This week's column is inspired by a TV commercial that I happened to catch right after the Golden Globes (Go Meryl!) It features a bespectacled young man in a spelling bee, and the word he's asked to spell is "swaportunity." He's stumped. He's never heard of that word. None of us have. The boy asks for a definition. "Swaportunity," the spelling bee judge says, is "the opportunity to swap a higher calorie snack for Yoplait Light."
I'm not shilling for Yoplait Light — I'm a Fage Total 2 percent Greek yogurt girl myself — but I do love that word. Swaportunity! If you did nothing else but take the swaportunity to eat 100 fewer calories a day — mustard instead of mayo, carrots for chips, a glass of water instead of cola — you'd lose about 10 pounds over the course of a year.
And that got me thinking about our nation's addiction to nutrition-free snacks. Snacking accounts for 25 percent of all the calories we consume in a day. Holy Snickers! What does billions of dollars and gazillions of calories on mindless snacking add up to? Tight jeans and bloated bellies, not to mention skyrocketing rates of obesity, heart disease, diabetes and hypertension.
Change your snacks, and you can change your world, says Mr. Peanut, who must have rejoiced at Twinkie's bankruptcy last week. All you need is the swaportunity to substitute healthy snacks for ones that are artificially sweetened, overly processed, basically fake. Here are 10 of my favorite snacks — all under 200 calories:
— GO NUTS. Swap nuts for chips, and your body will benefit big-time. Nuts are the superstars of snacks; high in protein, fiber and the good kind of fat (mono-and-polyunsaturated). Just be mindful about how many you eat. For instance, an ounce of walnuts (185 calories) is about 14 nut halves; an ounce of almonds (169 calories) is 22 nuts; and an ounce of peanuts (166 calories) is 25 to 28 nuts.
— PEANUT BUTTER ... makes almost anything a great snack. Limit yourself to one tablespoon on a couple of non-transfat crackers, a banana, apple slices or your finger.
— FRESH VEGGIES — carrots, sliced red pepper, celery sticks, etc. — are great snacks with hummus, bean dip or your favorite salad dressing.
— AIR POPPED POPCORN with a sprinkling of curry or grated parmesan cheese.
— OLIVES — Black or green, you can savor 10 olives for a mere 90 calories.
— FRUIT of every persuasion. Apples, pears, kiwi, oranges ... you name it. Dried fruit also makes a great snack. Four dried figs — high in calcium, fiber and potassium — are about 90 calories; a quarter-cup of dried apricots, 110 calories. Ever tried frozen grapes? Delicious ... and 1.5 cups has about 60 calories. Buy organic!
— CORN TORTILLAS. Toast one, and spread it with a quarter-cup of low-fat refried beans and 2 tablespoons of cheese (I'm a big fan of goat cheese). Heat it up, top with your favorite salsa, and you've got one of the great snacks of all time. Only 160 calories.
— HALF AN AVOCADO sprinkled with a little sea salt is a fabulous snack. It's filling, packed with vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients, and it grows on an actual tree! Plant the pit on three toothpicks, and decorate your kitchen.
— FRUIT AND CHEESE. This classic combo is snacking at its best. One crisp apple — I like 'em hard and tart — and 1 ounce of your favorite cheese ... snackland nirvana!
— ONE SMALL WELL-DONE SWEET POTATO. This snack is sinfully good and a great source of vitamin A and C. It can be eaten hot or cold, plain or topped with nonfat yogurt and cinnamon. I like my sweeties baked (not microwaved) for at least an hour at a very high heat so the skin gets crusty but the inside is soft.
So please, next time you reach for a snack, take the swaportunity to make it a healthy one. Eat it slowly, savoring each bite. Keep healthy snacks out and visible, and don't eat them out of big bags, or you're likely to eat more. And finally, don't snack while you're distracted and doing other things — watching TV, on the phone, Facebooking, Tweeting or even working. Your body won't notice that you've eaten.
ENERGY EXPRESS-O! BITTERSWEET, BUT TRUE
"Strength is the ability to break a chocolate bar into four pieces with your bare hands ... and then eat just one of those pieces." — Judith Viorst
Marilynn Preston — fitness expert, personal trainer and speaker on healthy lifestyle issues — is the creator of Energy Express, the longest-running syndicated fitness column in the country. She has a website, http://marilynnpreston.com and welcomes reader questions, which can be sent to MyEnergyExpress@aol.com. To find out more about Preston and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.