You can still eat junk food and be healthy – UK providers explain

A row of colorful donuts on a pink background.

Sunday, July 21 is National Junk Food Day, a day to celebrate the foods we love to snack on that often have loads of fat, sugar or calories – and very little nutritional value. We asked some of our providers their favorite junk foods – and how to incorporate them into a healthy diet.

Dr. Scottie B. Day, Kentucky Children's Hospital physician-in-chief

“While it might not be a healthy food, I balance my love of white chocolate with my love of running to even it all out!”

Dan Han, PsyD, chief, UK Neuropsychology Service

 “Tacos. Not the gourmet, healthy-ingredient loaded ones with corn tortillas, but the fast food drive-thru kind, loaded with sodium. Horrible, horrible, horrible. Nonetheless, fast food tacos are my weakness.

You can’t really [make them part of a healthy diet]. Just try to minimize the weakness by controlling volume, and drink lots of water. Balance life with a good, healthy, balanced diet (for most meals) and a consistent exercise routine. Don’t torment yourself either. It’s all about finding a balance.”

Laura Hieronymus, associate director, UK Barnstable Brown Diabetes Center

"I love McDonald’s $1 vanilla ice cream cone. No trans fat and around 30 carbs. You also get some calcium and vitamin A.

I limit this by only ordering the cone when on a personal trip, such as vacation!"

Dr. Patrick O’Donnell, Chief, Section of Orthopaedic Oncology and Sarcoma Program Director at the Markey Cancer Center 

“My favorite junk food – very tough question. I have a huge sweet tooth, so I'm always a sucker for chocolate, especially after dinner, before dinner, breakfast, etc. It seems to be a good (bad) way to settle down at the end of the day. Pretty much anything that starts with "choc-" and ends with "-ate" hits me in the right spot. Chocolate cake, chocolate chip cookies, chocolate covered anything. I'd probably eat my OR shoes if they were covered in chocolate.

I try hard to stay physically active to justify my junk food. While I doubt the calories spent equally match the calories eaten, I justify my junk food by riding my bike, running, climbing, etc. It's the physical activity which tends to make me feel the best after a tough day or surgery, not the food. While the food is easier, I tend to feel worse than if I go for a run if I come home spent from a tough day at work.”

Dr. Gerhard Hildebrandt, Division Chief, Hematology and Blood & Marrow Transplantation

 “My favorite junk food (since the age of 16): peanut butter cups. And those are really rich in calories. So, you may wonder how I keep going every day without succumbing to this temptation of peanut butter cups. Throughout my entire life I was very engaged in sports, and for about 20 years I was a competitive swimmer. For those who would like to know – swimming makes you burn a ton of calories, yet it also makes you hungry. So, as it happened, after I stopped competitive swimming, I did not stop eating and gained a lot of weight. Now the exciting bummer – two and a half years ago, I decided to change my life entirely. I had to realize that my son, who that time was 4 years old, outcompeted me with his short legs when running even the shortest distance. So I decided to follow the paradigm, that it is never too late for a change: I returned my parking permit, signed up with the University of Kentucky bike program, swam regularly and paid diligent attention to what I eat (mostly tuna, eggs, chicken, salmon, low carb noodles from the konjac yam, and cauliflower replacing rice).

Now, I eat peanut butter cups only as a reward after an excessive work out or on really bad days. And guess what, I have kept my weight now stable for one and a half years, around 85-90 pounds lower than I was at max weight.”

Dr. Kim Kaiser, Orthopaedic Surgery & Sports Medicine

“Ice cream! I like essentially every flavor at any time of year, but my hometown Dari-Maid homemade vanilla soft serve is my absolute favorite.

As with most things in life, moderation is key. If you deprive yourself of the things you enjoy most, you will only crave them more and binge on other things that are less than healthy for you. I view a pint as just a big bowl and thus at times will eat the whole thing in one sitting! On a rare occasion you need the whole pint, but I savor it more (and it's much kinder to my waist) when I scoop about a half cup into a small bowl, enjoy every spoonful and savor the special occasion and sweet indulgence.

Exercise and an active lifestyle are the other ways to maintain balance and moderation. I typically exercise 45 minutes to an hour per day, 6 days per week, and I try to enjoy outdoor activities on the weekends. This not only helps me balance my food choices, but also improves my mood and stress levels significantly and makes me an overall healthier, happier and well-rounded person.”

Shorus Minella, RD, LD, dietitian, UK Gill Heart and Vascular Institute

 “My favorite junk food is Sour Patch Kids.

When I have a craving, I only buy a small box which limits my portion size. This also limits sugar and other not so healthy ingredients. You can cure a craving without buying a large amount. However, the most important thing I do is to never bring them in the house! They are for the car ride while running errands. If I have any left when I get home, I put the them in the glove box. After that I usually forget about them. Out of sight, out of mind!”

Sean O’Nan, RD, dietitian, UK Markey Cancer Center

 “Though it is hard for me to narrow it down – but I would say that sour candies (Sour Patch Kids, SweetTarts, Mike & Ike Sours) are one of my favorite junk foods. These were some of my favorites as a kid and that interest has just stuck with me.

As a registered dietitian I try to live a healthier lifestyle by focusing on a well-rounded diet. While I don’t restrict myself from eating all of my favorite foods, I am mindful of the proper portion sizes and how often I eat “unhealthy” foods. Maintaining a good quality of life is important as well, so occasionally I will splurge when out with friends and family.”

This content was produced by UK HealthCare Brand Strategy.

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