Snacking is a great all-American pastime. Most of our tastiest snack foods are nutritionally bankrupt -- and worse. Still, snacking in itself isn't unhealthy -- it's what we snack on and how much we eat that creates the problems.
So for better health, I asked four nutrition experts to tell you about their favorite snacks. My panel of nutritionists were Elizabeth Lipski, PhD, CCN (certified clinical nutritionist), author of Digestive Wellness (McGraw-Hill)... Earl Mindell, PhD, RPh, professor emeritus of nutrition, Pacific Western University, author of Earl Mindell's Vitamin Bible for the 21st Century (Warner)... Jane Higdon, PhD, research associate at the Linus Pauling Institute, and author of An Evidence-Based Approach to Vitamins and Minerals (Thieme Medical)... and Daily Health News contributing editor Andrew L. Rubman, ND.
There is debate between the experts about the need for snacking and the reasons that we all seem to get "snack attacks." Some feel that we actually need to eat five to six times per day for maximum health, while others feel that eating three well-balanced and properly digested meals maximizes the digestive tract's effectiveness and minimizes the need for snacking. One thing is certain: We all snack. So, what are the best choices?
As to appropriate snack choices, let's first address the no-no list, which includes most of what you find in the snack-food aisles. Here, all of our experts agree. Avoid any products that contain hydrogenated oils (also called trans-fatty acids), corn syrup, white sugar and white flour. In other words, avoid virtually all processed foods. Dr. Lipski also adds cottonseed oil to the list because there is heavy use of pesticides on cotton, and the oil has been associated with having an affect on hormones -- folk medicine used cottonseed oil to cause miscarriages, she says.
Dr. Higdon points out yet another reason to avoid typical packaged snacks -- most are often are high on the glycemic scale, which causes a rapid blood sugar increase. That puts a demand on the pancreas to pump out insulin. Shortly after such an insulin spike, blood sugar plummets, backing the snacker into a nutritional and energy-deprived corner.
THE BEST OF THE BEST
It's not a big surprise to find that our nutrition experts agree on the award-winners in the snack food category -- fruits, vegetables and unsalted raw nuts.
As for nuts, Dr. Lipski points out that these are easy to carry and don't spoil quickly. (Nuts stored in your bag or your desk for several weeks remain fine, she says.) Remember, though, that although nuts contain healthy unsaturated fats, they also have a significant number of calories -- Dr. Higdon says that one ounce of nuts has at least 160 calories -- so restrict yourself to a handful or so each day. As an alternative to raw nuts, Dr. Rubman suggests all-natural nut butters, including cashew or almond butters, in addition to the more traditional peanut butter.
After fresh produce and nuts, Dr. Mindell likes high-protein bars and shakes. He does, however, advise carefully checking the labels of bars to be sure they are really protein filled -- and that they're not a sweet dressed up as nutritious. Watch out for the carbohydrate and sugar levels of the protein bars.
For the shake, Dr. Mindell recommends mixing one from whey powder available in health-food stores, while Dr. Rubman prefers protein powders made from "predigested" sources. Most of these medical protein powders are about 80% soy-based and 20% milk-based. Both agree that you should avoid premixed canned shakes that you see in TV ads, as they are "junk."
Popcorn is a favorite of Dr. Higdon's. Rather than putting salt and butter on it, she suggests spraying it with a little olive oil and then sprinkling it with favorite herbs or spices, perhaps oregano or thyme. Ironically, including oil with your popcorn actually is "less fattening" than air popped, due to the high glycemic index of fat-free popcorn. She also treats herself to a bit of chocolate now and then, explaining that having a little is so satisfying that it keeps her from eating a lot of something else.
During the summer, most of us like to treat ourselves to snacks that are chilled and cooling. That's not a problem, says Dr. Lipski, if we follow a few precautions. Don't kid yourself that frozen yogurt is good for you -- it is, as she points out, full of sugar and not a health food. However, Dr. Lipski admits to a weakness for ice cream -- when she does give in to it, she is careful to choose only premium brands. Although they are high in calories, she recommends Häagen-Dazs, Ben & Jerry's and Breyers ice cream, because these brands have few, if any, additives.
Other cool suggestions she makes are to keep homemade juice-based ice pops in the refrigerator and to try your hand at making an all-natural fruit sorbet.
Elizabeth Lipski, PhD, CCN, author of Digestive Wellness (McGraw-Hill).
Reprinted with the permission of:
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