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    Archive for the ‘snacks’ Category

    You Ask, I Answer: Protein Bar Guidelines

    zero impact barWhat things should I look for in a protein bar?  I use them when I’m on the go at times when I know I will need something, but don’t want to do fast food.

    — Tammy Edwards
    (Via Facebook)

    Wonderful questions.  When it comes to protein bars, I am “on the fence”.  Allow me to explain.

    On the one hand, I don’t think they are terrible and should be shunned.  Sure, there are some horrific protein bars out there (and, in a little bit, I will give you specific parameters to help you choose the better ones), but a smart choice can make for a great snack or meal replacement in a pinch.

    Continue Reading »


    Three Things You Can Do Today To Improve Your Dietary Habits

    to-do-list-croppedOverhauling dietary habits often takes years.  Although there are always exceptions to the rule, the journey from point A to point B requires time and gradual steps.

    Too often, I find that people talk about dietary habits as one big issue to unravel, as opposed to several interlaced factors that can be handled individually.

    I often employ the analogy of a tangled ball of yarn.  The only way to untangle it is to first loosen one thread, then another, and then another until the insurmountable knot disappears.

    If the concept of healthier eating appeals to you, but you have no idea where to start — or what to do — consider these three steps you can take today.

    • Cut down your sugar intake.  The average American adult consumes 22 teaspoons of sugar a day.  That’s approximately fourteen more teaspoons than what is recommended as a daily limit by the American Heart Association.  Start training your palate to get used to lower amounts of sugar by making small cutbacks today.  Usually add three packets of sugar to your morning coffee?  Try it with two.  Normally drink a 20-ounce bottle of soda with lunch?  Opt for a 12-ounce can.  Two weeks after implementing these changes, make a few more subtle cutbacks.
    • Set up a fruit bowl at home. One of the easiest ways to make sure you’re eating the recommended two servings of fruit every day is to have it readily available.  Sticking an apple in the back of your refrigerator’s fruit-and-vegetable drawer serves no purpose.  Place the fruit bowl in whichever room of the house you spend the most time in, and fill it with fruits you like.  If the only fruits you like are Granny Smith apples and grapes, so be it.
    • Stock up your desk drawers. Say farewell to the vending machine.  Next time you’re at the grocery store, stock up on healthful, work-friendly foods.  Some suggestions: nuts and seeds, 100% whole grain crackers, unsweetened dried fruit, 100-calorie bags of popcorn, and truly good-for-you bars like Lara, Clif Nectar, and Kashi Tasty Little Crunchies.

    Give yourself two to three weeks to get used to these changes, and then see how you can gradually build your way up to better health.


    What’s for Lunch? Snacks!

    otlMany people I speak with mention that they quickly tire of repetitive lunches.

    Day after day of wraps or sandwiches with a side of chips or baby carrots is certainly a recipe for boredom.

    One of my boredom-beating tactics?  Make a “snack lunch”!

    This is one of my favorite ways to eat lunch, since it is very easy to construct in a nutritious fashion (it’s perfect for lazier days when I don’t feel like dicing, chopping, and stirring!) and allows you to satisfy multiple cravings at once.

    Here, for example, is the snack lunch I ate today:

    • 1 small Granny Smith apple
    • 1 ounce Gruyere cheese
    • 1 ounce whole grain crackers (I love the Mary’s Gone Crackers brand — they are thin, ultra crispy, and made with quinoa, sesame seeds, and brown rice)
    • 3 Tablespoons fresh salsa
    • 1/3 cup baby carrots
    • 3 Tablespoons hummus
    • 2 Tablespoons raw almonds
    • 1 Tablespoon raw walnuts
    • 1 Tablespoon raw cacao nibs

    Deliciousness aside, this combination racks up a more-than-worthy nutrition profile:

    • 710 calories
    • 6.6 grams saturated fat
    • 660 milligrams sodium
    • 16.5 grams fiber
    • 20.5 grams protein

    Additionally, it is an excellent source of calcium, magnesium, manganese, selenium, vitamin A, vitamin C, and hundreds of top-notch phytonutrients and antioxidants.  It’s also a good source of B vitamins, phosphorus, vitamin E, and zinc.

    Added bonus?  The almonds and walnuts contribute heart-healthy monounsaturated fats and ALA Omega-3 fatty acids, respectively.

    Depending on your particular calorie needs, you can tailor this meal by increasing or reducing the amounts of certain foods.

    Do you have a favorite “snack lunch”?  Post it in the “comments” section and inspire other Small Bites readers!


    Fruit! And Yogurt! Well, More Like Sugar and Partially Hydrogenated Oils…

    231363Regular readers of this blog know how much I love to call out healthy-sounding food products that are anything but.

    On the hot seat today?  Kellogg’s Yogos Bits.

    The front of the packaging describes them as “yogurty covered fruit flavored bits.”

    Did you catch those two red flag terms?

    First there’s “yogurty covered”.  Not quite the same as “yogurt covered” (we’ll get to that in a minute).

    Then there’s my personal favorite: “fruit flavored“.  That’s basically marketing speak for “sugar that tastes like [insert name of fruit here]”.

