Eating all day long fills belly but strips body of value

May 21, 2003|by LYNN F. LITTLE

There has been a dramatic shift in our national eating patterns. Three square, sit-down meals have given way to grazing. Like hungry herds of animals on the range, Americans nibble, munch and sip their way through multiple minimeals, mobile meals, liquid meals and meal replacements every day.

A snack used to be a small amount of food that we ate between meals. All-day snacking is now the normal eating pattern for many people.

A recent study by Information Resources ("Meals Demise, Snacks Arise") reported that the typical consumer eats 4.3 times per day - with many people eating six or more times a day. This pattern of constant snacking often means that we take in more calories - with fewer nutrients - than we need.

Smarter snacking is simple, even in the busiest schedules. For more energy and a healthy weight, think about protein and portion size every time you snack. Getting protein in a snack helps maintain blood sugar, so you don't run out of energy as quickly. Cheese sticks, yogurt, jerky, deli meats, nuts, sunflower seeds and some protein bars all are tasty choices.


For a super snack, combine a protein food with your favorite veggie, fruit or bread. It's as simple as a cheese stick and some baby carrots; a vanilla yogurt and a banana; half a turkey sandwich on whole wheat; a piece of beef jerky with a few cherry tomatoes; or a handful of almonds with dried fruit.

Ten tips for smarter snacking:

1. Check your hunger level. Are you actually hungry? Or are you tired? Lonely? Happy? Or did you just see a food commercial on TV? If you aren't hungry, skip the snack until you are.

2. Check your fluid level. Are you thirsty rather than hungry? Since it's easy to confuse the signals for hunger and thirst, try drinking a refreshing glass of water before you dig into a snack.

3. Check portion sizes. Most super-sized snacks are loaded with fat, sugar and calories. If you want a sweet or salty treat, start with a small size or share a larger size with a friend.

4. Check food labels and facts. What you don't know can come as a surprise to your waistline. More than 300 calories in a nutrition bar? More than 400 in a latte, and 600-plus calories in a fancy cinnamon bun?

5. Pay attention to your snack. It's easy to overeat (and still not feel satisfied) if you eat while driving, reading or watching TV. Slow down and enjoy your snack; you'll eat less and enjoy it more.

6. Pay attention to protein. Many snack foods are low in protein, as well as high in sugar and fat. Foods with protein (meat, dairy, nuts and soy) provide more nutrients and longer staying power.

7. Grab some nuts. A small handful of nuts (about an ounce) can satisfy your craving for something salty - and provide some super nutrition (vitamins, minerals and protein) at the same time.

8. Grab some veggies. Nature's fast food makes an excellent on-the-run snack. Keep sliced veggies ready to go in the fridge - and fill up a small bag whenever you head out the door.

9. Grab some fruit. Feeling like something sweet and flavorful? Fresh, dried or canned, fruit is a luscious treat any time of day. Keep several single-serve fruit choices at home and at the office.

10. Grab a power drink. Soft drinks offer little - except excess calories and caffeine. If you're looking for some liquid energy, try low-fat or fat-free milk - and build some beautiful bones and teeth, too.

Paying attention to your snacks can really pay off in terms of both your weight and your health. Smaller-sized, nutrient-rich snacks can help you stay strong - all day long.

Lynn F. Little is extension educator with Family & Consumer Sciences at the Maryland Cooperative Extension in Washington County.

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