When you crave junk food and nothing else will do, first consider which types of junk food will fit in best in your overall healthy balanced diet.

Suddenly, as you're standing in the checkout line buying yogurt for this week's planned midmorning healthy snacks, it hits you that you are about to contribute to that $50 billion business instead: You're having a dreaded junk food attack. All those checkout candies stare at you. The fast-food joint next door starts calling your name. No reduced-fat cookie or lowfat ice cream or any other type of healthy eating will cut it this time -- you're in the mood for high-fat munchies, and the craving won't subside until you get your forbidden treat…

If this junk food frenzy seems familiar to you, you're not alone. A study conducted at Pennsylvania State University in State College and published in the June 1999 issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition revealed interesting junk food facts, including that the more you restrict your balanced healthy diet, the more you will crave the foods you forbid yourself.

The study let preschoolers sample apple and peach bars. One flavor they could eat in unlimited quantities, the other they could only taste briefly. The forbidden bar quickly became the object of desire as the most scrumptious snack even though it was practically identical to the other bar. Researchers joked that kids would crave cardboard if parents made a big enough deal about how bad it was for them.

We grown-ups aren't much different. We think of potato chips and fast-food burgers as dietary downfalls -- and if we eat a ton of them, rightly so. But eaten in moderation, an occasional bowl of ice cream or a chocolate bar won't send your balanced healthy diet into a tailspin.

Rein in cravings by eating smaller portions when choosing low calorie snacks just won't work.

Here are startling junk food facts. There is no such thing as bad junk food. Eating well is about balancing less-healthy foods with more-healthful ones. If you're craving fatty fries or chips, eat a small serving of fries, or buy the mini 150-calorie bag of chips and be done with it.

Clearly, deprivation is not the solution to maintaining a balanced healthy diet. A denied craving can quickly spiral out of control, leading to bingeing or overeating.

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You might have the best of intentions in choosing low calorie snacks – but sometimes junk food cravings get the best of all of us!

Consider a premenstrual woman with a hankering for chocolate: At 10 a.m. she might enjoy a quality piece of dark chocolate and be satisfied. Deny the craving, though, and it could easily snowball into eating a pan of brownies by 10 p.m. -- with 12 times the fat and calories of a single chunk of Godiva.

Splurging on occasion is acceptable -- just don't get carried away! If you indulge the snack monster twice a day, you might be heading for junk food trouble, but a few times a week won't hurt your healthy eating lifestyle.

Here are some healthy eating tips:

  • Avoid stocking treats in your cabinets or fridge. Buy it only when the craving hits and enjoy a small quantity, she says. Then share or trash the rest.
  • Try balancing low calorie snacks with the less-nutritious food, like a piece of fruit with your cheesecake instead of two slices of cake. By eating the fruit first, you will blunt your appetite and be less likely to wolf down a second slice of the cheesecake.

The scoop on calories needed per day

We did the work in preparation for your next bout of empty-calorie indulgence and got the nutritional scoop on some of your favorites in seven popular snack-food categories. When a girl's really got to have it and nothing but less-healthful food will do, why not choose the best of the worst? Check out the least-fat-per-serving, the lowest-calorie and the lightest fare choices possible.

To keep things in perspective, compare the amount of fat and calories found in the more filling healthy snacks vs. less-healthful foods. For instance, healthy snacks such as a medium apple contains just 81 calories and no fat; a 1-ounce bag of pretzels has 108 calories and also no fat, and a container of low-fat fruit yogurt provides 231 calories and 2 grams of fat.

Besides needing scoop on calories needed per day, here's another important question: how much fat do you need?

To maintain your weight, about 25 percent of calories needed per day should come from fat.

  • If you eat a 1,800-calorie diet, you should eat 50 grams of fat.
  • For a 2,000 calorie-diet, eat 55 grams of fat.
  • For a 2,500-calorie diet, eat 70 grams of fat.

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The seven best junk foods to choose for your overall balanced healthy diet.

