For many people, the words “snack” and “healthy” don’t belong in the same sentence.
Harvard has issued a report that includes an excellent rundown on snacking. A Special Health Report from Harvard Medical School, includes the new Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Their Medical School offers special reports on over 50 health topics. Visit their website to find reports of interest to you and your family.
“It’s so easy to reach for the chips or candy bars that you might not realize that snacking and eating healthfully need not be mutually exclusive. There are plenty of healthy snacks that are quick and easy to eat, such as nuts or fruits. Even so, if you choose to snack between meals, don’t overdo it. Eating more calories than you burn each day will cause you to gain weight, and excess weight is a major risk factor for several life-threatening diseases.
“To start snacking well, first survey what’s available. Some snacks are obviously bad for you. Chips and cheese twists are laden with salt, high-glycemic carbohydrates, and sometimes trans and saturated fat. Most cookies, snack bars, brownies, and muffins are also laden with bad fats and refined sugars. Candy is mainly sugar and bad fats. But what about all those fat-free vegetable chips, yogurt raisins, fruit leather, and organic candies sold in health-food stores — are they harmful?
“The answer, surprisingly, is that even snacks marketed as healthy or natural can be unhealthy. Fat-free chips and sweet snacks typically have a high glycemic load. Yogurt raisins can be packed with bad fats and sugar. Many baked or fat- free snacks have lots of salt. Eating these foods occasionally won’t hurt, but regular consumption can take its toll: foods with high glycemic load won’t keep you feeling sated for very long. So you run the risk of overeating, gaining weight, and possibly developing insulin resistance down the road. The same is true if you snack regularly on crackers and pretzels, normally made from refined flours. Additionally, all calorie-dense foods carry the risk of obesity if eaten regularly. Foods with high salt content can raise blood pressure, and foods laden with bad fats contribute to many health problems.”
Good Snack Choices
“What should you eat instead? As a start, try keeping some fresh fruit on your kitchen counter or even in your desk drawer at work. This way, you’ll see it before reaching for the calorie-dense chips or cookies. Bring a banana to work. Keep a bowl of grapes or cherries on the table. Dried fruit can be a good choice so long as you keep portion size reasonable. Both fresh and dried fruits contain plenty of vitamins and fiber.
“Next, try nuts. Almonds, walnuts, peanuts, cashews, hazelnuts, filberts, and other nuts are good for you for several reasons. They contain many beneficial nutrients and other substances, including vitamin E, folic acid, potassium, and fiber. And although some are high in fat, the fat is mainly unsaturated. Finally, unlike chips and other omnipresent high-carbohydrate snacks, nuts don’t leave you hungry right away, so you’re less likely to overeat. Nuts do have a lot of calories, so eat them instead of other snacks, not in addition to them. The Healthy Eating Pyramid recommends one to three servings of nuts and legumes a day in meals and snacks combined.
“If you want to eat chips, look for brands that are free of trans fat and have unsaturated vegetable oils such as safflower, canola, sunflower, and peanut. Even better, choose brands that are “lightly salted” or unsalted. Some really taste great.
“Granola is another good option, especially mixes that are rich in whole grains, nuts, polyunsaturated fats, and dried fruit and low in sugar.
Chocolate lovers can rejoice in the cardiovascular benefits of small amounts of the dark varieties rich in bitter flavanols. Sadly, people passionate about white and milk chocolate ingest only sugar and fat. Chocolate can look nutritiously dark but still be devoid of the healthful flavanols.”