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Contributed by Stephanie Magill, MS, RD © 2002 Nutrition Concepts
It’s the middle of the morning and your stomach starts growling. You ate breakfast, but that was 3 hours ago and lunch isn’t for another 2 hours. What do you do? Snacking is important because you need to be refueled every 2-4 hours if you feel hungry. When you’re working or on the go, the normal tendency is to turn to something quick and convenient. Usually that’s something from a vending machine, convenience store, or fast food restaurant because most of us don’t prepare for the “snack attack.” We know it’s coming, but it seems easier to get that candy bar or bag of chips from the machine. Those snacks in the machine may help to curb the hunger for a little while, but what else do they do for you? Typically these foods are high in fats, sugar, and calories but low in nutrients.
You can get that same feeling of being full and also get reenergized from foods that are lower in fat and higher in nutrients. The secret to curbing your appetite and staying satisfied is to eat a snack that has both protein and carbohydrate. Carbohydrates fuel your brain and your body, but may be digested within 1-1.5 hours. Adding protein, good fats, or high fiber foods to your snack helps keep your energy level constant by lengthening the time of digestion.
These are some basic super snack foods that you should build into your snacks. Try some different combinations to combat your snack attack.
Nuts and nut butters. Research shows that nuts help lower cholesterol and may help to lower the risk of coronary heart disease. Most nuts are high in monounsaturated fats and offer an excellent source of protein and vitamins and minerals such as magnesium, calcium, copper, zinc, selenium, and folate. Nuts also provide plant sterols and soluble fiber. Almonds and other nuts provide an excellent source of vitamin E. Walnuts are rich in polyunsaturated fats and provide essential fats (those that the body can’t produce) and omega-3 fatty acids (alpha-linoleic acids). Some people are afraid to eat nuts as snacks because of their higher calorie and fat content (remember these are good fats). Research has shown that nuts can be incorporated into a healthy diet and may provide a health benefit. Choose freshly ground nut butters that do not have extra fats and sugars added, such as Adam’s Peanut Butter. Lower fat peanut butters often have more sugar than regular varieties. Choose raw or dry roasted nuts without added salt. Nuts such as honey roasted peanuts (with added sugars or fats) will provide extra calories and may contain saturated fats--so read food labels!
Whole wheat breads, crackers, bagels, pita breads, pretzels, and graham crackers. Whole wheat foods usually have more vitamins and minerals than white flour products and provide a better source of fiber. (Be sure to look for the words “whole wheat” not just “wheat.”) Foods high in fiber take longer to digest, thus helping you to feel fuller longer. In addition, some studies have shown that soluble fiber can help reduce cholesterol (oatmeal, rice, and beans for example). Fiber is also thought to help reduce the risk of some types of cancers. The National Cancer Institute recommends that adults eat 25 grams of fiber daily.
Fruits and Vegetables. Fruit provides a good source of fiber--a whole apple with the skin provides about 3.6 grams of fiber. Eating whole fruit instead of drinking fruit juice will provide you with more fiber and leave you feeling more full. Both fruits and vegetables are rich in vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals that your body needs on a regular basis. The 5-a-day campaign encourages people to “eat your colors to stay healthy and fit.” Eating fruits and vegetables that have deep, rich colors will ensure that you are getting a dose of all the different phytochemicals, vitamins, and minerals necessary for optimal health and energy. Examples (in rainbow order) include beets, oranges, yellow bell peppers, broccoli, blueberries, and eggplant. Choosing a variety of fruits and vegetables will provide you with plenty of flavor and will also make snacking fun.
Dairy and Soy products. These products provide both protein and carbohydrate in every serving. Dairy products and fortified soy products provide calcium, which is necessary for building and maintaining strong bones. The calcium requirement for adults aged 19-50 is 1,000 milligrams, and for adults over 50, 1200 milligrams. There are many low fat choices of milk, cheese, cottage cheese, yogurt and frozen yogurts. Fat free cream cheese packs a good serving of protein!
Beans. Beans are low in fat and provide an excellent source of protein, fiber, iron, and folic acid. They can be added to salads, soups, rice, put in tortillas, or eaten as a side dish. Beans can be blended to make a dip or spread for crackers or vegetables. Hummus is a good example.
Snack Ideas When You’re On the Go
Fruits with tougher skin such as oranges and apples might pack in your purse or backpack better than grapes or bananas. Add some protein to the snack by dipping the fruit in yogurt or peanut butter or including a slice of string cheese or a few seeds.
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Feldman EB. The scientific evidence for a beneficial health relationship between walnuts and coronary heart disease. Journal of Nutrition. 2002; 132(5):1062S-1101S.
Kris-Etherton, et al. High-monounsaturated fatty acid diets lower both plasma cholesterol and triacylglycerol concentrations. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 1999; 70:1009-15.