Snacks May Actually Be Good For You

By Sandy McCollum

December 7, 2007 3 min read

CHEW ON THIS

Snacks may actually be good for you

By Sandy McCollum

Copley News Service

Snacking has gotten a bad rap over the years, but actually, eating between meals isn't a bad idea. Snacks can add nutrition that we need and are not likely to get during three meals.

The problem is that many common snack foods are high in fat, sugar and sodium. Sara Lopinski, clinical dietitian at St. John's Hospital Center for Living in Springfield, Ill., says that choosing healthy foods at snack time is as important at mealtime. "To avoid gaining weight from snacking, keep your snacks under 250 calories," she says.

If your snack food of choice is chocolate-chip cookies or fudge ice cream or potato chips, that's where the problems come in. "Sugary and fattening sweets like cookies and candy lack nutrients, and many salty foods like chips can dehydrate you," Lopinski says.

Children, especially, need lots of nutrition and vitamins and minerals, but their stomachs aren't designed for big meals. Many of them really need snacks. So, when that craving hits, and it's not yet mealtime, improve your odds of grabbing something healthy instead of a lot of empty calories loaded with fat. The key is planning.

Let children pick out fruits, vegetables and dairy snacks they like when shopping.

Then, designate spots in the refrigerator and pantry where snack foods are stored. In addition, set a snack time: one in mid-morning and maybe another in the afternoon. Don't let children just grab a snack whenever they feel like it. When that happens, children are less likely to consume the nutritious foods they need during mealtimes.

The same rules apply to adults.

For those who crave salty snacks, try popcorn, but make sure it's at least 94 percent fat free. Buy pre-cut vegetables, or cut veggies as soon as you unload groceries, and pair them with a low-fat dip. The important thing is to have them already prepared when the urge hits. It's not likely you'll spend the time slicing and dicing when you're already hungry.

For those who crave sweets, fresh fruits are great. Grapes, cherries, oranges, tangerines, apples and bananas come ready-to-eat. Just wash the grape and cherry skins. Raisins and nuts are packed with nutrition, but they contain a lot of calories so use them sparingly.

And there are always those who need a good crunch. Try a snack bag packed with non-sugared cereal; low-fat, reduced sugar granola bars; pretzels; or low-fat, whole grain crackers.

Low-fat yogurt or fruit smoothies, fat-free cottage cheese, and single portions of canned fruit in its own juice are easy to grab and go.

"With proper portions snacking can enhance, rather than hurt your diet," Lopinski says. Just think of a snack as a "mini-meal" that will help you have a healthy diet rather than an opportunity to consume sweets.

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