Are you Snacking Smart?

Snacks are an important part of a healthy diet. Eating the right snacks can aid with weight loss and hunger, as well as promote high energy levels and overall good health! As a Registered Dietitian, common questions I get asked are “Is this snack a good option?” or “What are some healthy on-the-go snacks?” Read on as I give you some questions to ask yourself when trying to decide if your chosen snack is a healthy one.

Ask yourself the following questions to see if you are snacking smart.

Does this snack contain a balance of carbohydrates, proteins and fats?
Many snacks consist primarily of either carbohydrates or protein or fat. Truestar believes the key to healthy eating is to eat in a hormonal balance, meaning eating a diet that consists of a moderate reduction in carbohydrates (30-40%) along with lean proteins (30-40%) and essential fats (30%) at all meals and snacks. Balanced eating helps to stabilize blood sugar and insulin levels, controls hunger and keeps weight and energy levels in check. The next time you reach for a snack ask yourself if it contains:

1) Complex carbohydrates, such as unrefined whole grains, whole wheat flour, brown rice, spelt, kamut, barley and slow-cooking oats, legumes, fruits and vegetables;
2) Lean proteins, such as fish, poultry, turkey, soy, tofu, lowfat dairy products, lean meats, egg whites or protein powder; and
3) Healthy fats, such as fatty fish like salmon, mackerel and sardines, fish oils, nuts (walnuts, almonds), seeds (sesame, flax), omega-3 eggs, olives, olive oil and avocado.

Is it loaded with sugar or refined carbohydrates?
Although we all have a sweet tooth now and then, loading up on sugar can be bad for your health, waistline and teeth! Simple or refined sugars, such as white sugar or white flour, lack healthful nutrients and are considered “empty calories”. After you eat a snack rich in refined carbohydrates (candy, pop, cookies), the carbs are broken down into sugar and move quickly into the bloodstream. Your body then secretes the hormone insulin to lower blood sugar to normal levels. If we eat too much carbohydrates, particularly the “bad” refined carbohydrates, our body will over-secrete insulin—excess insulin gets stored as fat. Carbohydrates that quickly get absorbed into the blood stream (i.e. refined sugars) also lead to increased hunger, which makes us crave and eat more.

It is best to look for snacks that contain little or no simple sugars, or low glycemic index foods. These foods are broken down slowly in the body, causing fewer rises in blood sugar levels, less insulin secretion and, ultimately, less fat storage. Examples of low glycemic index foods are foods with natural sugars and fiber, such as fruits, vegetables, legumes and some whole grains, such as kamut, spelt and slow-cooking oats. Also, beware of snacks labeled fat-free as these are loaded with simple sugars in place of fat.

Does it contain trans fats?
About 40% of the products in supermarkets contain trans fats and they are bad news! Trans fat is a type of “bad” fat made when manufacturers add hydrogen to vegetable oil in a process called hydrogenation. Hydrogenation changes a liquid fat into a solid fat, such as shortening or margarine. It also increases the shelf life and flavor stability of foods containing these fats. Studies have shown that trans fats act similar to saturated fats and cholesterol, as they raise the LDL (bad) cholesterol, which increases your risk for heart disease. Trans fats are found in vegetable shortenings, some margarines, crackers, cookies, cakes, chips, snack foods and other foods made with partially hydrogenated oils.

Beginning January 2006, all food manufacturers must list trans fats on the Nutrition Facts panel of all their products. Until that time, look for “hydrogenated” or “partially hydrogenated” vegetable oils on the ingredients list. If the product contains either of these, it contains trans fats and is best avoided. Also, take note of where it is located on the list of ingredients. Ingredients are listed in order of weight, so if it is listed as one of the first few ingredients, it contains a lot of trans fat, whereas if it was at the bottom of the list it wouldn’t account for much. It is best to limit or avoid foods containing trans fats.

Here are some smart snacking options:

At home:
Veggies and dip
Cheese and crackers
Lowfat cottage cheese mixed with fruit and nuts
Baked tortilla chips with lowfat melted cheese, salsa and avocado
Protein fruit smoothies
Fruit and cheese
Canned tuna or salmon on whole grain crispbread.

On the go:
Balanced protein bars such as Zone or Balance bars
Soynuts and fruit
Quick smoothies made with protein powder, soymilk, fruit and flax.

At the office:
Lowfat yogurt mixed with some protein powder and flaxseed or nuts
A balanced protein bar such as Zone bars or Meso-Tech bars
Healthy trail mix of soynuts and dried fruit
Fruit and cheese
Cheese and whole wheat crackers
A mini-can of water-packed tuna on whole grain crisp bread
An assortment of veggies with lowfat dip.

Remember, healthy eating is only one part of a healthy lifestyle. Daily exercise, vitamin supplements, a positive attitude and getting plenty of sleep are also important for overall health and well-being!