chocolate coconut

The Truth About Healthy Junk Food

Whether or not more nutritious indulgences have a place in high-performance diets

Vegan ice cream. Protein cookies. Veggie chips. Food manufacturers are giving indulgences a more nutritious spin. But are these “healthified” junk foods really better for you? 

Experts agree that you should tread with caution. It’s easier to overdo it, because you think that you’re getting extra nutrition. You may wind up eating the same number of calories that you would have if you chose the original splurge food, says Amy Goodson, R.D., C.S.S.D., a sports nutritionist based in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. What’s more, these foods are often still highly processed, adds Renee Clerkin, R.D., a Chicago-based registered dietitian. “Sometimes the real thing is healthier because it has fewer ingredients.”

To best fuel their bodies, athletes should focus on whole foods, says Goodson. Even when splurging, look for minimally processed treats that contain vitamins and minerals. For instance, dark chocolate with coconut delivers fiber, iron, and magnesium. Plus, their fats are less likely to promote heart disease and more likely to be processed by the liver for energy compared to a lesser-quality snack, says Ryan Andrews, R.D, C.S.C.S., a fitness and nutrition coach with Precision Nutrition.

Ultimately, remember that there are no good or bad foods. They can all be part of an athlete’s healthy diet if approached with intention.