Guilt-free snacks?

Snacks
The email caught my eye…”guilt-free snacks for healthy habits.” Sounded like something I would be interested in and it had all of the buzz words for today’s consumer: “pure, natural, real, organic, gluten-free, and straight from nature.”  Well, that last one is a lie because no processed snack food comes “straight from nature.” I’ve never seen a chocolate hazelnut brownie coconut butter tree or a dark chocolate Brazil nut bush.

Never mind that, snacking is big business and many of us graze all day long, forgoing meals for snacks. So, how did these 3 “guilt-free” snacks fare on closer look? Spoiler alert….not so good.

For those of us 50+ adults, snacks should be nutrient-rich but not calorie-rich. Even for the most active among us, calories count and I’ve seen many older adults sabotage their weight and fitness goals by consuming too many “healthy” snacks. Snacks have calories and to avoid the weight creep of aging we have to be mindful of calories from all snacks. Let’s take a closer look at these so-called “guilt-free snacks.”

  • Dark chocolate Brazil nuts. A 4-oz bag sells for $6.00 with 5 servings/bag. Each serving has 230 calories, 18 g fat, 7 g saturated fat, 12 g sugar, and 3 g protein. Let’s face it, how many of you can stop at one serving? A pretty pricey snack, loaded with calories, fat and sugar and not much protein to promote satiety…that feeling of fullness that keeps you from eating more a few hours later.
  • Chocolate hazelnut brownie coconut butter. This one costs $13.33 for a 12-oz jar. Two tablespoons comes with 220 calories, 20g fat and 3 g protein. Coconut butter is all the rage and we can debate the health aspects of it another time, but as a snack it packs a calorie and fat wallop.
  • Crunch cluster almonds. A one-oz serving will set you back 160 calories and 13 g fat with only 5 g protein. And, a 9-oz bag costs $6.32.

To me, a guilt-free snack is affordable and delivers on nutrition and taste. Snacks that are much (much!) less expensive and more (more!) nutrient-rich include plain Greek yogurt (100 calories and 18 g protein) mixed with your favorite seasonal fruit or try cottage cheese (1/2 cup has 90 calories and 13 g protein) with a few whole grain crackers. If you like a creamy, cheesy snack, try a portion-controlled wedge (like The Laughing Cow spreadable cheese wedges with only 35 calories per wedge) on crisp apple slices.

Don’t be fooled by the health-halo surrounding “guilt-free” snacks. Eat nourishing, healthy snacks without the high price tag. I’ll bet you have some in your fridge right now!

 

362 Exhibitors and So Little Time!

Every year I attend the Food and Nutrition Conference & Expo of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and like a kid in a video game store, I love the exhibit hall. This year 362 exhibitors were doling out food and beverage samples in Houston and as I walked through the aisles of vendors I thought about what might appeal to the 50+ audience. So, here are some of my favorites that can help improve your health and taste great at the same time. (I have no financial interest nor have I done any consulting with these companies or products.)

The Mushroom Council, representing fresh mushroom producers or importers, was preparing samples of turkey-mushroom burgers. The smell drew me in but the taste made me a true believer. Paring mushrooms and meat to make healthier burgers, meatballs, tacos…or any recipe that calls for ground beef or turkey… can reduce the fat, sodium and calories of a dish while increasing vitamins, minerals and fiber. And, let’s not forget the cost. One study showed a 27% reduction in cost when using mushrooms for part of the ground meat. Recently, research sponsored by the Mushroom Council was highlighted on NPR at http://www.npr.org/blogs/thesalt/2013/11/05/243218136/make-room-for-mushrooms-fungi-compete-with-meat-in-burgers. So, next time you are using ground meat in a favorite dish, finely chop mushrooms and mix into the meat and be prepared to be surprised at the flavor punch.

The Almond Board of California was handing out a dietitian’s favorite snack…a tin filled with natural whole almonds. The tin holds the “perfect portion” of 1-ounce or 23 almonds. Almonds make a great a snack for those of us 50+ as a serving has 6 grams of protein, 3.5 grams of fiber, and 35% of the daily value for vitamin E. A 2013 study from Purdue University with 137 participants who were given 1.5 ounces of almonds (about 35 whole almonds) every day for a snack showed that hunger levels were decreased, vitamin E and “good” fats were increased without weight gain. So, when the mid-morning or afternoon hunger hits, grab a handful of nutrient-rich almonds.

The Cherry Marketing Institute was serving refreshing tart cherry juice. While I don’t like the term “super food,” cherries are making a pitch for that title. Some studies using tart cherry juice (about 10-ounces a day) have shown anti-inflammatory effects in those with arthritis and gout. Athletes are getting in the cherry juice cheering section, too, as a recovery drink. Some college and professional athletes are drinking cherry juice after a hard workout or during injury rehab to reduce inflammation and promote healing. Cherry juice is a nutritious beverage that might be worth a try for active older adults who experience muscle soreness after a tough workout.

The Canola Info/Canola of Canada booth caught my eye because in Georgia I’ve noticed the beautiful fields of canola plants in the early spring. Fields of yellow flowering canola plants are quite a sight to see. Canola oil has the least saturated fat of all the oils (even olive oil) and it also contains alpha-linolenic acid, an omega-3-fat, associated with fatty fish or flaxseed. It is about 60% oleic acid (the kind of fat in olive oil) and 21% polyunsaturated fat. All of those numbers give canola oil a heart healthy profile for those who want the lowest saturated fat oil and don’t always like the taste of olive oil.

Last, I was happy to see Flatout at the expo. I’ve been using these flatbreads as a bread substitute for about a year because they are higher in protein and fiber with half the calories of sliced bread. This Chicago-based company was sampling a new product, a rosemary and olive oil “fold it” flatbread. Great taste for 100 calories and I bought a package when I got home (found in the deli/bakery section of most grocery stores) and it will be a staple in my house. The flatbreads are also great for quick pizzas on a busy night…top with mushrooms, of course!

Can’t wait for next year’s expo to see what else I can taste…and enjoy!