Focus on eating differently, snacking successfully

October 18, 2006|by LYNN LITTLE

Too many snack foods are low in nutrients and high in calories from sugar, fat or both. Eating too many of these extras becomes nothing more than consumption of empty calories. According to a study conducted at the University of California-Berkley, sweets, chips and sugary sodas account for nearly one-third of the calories consumed by Americans. Sweets, desserts, snacks and alcohol contribute calories without providing vitamins and minerals. In contrast, healthy foods such as vegetables and fruits make up only 10 percent of the caloric intake in the U.S. diet.

We all enjoy having extras or treats, but the problem is how much and how often. The 2005 Dietary Guidelines recommend limiting discretionary calories, which are calories left after meeting your nutrient needs. (You can compute your calorie allowance, by visiting Most of us don't keep close enough track of what our calorie allowance is, and an extra 100 calories per day can result in a weight gain of 10 pounds in one year. It's easy to exceed our discretionary allowance when the average calories in a serving of soda, beer, wine, candy bar or chips exceed 100 calories.


Totally eliminating the extras isn't realistic for most of us, so try to make gradual changes to start down a new path of better nutrition and health. Here are a few ideas:

Limit how often and how much extras are eaten. If you pack your lunch, include only one small treat. Eat your fun food only once a day - perhaps for a morning or afternoon snack. Candy bars come in a "fun size" - about an average of 40 calories. Sodas are available in smaller 8-ounce cans for 100 calories. Share a dessert when you eat out.

Reduce temptations. Even though the economy size bag of chips is a good deal for your wallet, it's not necessarily the case for your waistline if you can't control how much you eat. Buy the small single-size packages instead. Minimize the amount of extras kept in your pantry, refrigerator and freezer.

Look for healthier choices that are similar to the high-calorie options. If you like salty snacks, choose pretzels or popcorn over chips. Try a cup of hot cocoa made with nonfat milk if you want chocolate. If you crave ice cream, look for lower fat alternatives to the high-fat options. Keep your favorite fresh crunchy veggies on hand, washed, ready-to-go and, most importantly, visible in the refrigerator to satisfy that urge to crunch.

Do something physical to take you away from food temptations. Take a walk. Weed the garden. Clean out a closet. Organize a drawer.

Changing diet and snack habits takes time. Rather than focus on eating less, focus on eating differently. As you change your dietary habits, a variety of benefits are likely to occur, including better sleeping patterns, less indigestion, less irritability, increased stamina and even weight loss for some. Healthy habits can make you feel great!

Lynn F. Little is a family and consumer sciences educator with Maryland Cooperative Extension in Washington County.

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