We all know that feeling when those untimely hunger pangs make our stomachs rumble and growl.
And, while there’s nothing wrong in snacking between meals, confirming the nutritional value of those snacks is always a good idea.
Most of the snacks that are generally popular and are readily available do not have any nutritional value, hence, what we are consuming to satisfy our erratic cravings is actually harmful for our health.
According to nutritionist Kim Larson, RDN and media spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics, some snacks are good for the body, while some aren’t. A healthy snack is the one that is high in nutritional value (protein, vitamins, minerals, fiber) but relatively low in calories, total fat, saturated fat (no trans fat), sugar, and sodium.
Here’s a list of seven types of snack foods, ranging from the healthiest to the least healthy.
- Trail mix
Trail mix is generally made up of a combination of granola, dried fruit and nuts. Some people add chocolate to their mix to give it a sweet flavor. It is really easy to make this mix; generally people who are traveling carry it with them, because it is lightweight, filling and portable.
Trail mix can be full of protein and vitamins. One hundred grams of the mix typically has 462 calories and a higher nutritional value if made without any additional chocolates or sweets.
According to Larson, "Trail mix can be healthy, especially if you make your own with healthier cereals, nuts, seeds, dried fruit."
- Frozen fruit bars
These fruit bars are extremely refreshing and are low-calorie if prepared with pure fruits and no sugar. "These types of refreshing snacks with no added sugars are a better choice for the summer than ice cream," said Larson.
- Fruit-flavored yogurt
The lovely packaging of fruit yogurts, pictured with colorful fresh fruits, can be deceiving.
Although yogurt is rich in nutrients, and it is good for the immune system, all yogurts aren’t.
If the fruit-flavored yogurt isn’t fat free, it is bound to contain a higher calorie level. The flavoring also is usually packed with sugar.
Most of the nonfat or low-calorie fruit yogurts have about 30-35 calories per ounce with about 20g of sugar. Though the nutritional value varies, it is usually not the best.
"These are not the healthiest yogurt choice because of the sugary fruit and granolas or 'crunch' they often add to these portable store-bought yogurt parfaits," Larson said. "Not the worst choice, but not the best either because of the added sugar content."
Look for brands that come with a “Live & Active” seal from the National Yogurt Association, which ensures the product contained a certain amount of beneficial bacteria when it was produced.
- Frozen snack foods
Frozen snack foods like pizza rolls and soft pretzels are generally all-time favorites. But these snacks are high in fats and calories.
"These are high in sodium, and often high in saturated fats and calories," Larson said.
Pizza rolls contain excessive preservatives, lots of sodium and are a high-calorie food with a lack of lack nutritional value.
- Bakery items
We all have cravings for our favorite cookies, brownies and pastries, but consuming them regularly as snacks with a cup of tea or coffee is never healthy. According to Larson, "Items like bakery breads have no fiber or minerals because they are so refined. They can also be very high in calories."
Even if you opt for rice cakes that are low-fat, low-cholesterol and almost tasteless, you won’t find much on the label about the nutrition facts label beyond calories and sodium.
- Granola bars
Most of the time, the packaging on these granola bars make them look like they are full of nutrients, but they aren’t.
These bars are generally promoted as being filled with whole oats, nuts, seeds and bits of dried fruit, which is naturally healthy.
However, generally these granola bars are dipped in sugary syrups or loaded with chocolate chips, highly processed or artificial ingredients and aren’t any better than high-calorie candy bars.
"Most of these are glorified candy bars with few healthy ingredients," explained Larson. "Most of these are high in added sugars and total fat; some even have saturated fats (the kind we are supposed to keep to less than 10% of our total calories) and very little nutrition."
"It's better to make your own granola where you can control the ingredients, sugar, and amount of oils used in making them," she added.
- Junk food
Potato chips, crackers, corn puffs are all readily available in stores but snacking on these processed items between meals is never a good idea. "These snacks are filled with air and loaded with sodium, fat, and calories." "Most of these have virtually no nutrition or fiber in them because they are so highly processed,” said Larson.
"Junk foods like these should be looked at as a very once-in-a-while indulgence — not a regular snack choice."
Just to make sure you aren’t snacking on something unhealthy, read the product and figure out the sugar content, the fat content and the total calorie content before consuming the snack.
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