Family Health Magazine - NUTRITION
Choosing wisely keeps you healthy
We all have snack attacks. It can happen at work, watching TV, sitting in traffic, at the computer, at the movies, or at a sports game – just about anywhere! Snacking is often seen as a bad habit – but is it?
It is true that often many people snack mainly on calorie-dense, low-nutrient foods and go overboard on calories. This may lead to skimping on nutrient-dense foods at mealtime. But if you choose wisely, smart snacking can be a key strategy in helping you maintain a balanced diet. Snacks can actually help you get nutrients you may be missing, such as calcium, fibre, and antioxidants. With careful choices, you can avoid adding too many calories, fat, or added sugars. If you have not eaten for more than three hours, a snack can give you that energy boost you need and keep your blood glucose at a healthy level.
Any food can be eaten as a snack – even sensible portions of chips, candy and soft drinks. Of course, it is always best to include foods from at least two of the four food groups in Canada’s Food Guide (www.healthcanada.gc.ca/foodguide). This will give you a tasty variety of snacks and the nutrients that your body needs. Just like other food choices, between-meal snacks are a valuable part of a healthy eating lifestyle.
Smart Snack Ideas
- 1 piece of fresh fruit with ½ cup (125 mL) plain yogurt
- 1 cup (250 mL) fresh, frozen or canned berries, melon or grapes
- 1 cup (250 mL) vegetables with
½ cup (125 mL) cottage cheese or low-cal dip
- 2 tbsp (30 mL) of nuts such as unsalted peanuts, almonds, or walnuts
- 1 cup (250 mL) plain or flavoured milk or fortified soy beverage
- 2 cups (500 mL) air-popped or low-fat microwave popcorn
- 1 slice whole wheat bread or flat bread with 1 tbsp (15 mL) peanut butter or hummus
- Half a whole grain wheat bagel with 1 slice lean meat or poultry and 1 tsp (5 mL) mustard
- 1 cup (250 mL) whole grain cereal with ½ cup (125 mL) milk
- 1 cup (250 mL) vegetable soup with four whole grain crackers
- One hard-boiled egg with 1 tsp (5 mL) light mayonnaise
- One-quarter cup (60 mL) of soy nuts
- One portion of dessert tofu
- 1 cup (250 mL) fruit smoothie made with yogurt, soy or low-fat milk and your favourite fruits
- One small tin of tuna with four whole wheat crackers
- One container of dried soup (lentil, minestrone, split pea)
Four pita or bagel chips with ½ cup (60 mL) salsa
- 1 cup (250 mL) chickpea salad with cucumbers, tomatoes and lemon juice
- Half a bagel with 1 tbsp (15 mL) light cream cheese
The truth about snacking
Snacking does not make you fat. Many people believe snacking causes weight gain, but there is no direct link between snacking and body weight. The total number of calories you consume in a day is important, not whether they come from a meal or a snack. Snacking may actually help with weight control, as snacks can help take the edge off and help avoid overeating at meals.
Small snacks do not spoil your appetite. Eaten two to three hours before mealtime, a small snack may tame hunger pangs so you are less likely to overeat or snack while preparing the meal.
Vending machines may surprise you. More and more are being stocked with healthier snack options. Look for vending machines with nutrient-rich snack options like peanuts, raisins, trail mix, granola bars, whole fruit, 100 per cent fruit juice, chocolate milk, cheese sticks, and soy nuts.
Quick Tips for Smart Snacking
- Calories in snacks count! Include snacks as part of your healthy diet. You can snack without overspending your day’s calorie budget. Think of snacks as mini-meals. Aim for them to contain around 200 calories each.
- Keep a variety of healthy ready-to-eat snacks on hand, especially those high in protein or fibre. These snacks will help you feel full longer. Yogurt, fruit, vegetables and dip, cottage cheese, milk and fortified soy beverages, granola bars, and whole grain crackers with tuna, peanut butter or cheese are all good choices.
- Watch your portion size. Snacks are not meant to be meal-sized, they are meant to be ‘snack sized.’ Choose single serving sizes. To keep track of much you are eating, put your snack on a small plate or bowl rather than eating straight out of the container.
- Go easy on calorie-dense, low-nutrient snacks like cookies, pastries, chocolates, ice cream, chips and deep fried foods. These foods tend to be high in sugar, saturated fat and sodium. If you cannot resist, try to eat only a small amount. For instance, instead of two cookies, eat one cookie and a piece of fruit.
- Snack only when you are truly hungry. Resist the urge to nibble when you are bored, stressed or tired.
- Read food labels when choosing snacks. If a package contains two servings and you eat all of it, you have just doubled your calories, fat, cholesterol, salt and sugar!
- Be prepared. Keeping nutritious snack-sized foods on hand makes it easier to reach for healthier choices rather than those in the vending machine or convenience store.
- Drink water often. It has no calories, quenches thirst and helps you feel full.
Healthier Snacks for Kids
- whole grain cereals
- whole wheat bread and buns, crackers, roti, tortillas, cooked pasta, rice, and bannock
Vegetables and fruit
- vegetables like carrot sticks, cucumber slices, and broccoli
- fresh fruit like orange, banana or apple wedges,
and ½ cup (125 mL) 100 per cent fruit juice
Milk and alternatives
- milk, fortified soy beverages, yogurt, milk puddings and sliced or grated cheese
Meat and alternatives
- cooked meat, fish, chicken, cooked beans
or lentils, hummus, tofu, eggs, and peanut
and nut butters
Savvy snacking for kids
Did you know that preschoolers get nearly a third of their food energy from snacks? With high-energy needs and small stomachs, most kids and teens need snacks. Three meals a day often are not enough to provide growing children with all the nutrients and food energy they need. Children and teens may need to eat more often than adults, perhaps every three to four hours. Parents can help kids develop smart snacking habits by keeping nutrient-rich snack-sized foods that kids enjoy on hand. Kids should be encouraged to snack to satisfy hunger, not because they are bored or frustrated.
Parents and caregivers need to provide regular, scheduled snacks for children. Healthy snacks provide energy and nutrients to help children grow, learn and play. Make time for healthy eating so that children do not feel rushed. Setting a regular time for meals and snacks establishes a healthy routine.
While effort is made to reflect accepted medical knowledge and practice, articles in Family Health Online should not be relied upon for the treatment or management of any specified medical problem or concern and Family Health accepts no liability for reliance on the articles. For proper diagnosis and care, you should always consult your family physican promptly. Copyright 2012, Family Health Magazine, a special publication of the Edmonton Journal, a division of Postmedia Network Inc., 10006 - 101 Street, Edmonton, AB T5J 0S1 [NU_FHb09]