Too many snack foods are low in nutrients and high in calories from sugar, fat or both. Eating too many of these extras often becomes nothing more than consumption of empty calories.
Sweets, chips and sugary sodas account for nearly one-third of the calories consumed by Americans. It’s important to know that sweets, desserts, snacks and alcohol are contributing calories without providing vitamins and minerals. In contrast, healthy foods such as vegetables and fruit make up only 10 percent of the caloric intake in the U.S. diet. Many Americans are undernourished in terms of vitamins and minerals. You can actually be obese and still be undernourished with regard to important nutrients. So, in many cases, instead of eating less, we may need to eat differently.
We all enjoy having extras or treats, but the problem is how much and how often. The U.S. Dietary Guidelines recommend limiting discretionary calories, which are calories left in your calorie allowance after meeting your nutrient needs. (To compute your calorie allowance, go to www.choosemyplate.gov.) The bad news is that most of us don’t keep close enough track of what our calorie allowance is, and an extra 100 calories per day can result in a weight gain of 10 pounds in one year. It’s easy to exceed our discretionary allowance when the average calories in a serving of soda, beer, wine, candy bar or chips can exceed 100 calories.
Here are a few ideas of how to make gradual changes that may start you down a new path of better nutrition.
— Limit how often and how much extras are eaten. If you pack your lunch, include only one small treat. Eat your fun food only once a day – perhaps for a morning or afternoon snack. Candy bars come in a “fun size,” which average around 40 calories. Sodas are available in 8 oz. cans for 100 calories. Share a dessert when you eat out.
— Reduce temptations. Even though the economy size bag of chips is a good deal for your wallet, it’s not necessarily the case for your waistline if you can’t control how much you eat. Buy the small single-size packages instead. Cut down on the snacks in your pantry, refrigerator and freezer.
— Look for healthier choices that are similar to the high-calorie options. If you like salty snacks, choose pretzels or popcorn over chips. Try a cup of hot cocoa made with nonfat milk if you want chocolate. If you crave ice cream, look for lower fat versions. Keep your favorite fresh crunchy veggies on hand, washed, ready-to-go and, most importantly, easily visible when you want a snack.
— Do something physical to take you away from food temptations. Take a walk. Weed the garden. Clean out a closet. Organize a drawer.
Changing your diet and snack habits takes time. Some of the benefits that you may see include better sleeping patterns, less indigestion, less irritability, increased stamina and even weight loss for some.
Don’t be surprised if you find you have less interest in returning to your former eating style. Healthy habits can make you feel great!
Source: Colorado Cooperative Extension
Sweet and Spicy Snack Mix
4 cups miniature pretzels
2 1/3 cups reduced-fat cheese flavored baked snack crackers
2 cups wheat Chex cereal
3 tablespoons butter, melted
1 tablespoon reduced-sodium soy sauce
2 teaspoons chili powder
1 teaspoon barbecue seasoning
3 cups Corn Pops cereal
In a large bowl, combine the pretzels, crackers and Chex cereal. In a small bowl, combine the butter, soy sauce, chili powder and barbecue seasoning. Pour over pretzel mixture and toss to coat. Transfer to a 15 inch x 10 inch baking pan, coated with nonstick spray. Bake at 250 degrees for 45 minutes, stirring every 15 minutes. Stir in corn cereal. Store in airtight containers. Yield: 10 cups
—Sandra Cain can be reached by calling 910-862-4591.