Friday, May 27, 2011

Healthy Snack Checklist

By Tara DelloIacono Thies, RD, Clif Bar & Company

The key to maintaining your productive power each day is to eat regularly. Providing yourself with a little nutrient boost every couple hours will also keep you from entering hunger panic, which often leads us to reach for the chips rather than the apple! Head off snack attacks by having a healthy stash of go-tos at your desk, in your bag, and in your glove box. 
Obviously, cheese sticks, yogurt, and fresh fruit don’t do well hanging out in a bag meant for a rainy day. You need something in a sealed package that doesn’t require refrigeration to serve as part of your grab bag of emergency snacks. This means you’ll need to find natural and nutritious snacks that come in a package.
Packaged foods are convenient to stash in the glove box, a diaper bag, or a desk drawer. Foods in a package can be as healthy, natural, and nutritious as fresh foods. Let me help you spot the best choices by showing you what to look out for on a food label.

As you are reading this article, pull a snack food package from your pantry. Flip the package over and look at the ingredient list. Does it have ingredients that you recognize as healthy or that you may even have on your shelf for cooking? If you see Blue 1, Red 40, or artificial flavorings, back away now.

Artificial colors, flavors, and non-natural preservatives are not ingredients you need in your food or your body, nor do they have any nutritional value. Foods made with natural flavors and colors that come from the ingredients themselves are your best choice.

Partially hydrogenated oils and high fructose corn syrup are also total turn-offs. Partially hydrogenated oils come with trans fat as a by-product and have no nutritional place in a recipe.  When it comes to sugar, skip the artificial stuff—a little of the real thing will go a long way. Snacks that contain more natural sweeteners will provide better taste with less sugar per gram, making it easy to enjoy the sweet benefits without overdoing it.

Does the package claim the food inside is natural? When it comes to labeling, you will find that the term “natural” is quite subjective. The best way to verify a natural claim is to see if it is closely followed by the word organic. Finding organic ingredients on a package is the fastest way to identify a food that is made with ingredients that have not been grown through genetic engineering or with dangerous pesticides or fertilizers.

Here’s a line-by-line guide to understanding some important details in the nutrition label on your snack package:

Serving Size:  Check the serving size, so you know what portion is being referred to. It may say one serving, but perhaps there are two in the package and you are certain they will both be munched down together.

Calories:  Snacks should be moderate in calories, providing 150-200 calories per snack.

Calories from Fat:  Generally, you want no more than 30% of calories to come from fat.  Plug this simple equation into your mobile phone calculator to determine fat percentages:  Calories from Fat ÷ Total Calories = % Calories from Fat.

Fiber:  As much as we all love fiber, we still don’t eat enough of it. Look for snack foods with three grams of fiber or more per serving, which can be found in whole grains like oats and whole wheat flour.

Sugar:  On a food label, this refers to both added sugars (like organic cane juice) and naturally occurring sugars (like lactose in milk). Be sure to weigh the balance of sugar to the other nutrients provided in the food.  Ideally, less than 35% of a snack’s weight should come from sugar.

% Daily Values (DV): The %DV makes it easy to see which foods are higher or lower in nutrients. When you are comparing similar foods, be sure you are comparing similar serving sizes too. 

Sodium:  Limit sodium to1,500 milligrams of per day. On average, we consume more than twice that—2,800 milligrams each day—according to the Institute of MedicinceHere is what a healthy snack stash for you desk drawer or glove box could look like
  • 1Toasted Nutz N’Cranberry LUNA Bar
  • 1 package of dried mango
  • 8 oz. shelf-stable 1% fat milk box
  • 1 oz. bag of mini organic cheddar cheese crackers

These foods all have “best by” expiration dates, so be sure you eat them on a first-in, first-out basis. Next time you feel hunger and low energy sneak up on you, you will be pleased to have snacks like these on hand.