    Let’s have a look at the not-surprisingly-lengthy ingredient list:

    Sugar, coating (sugar, partially hydrogenated palm kernel and palm oil, calcium carbonate, nonfat yogurt powder [cultured whey protein concentrate, cultured skim milk, yogurt cultures [heat-treated after culturing], nonfat milk, reduced mineral whey, color added, soy lecithin, natural and artificial flavor, salt), corn syrup, modified corn starch, apple puree concentrate, contains two percent or less of: water, pectin, citric acid, cornstarch, malic acid, ascorbic acid (vitamin C), natural and artificial cherry flavor, sodium citrate, color added: carnauba wax, carmine color, Yellow #5 Lake, Red #40, Red #40, Blue #1 Lake

    Wow.  Time for some analysis:

    1. The first ingredient (meaning, the most prominent one) in this product is sugar.

    2. The “yogurty coating” contains more sugar and partially hydrogenated oils (trans fats) than actual yogurt!

    3. Even worse, the yogurt cultures have been heat-treated after culturing, rendering their probiotic qualities ineffective.  Remember, you always want to look for live and active cultures!

    4. Carmine color is made by crushing the shells of cochineal beetles.  While there is nothing inherently unhealthy about this, I always like to inform vegetarians and vegans about that factoid.

    5. There isn’t a shred of fruit in this product.  Simply fruit sugars and fruit flavors.

    6. Each pouch of these “bits” weighs 20 grams.  Thirteen of those grams (that’s 65% of the product) come from sugar.

    This product can legally advertise itself as a good source of calcium because it delivers ten percent of the mineral’s daily adequate intake value.  Note, though, that some of it is fortified (sprinkled on during processing) in the yogurt coating!

    For what it’s worth, that same amount of calcium can be intrinsically found in these healthier and less processed foods:

    • A third of a cup of milk (dairy or fortified non-dairy varieties)
    • Half an ounce of Swiss cheese
    • Three quarters of a mozzarella stick
    • A quarter cup of tofu
    • A third of a cup of coked collard greens
    • A third of a cup of almonds

    I would be a lot less displeased if these were described more realistically.  Perhaps something along the lines of “sugar & yogurt covered sugar puffs”?


    Three Easy Ways To Reduce Your Intake of Added Sugars

    sugarFollowing last week’s post on the amount of added sugar in a large McDonald’s vanilla latte, I received several e-mails asking for tips on gradually reducing sugar consumption.

    Here are my three favorite strategies.  They are realistic, practical, and will have you consuming a lot less added sugar (and calories!) in a few weeks.

    1. At Starbucks: Call The Shots

    Although it’s common knowledge — and prominent in pop culture humor — that Starbucks lets you customize your drink to the last detail, many people forget this applies to the amount of sugar you get.

    Any time you ask for a beverage with flavored syrup in it (i.e.: hazelnut latte or caramel machiatto), these are the sugar and calorie amounts you are getting:

    • Tall: 1 pump of syrup (4 grams/1 teaspoon of sugar, 16 extra calories)
    • Grande: 3 pumps of syrup (12 grams/3 teaspoons of sugar, 48 extra calories)
    • Venti: 5 pumps of syrup (20 grams/5 teaspoons of sugar, 80 extra calories)

    Next time you order a Grande or Venti flavored drink, specify “with 1 pump of syrup.”  You’ll save yourself anywhere from 8 to 16 grams (two to four teaspoons!) of added sugar.

    2. Befriend seltzer

    A daily soda habit can be a difficult thing to change, particularly if the goal goes beyond simply replacing full-calorie soda with diet soda.

    My favorite tip here is to slowly wean yourself off regular soda with the help of seltzer.

    Say your soda habit consists of a 20-ounce bottle of Sierra Mist with dinner every night.

    Rather than make your goal 20 ounces of Diet Sierra Mist’s artificial chemicals a day, gradually adjust your tastebuds to flavored seltzer (which has no added sugars or sweeteners).

    Even though artificial sweeteners are calorie-free (or very low in calories), they register as “several times sweeter than sugar” with our tastebuds.  The last thing you want to do is make the tastebuds become accustomed to that degree of sweetness!

    Start by drinking a 75% soda/25% lemon-lime seltzer combination for one full week.  The next week, try a 50/50 ratio.  The week after that, create a 25/75 ratio.

    By the time you fully replace soda with seltzer, you will have effortlessly gotten rid of 188 calories (and 12.5 teaspoons of added sugar) from your diet.

    3. Get Your Energy From Whole Foods, Not Candy Energy Bars

    The vast majority of “energy bars” and “protein bars” are nothing more than vitamin-and-mineral-fortified chocolate bars with a sprinkle of extra protein.

    The average Luna bar has almost three teaspoons of added sugar, while a typical Clif Bar contains anywhere from five to six teaspoons (as much as 10 Hershey’s kisses).

    High-protein bars, meanwhile, can pack in as much added sugar as a 12-ounce can of soda.

    I am not suggesting you should never eat these bars, but they truly belong in the “treat” category (rather than under “healthy snacks”).

