Archived Story

Good things in small packages

Published 12:46am Sunday, April 17, 2011

Oh, what a happy day it was when the 100-calorie snack pack was born, you say? The concept is a good one, and perhaps, well intentioned from the food manufacturers’ point of view. However, all that glitters is not gold. These pre-portioned snacks are gold, though, for the food companies that produce and sell them, and we are eating them up.

There are several sides to the coin that determine whether one should rely on them or not.

The good part is that those who choose them have realized that controlling the portion size of their snacks is one of their weaknesses. Finally, they can enjoy a treat but be limited to how much they eat without having to exercise as much self-control. Fortunately, these individuals are monitoring their calorie intake because they realize that any weight loss is going to require an energy deficit. They can “grab and go” their favorite wafers, cookies, snack mixes and cakes. No worries and little damage to the dietary tightrope! It required minimal planning (except making the purchase) or effort and thus, was very convenient.

Win-win right? Far from it. These snacks are examples of refined sugar and refined grains in numerous bags that can be more expensive and create more waste for the landfill than simply eating the original item or choosing a healthier option. Some quick snacks can deliver exceptionally better nutrition and, in some cases, for less money and less calories while contributing minimal waste for the planet.

These refined grains may boast “no trans-fats” but the lack of fiber and the presence of refined sugar do little to make you feel satisfied. It may just send your blood sugar on the roller coaster ride down, making you reach for another snack soon after. Choosing fruit like 10 grapes (35 calories) in a baggie (or reusable container) will provide fiber, which slows down digestion and the rate of blood sugar rise, thus leading to better satiety. Adding one-half cup low-fat cottage cheese (80 calories) or a mozzarella string cheese (70 calories) will provide protein, which may add more staying power until your next meal.

The idea is to choose fruits, whole grain crackers, nuts or nut butters (carefully controlled portions), low-fat dairy or vegetables to boost fiber, protein and nutrient intake while satisfying your hunger and avoiding the famine that makes you tempted by the treats lurking in vending machines, at the check-out, or those in the break room at work.

Aside from adding excessive waste and cost of manufacturing packaging, these pre-made 100-calorie treats cost up to $2.50 cents per box of six bags or 42 cents each. For around the same amount of money you can achieve better satisfaction and better nutrition while keeping your calories in check as you reach for your health goals.

Here are a few other choices that come in at, or under, 100 calories: one-half apple with 2 teaspoons of peanut butter ($.52); 1/2 cup Cheerios with 1/2 cup Light and Fit yogurt ($.38); 10 baby carrots with 2 tablespoons hummus or low-fat ranch dressing ($.55/$.37); three Triscuits crackers with a 1/4 cup of dried cranberries ($.50); 1/4 of a cantaloupe and one sheet graham crackers ($.53); one boiled egg and 22 oyster crackers ($.24); 1 ounce deli turkey breast wrapped around a dill pickle or string cheese ($.61).

As with any lifestyle change that you’re working on mastering, preparation and planning is the key. These homemade snack options do require planning, shopping, preparation and time spent packaging. This is one advantage that pre-packaged snacks offer. However, you can find pre-cut fruit and vegetables, pre-portioned tuna, and small containers of dip, to name a few examples. Yogurt can be purchased in the small containers and string cheese is pre-packaged as well. Fruits like apples, oranges and bananas obviously require no portioning or packaging and become their own classification of “fast food.”

Snack portion, regardless of what it is, should be controlled and this usually means “it’s small.” Exercise “mindful eating” by thinking about the taste of the food as you eat it. Allow yourself to experience and enjoy each small bite and chew thoroughly. Multi-tasking while snacking can make this a challenge when at work, studying or surfing the Internet so try to separate your eating from other activities. By packing your own snacks, you can save money and calories, while benefiting the health of you and your planet.

Laurel MacKenzie, RD, LDN, CDE is a Registered Dietitian with Beaufort Regional Health System.

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