Desperately craving less-healthy food? You can have your cake (ice cream, cookies) and eat it, too, provided you enjoy it in moderation and keep track of the fat and calorie cost. Overload on it, however, and you could wind up going off the fat-and-calorie deep end. Here's the skinny on the best (and worst) of the less-healthful foods that can be incorporated into a balanced healthy diet.

Candy bars that are low calorie snacks (well, lower, anyhow!)

Best bet: 3 Musketeers

Milky Way, 3 Musketeers and Snickers, oh my. The hands-down winner for the healthy snacks chocolate-bar splurge is 3 Musketeers with a creamy 8 grams of fat (4.5 saturated) and 260 calories compared to Milky Way's 10 fat grams (5 saturated) and 270 calories, and Snicker's 14 fat grams (5 saturated) and 280 calories. (True, the peanuts in Snickers are healthy snacks, but if it's nuts you crave, you're better off eating a handful plain than trying to satisfy your nut craving by eating a candy bar.)

Cookies (single-serving packages of comparable weight)

Best bet: Mallomars as quick low calorie snacks

There's no shame in putting your hand in the cookie jar for these light and fluffy chocolate-marshmallow delights and including them in your balanced healthy diet. One package (two Mallomars) contains just 60 calories, 2.5 grams of fat and 17 milligrams of sodium. One package of Oreos (three cookies), however, packs twice the calories (120), 7 grams of fat and an astounding 150 milligrams of sodium. A single-serving package of Chips Ahoy (three cookies), providing 160 calories, 8 grams of fat and 105 milligrams of sodium, emerges as the real cookie monster.

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You want creamy, crunchy and chewy goodness. Discover the junk food facts about the best – and worst – choices to make.

Ice cream

Best bet: Try Edy's (Dreyer's in the western United States), the better choice for your balanced healthy diet.

Edy's/Dreyer's Cookie Dough ice cream (180 calories per 1/2-cup serving) easily iced equal portions of Ben & Jerry's Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough (300 calories) and Haagen-Dazs' Cookie Dough Chip (310 calories). Plus Edy's/Dreyer's packs a mere 9 grams of fat compared to 16 grams for Ben & Jerry's and 20 grams for Haagen-Dazs.


Best bet for a reasonably low calorie snack: Doritos

Doritos 3D's crunched the competition: A 1-ounce serving (32 pieces) of these air-filled cheesy triangles contained just 130 calories and 5 grams of fat. Fritos Corn Chips pack 160 calories and 10 grams of fat, and Lay's Sour Cream & Onion Potato Chips top the list at 160 calories with 11 grams of fat.

Snack cakes (similar-weight single-serving packs)

Best bet: Hostess Twinkies, the surprise low calorie snacks winner

Surprise, surprise! This much-maligned treat takes the cake hands down in the snack-cake department. One Twinkie contains just 150 calories and 5 grams of fat compared to Little Debbie Donut Sticks (three small sticks), which supply 210 calories and 12 grams of fat. Watch out for Dolly's Zingers iced vanilla creme-filled cakes (three small cakes): With 470 calories and 15 grams of fat, they are definitely not low calories snacks and are best reserved for really special occasions (like your 30th birthday).

Fast-food pizzas

Best bet for your balanced healthy diet: Subway's Pizza Sub

Subway's Pizza Sub comes to the pizza-craving rescue with a relatively slim 448 calories and 22 grams of fat. Taco Bell's Mexican Pizza ups the ante with 570 calories and 36 grams of fat. A standard slice of Domino's pepperoni & Italian-sausage pizza packs in 684 calories and 35 grams of fat -- mamma mia, those are not low calorie snacks!

Fast-food 1/4-pound burgers

Best bet for your balanced healthy diet: Wendy's Single (hold the cheese)

This 1/4-pound slab of ground beef edges out the competition with 350 calories, 15 grams of fat and 510 milligrams of sodium. Burger King's Whopper Jr. packs 420 calories, 24 grams of fat and 530 milligrams of sodium, while a McDonald's Quarter Pounder also provides 420 calories, 21 grams of fat and a staggering 820 milligrams of sodium.