Having too many things to do and too little time on your hands, eating healthy may be low on the list of your priorities. On some days, full course meals are neglected in favor of quicker, lighter snacks. Let's face it--snacking is natural. If you are hungry between meals, your body is telling you that it needs nutrition now. Therefore, you should definitely eat something to curb your hunger until the next meal. Eating the wrong snacks, however, is what can get you into trouble. Snacks high in fats and carbohydrates can increase cholesterol levels, cause weight gain, and can eventually lead to complications such as heart disease, high cholesterol and diabetes. The good news is that, with so many people concerned with eating healthy these days, many food manufacturers have developed low fat, low carbohydrate alternatives to foods that are almost identical in taste to the “real thing”.
When grazing for food, keep these things in mind:
Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables.
They are low in calories and fat. Additionally, they contain a number of vitamins and other antioxidants that prevent cellular damage and aid in a number of cellular processes.
Watch your saturated fat intake.
Consumption of saturated fats should be lowered, if not avoided, since they are associated with raising cholesterol levels. Saturated fats are usually encountered in fried foods and in animal meats. On a side note concerning animal meats: lean meats, such as chicken, fish, and turkey are less in saturated fat than red meat.
Watch what you put on the food that you cook.
Partially hydrogenated vegetable oils, such as those used in many margarines and shortenings, contain a particular form of fat known as trans-fatty acids. These should also be avoided, since they raise cholesterol levels. They are usually found in fried foods and processed foods, such as cookies, chips, and candies.
A word about dips and toppings...
If you need to use salad dressing, sauces, or dips, try a low fat alternative. Also, use them on the side instead of placing them directly onto your food--you will use a lot less this way.
Try low fat varieties of your favorite dairy products.
Selecting low fat dairy products will also help to lower fat consumption instead of their “full strength” counterparts.
An example of this would be to substitute low fat yogurt or nonfat milk instead of regular milk or yogurt.
Carbohydrates are an important and quick energy source.
Since these are converted to sugar in the body, consumption of too many carbohydrates can cause weight gain and elevated glucose levels in diabetics. Additionally, previous research has indicated that consuming too many carbohydrates can lower HDL (good cholesterol) levels. Whole grain products, such as wheat bread and oats, are low in flour and high in fiber, minerals and vitamins. With the gaining popularity of the Atkins diet, many food manufacturers have low carbohydrate versions of breads and other grains. Low fat, unsalted pretzels and unbuttered, unsalted popcorn are also good alternatives.
Nuts and seeds (preferably unsalted) are good and filling snack foods.
They contain large amounts of unsaturated fats, which tend to lower total cholesterol levels. Nuts (especially walnuts) contain omega 3-fatty acids, which have been linked to lowering total and LDL (low density lipoprotein—the “bad” cholesterol) cholesterol levels while raising HDL (high density lipoprotein—the “good” cholesterol) cholesterol levels. Seeds, including pumpkin and sunflower seeds, contain high amounts of Vitamin E, B vitamins, and minerals.
After looking at this article, you may be thinking, “Great, so my other option is to just chew on cardboard, right?” Wrong! There are many alternatives out there for you to try, and food manufacturers are making these alternatives more abundant. If you have an absolute, not-so-healthy favorite snack that you like, you can still eat it, but only in moderation. If you are a die-hard junk food junkie, these alternatives can take some getting used to. Therefore, begin your journey to healthy eating gradually and with moderation. Your heart and the rest of your body will thank you!
~Jennifer Moll, M.S.
Last edited: 01/30/2005