Snacks should be defined as a solid food, eaten between meals. They are not a substitute for a meal and should be lower in calories than a meal. Beverages should not count as snacks. Yet, drinks account for 50% of the calories consumed in snacking in the US. That can be a problem because liquid calories are not processed the same as calories from solid food. Liquid calories do not give us the same feeling of satisfaction and when presented with more, we drink more, which could turn those unlimited refills into a dieter’s downfall.
Snacks can often be mindless, driven by availability, stress or social cues.
Snacking rarely has anything to do with hunger. In fact, most adults could do nicely without snacks. Small children do need to snack to provide calories and nutrients because it is hard for them to eat enough at meals. Their stomachs are small plus their limited attention span for sitting interferes with meals. Teens snack the most and consume the most liquid calories. Their behavior is seen as a crossover into young adulthood. Those 18 to 34 are the age group driving the continued growth of the snacking phenomenon in this country.
Interestingly, 7 out of 10 snacks are eaten at home. Fresh fruit, crackers/cookies, cereal, potato chips/pretzels, ice cream and cheese top the list of favorites. All of these have the potential to contribute to a healthy diet. Fresh fruit is obvious and should be the number one snack choice. Crackers, cookies, potato chips, pretzels and cereal all have healthy, low salt, low sugar, whole grain options. Again, wise selections can make this group a healthy addition to your daily intake. If it is hard to eat a reasonable portion, stick with single servings of chips, crackers, pretzels and cookies and use Dixie cups or ice cream bars to stop you from eating too much. Full fat cheese is high in saturated fat. Try lowered fat choices or keep portions reasonable – about 1 ounce.
For those how don’t give much thought to snack choices, they may need to readjust their thinking and look at snacks as more healthy options. Keep calories low – less than 300 for men and 200 for women. Select foods with a nutrition boost – vitamins and minerals (fruits and vegetables), good carbs (whole grains and lower sugar), proteins and healthy fats (nuts and seeds).
Nuts are rich in minerals and healthy fats, but the calories can add up quickly. If you love almonds, buy a jar, but when you get home divide the jar into 1-ounce servings by putting the almonds in small zip lock bags. Extend this snack by adding twice the amount of dried fruit for extra vitamins, minerals and fiber. You can also add your favorite low fat granola, but again keep the amount to about 2 tablespoons to keep the overall mix reasonable in calories. Even a teaspoon of mini chocolate chips is fine. This homemade snack will be better for you, has fewer calories and will not tempt you to indulge. The key is plan ahead and keep portions reasonable.
Apples, bananas or pears go nicely with peanut butter and many companies are now packing their brand in single serving packages. Again, size counts. Go for small to medium fruits and use just 1 package of peanut butter. You can pack your own almond, cashew or sunflower butter in a small container, but remember 2 tablespoons is a serving.
Think outside the box. Hard cooked peeled eggs are now available -- high in protein, low in fat, and they contain about 60 calories. Paired with cherry tomatoes (1 cherry tomato has 3 calories!), you have an antioxidant/protein-rich snack with a lot of chewing for less than 100 calories. Lean beef or turkey jerky paired with apple or pear sauce is a nice blend of sweet and salty. This snack is perfect for on-the-go and will pass muster with the guys in the office.
I’m a big fan of presweetened cereal as a snack. All ready-to-eat cereals are low in fat, cholesterol and trans fat free, vitamin and mineral fortified, and reasonable in calories (usually 100 to 200 calories in a 1-cup serving). Many varieties are based in a whole grain. If you have a sweet tooth any presweetened cereal is a better choice than a candy bar and offers more chewing and a larger portion than most cereal or energy bars.
Snacks are here to stay. When you snack – think. Is this choice reasonable in calories? Does this snack offer a nutrient boost? Am I hungry?
© NRH Nutrition Consultants, Inc.
Jo-Ann Heslin, MA, RD, CDN is a registered dietitian and the author of the nutrition counter series for Pocket Books with sales of more than 8.5 million books.
The Complete Food Counter, 4th ed., 2012
The Diabetes Counter, 4th Ed., 2011
The Protein Counter, 3rd Ed., 2011
The Calorie Counter, 5th Ed., 2010
The Ultimate Carbohydrate Counter, 3rd Ed., 2010
The Fat Counter, 7th ed., 2009
The Healthy Wholefoods Counter, 2008
The Cholesterol Counter, 7th Ed., 2008
Your Complete Food Counter App: Click Here
For more information on Jo-Ann and her books, go to: TheNutritionExperts
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