up happening is you end up buying cookies that are less fresh and less delicious than something you can make at home with basic baking skills, AND you have to rely on willpower to moderate your consumption because you have a whole package just sitting in the pantry.
Making your own treats requires you to be intentional about what you want to consume and how often you are consuming it. Yes, baking cookies takes some effort, but it also means that you will enjoy and appreciate your wonderful dessert, and have a more balanced and healthy relationship with it.
You can also incorporate healthier ingredients if that’s your jam (or a dietary necessity), but the point of eating junk food is not to modify it so that you can make it a habit to eat, but that you’re eating something special that you don’t get to have often.
Save the Junk Food for Special Occasions
Dessert is not an every day thing, and the key to a balanced diet and lifestyle is moderation. As a species that can get addicted to sugar, and with a whole food industry that has designed food to make you crave more, it can be all too easy to slip into a pattern of higher and higher sugar consumption.
To keep a healthy diet, don’t let yourself or your family get in the habit of eating junk food every day. Get into the routine of eating whole foods and fresh fruit for a bit of sweetness each day, and save the pie and cookies for occasional indulges and special gatherings with your friends and loved ones!
 Schiano, Concetta & Grimaldi, Vincenzo & Scognamiglio, Michele & Costa, Dario & Soricelli, Andrea & Nicoletti, Giovanni & Napoli, Claudio. (2021). Soft drinks and sweeteners intake: Possible contribution to the development of metabolic syndrome and cardiovascular diseases. Beneficial or detrimental action of alternative sweeteners?. Food Research International. 142. 110220. 10.1016/j.foodres.2021.110220.
 Roca-Saavedra, P., Mendez-Vilabrille, V., Miranda, J. M., Nebot, C., Cardelle-Cobas, A., Franco, C. M., & Cepeda, A. (2018). Food additives, contaminants and other minor components: Effects on human gut microbiota-a review. Journal of Physiology and Biochemistry, 74, 69–83. https://doi.org/10.1007/s13105-017-0564-2.
 Debras, Charlotte & Chazelas, Eloi & Sellem, Laury & Porcher, Raphaël & Druesne-Pecollo, Nathalie & Esseddik, Younes & Szabo de Edelenyi, Fabien & Agaësse, Cédric & Sa, Alexandre & Lutchia, Rebecca & Fezeu, Léopold & Julia, Chantal & Kesse-Guyot, Emmanuelle & Allès, Benjamin & Galan, Pilar & Hercberg, Serge & Deschasaux, Mélanie & Huybrechts, Inge & Srour, Bernard & Touvier, Mathilde. (2022). Artificial sweeteners and risk of cardiovascular diseases: Results from the prospective NutriNet-Santé cohort. BMJ. 378. e071204. 10.1136/bmj-2022-071204.