    As an alternative, pack one of the following snacks in your gym bag, briefcase, bookbag, or purse:

    • Handful of nuts of your choice
    • Lara or Clif Nectar bars (since the sugar in these bars is exclusively naturally-occurring from fruits, it is not a source of empty calories)
    • Mini nut butter sandwiches (try almond or cashew butter if you’re bored with peanut butter) made with 100% whole grain crackers
    • Low-sugar (no more than 6 grams of sugar per serving) 100% whole grain cereal

    You Ask, I Answer: Food Should Taste Good Tortilla Chips

    df-multigrain-chips_300What do you make of the Food Should Taste Good line of tortilla chips?

    Healthy snack or another variety of junk?

    — Lexi (last name withheld)
    New York, NY

    I think they are very tasty — I particularly enjoy their lime tortilla chips!

    From a nutrition perspective, though, these chips offer the same amount of calories and fat per ounce as regular tortilla chips.  Sodium and fiber values are slightly better in some of these products than in most tortilla chips, but by a very small margin.

    The multigrain variety of Food Should Taste Good chips boasts the inclusion of quinoa, sesame seeds, and oat fiber.

    However, a look at the ingredient list reveals those three ingredients come after evaporated cane juice (sugar).

    Since the sugar content is very low (a mere gram per 10-chip serving), we can only deduce that those three healthy-sounding ingredients are also barely present.

    I recommend people think of these products the same way they do regular tortilla chips.  A sprinkling of quinoa does not make a product inherently healthy, or lower in calories.


    Made with Real Fruit. Really!

    018627431640Avid readers of Small Bites know how much I despise the “made with real fruit” scam so many processed foods love to advertise.

    In case you are not familiar with it, I am referring to items like fruit snacks or sugary cereals which boast about fruit on their ingredient list only to simply offer juice concentrates (think concentrated fruit sugar devoid of any nutrition).

    Alas, the folks at Kashi  mean what the say.

    Their new fruit & grain Tasty Little Chewies are advertised as being “made with real fruit” and, well, they’re not pulling a fast one on us!  The second ingredient, after all, is dates.  Not date juice,  not dehydrated date concentrate, but REAL dates.

    In fact, dates appear BEFORE chocolate on the ingredient list.  Knock me over with a flaxseed!

    These new bars are delicious, by the way.  I recently tried the Dark Chocolate Coconut flavor and am a fan.  I recommend adding it to your snack repertoire, particularly with this nutrition profile:

    • 120 calories
    • 1.5 grams saturated fat
    • 50 milligrams sodium (a mere 2% of the allotted maximum)
    • 4 grams fiber
    • 7 grams sugar (I am guessing only 4 grams are from added sugars)

    TLC indeed!


    Leaving Out Vital Information

    Vending and food service company Next Generation has introduced Vitalities, a sticker-based initiative which “provides customers the ability to make selection based on healthy snack and beverage alternatives, while still having the flexibility to select name brand product options.”

    In essence, products that meet certain health criteria — created with the help of a Registered Dietitian — get a sticker next to their item code.

    On the food side, the following categories are offered: lower in fat, lower in sugar, lower in carbs, and “higher energy.”

    Why are they leaving out the most important concept– CALORIE information?

    Consider the following. To qualify as “low in sugar”, a product must meet one of the following criteria:

    * Sugar Free
    * No Sugar Added
    * Contains less than 4 grams of sugar

    These divisions are very helpful for snack companies because they don’t evaluate their products from a whole nutrition profile.

    Per the above mentioned standards, something like Sugar-Free Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups would receive a “low in sugar” sticker (and therefore seem like a healthy choice) despite offering 6 grams of saturated fat (30% of a day’s worth) in one 180-calorie serving.

    Similarly, a bag of Skittles can receive a healthy-sounding “low-fat sticker”, all while offering 250 calories and 12 teaspoons of sugar!

    I am also perplexed by the “lower in carbs” sticker. Unless someone has diabetes, there is no reason to believe that low carb figures by default indicate a healthier choice.

    The beverage stickers are slightly better, as they are divided into these four categories: lower in fat, lower in calories (yay!), lower in caffeine, and higher in nutrients.

    My concern here is the “lower in fat” label, which makes no mention of calories in its criteria:

    * Less than 2.5 grams of fat per 8 ounce portion
    * Skim and 1% milk
    * Flavored waters
    * Juices
    * Energy drinks

    Notice that soda can not qualify for this sticker. Fine and dandy, but sweetened flavored waters (often containing just as much sugar and as many calories as soda) can.

    This initiative is a start, but I would much prefer vending machines post calorie information on items.

    After all, unless people have those figures memorized, they are unable to see them until they have already made their purchase.


    Yum-mega Treat

    As regular Small Bites readers know, I am a big fan of snack bars.

    I can’t tell you how many times they have saved me — and my wallet — from junk food hell (i.e.: Bronx Zoo, Six Flags, Broadway intermissions.)

    I also like to name names, which is why I have given very high praise to Lara bars, Clif Nectar bars, Pure bars, GNU Flavor & Fiber bars, and Kashi’s “Tasty Little Crunchies” granola bars.

    Although each of those bars is uniquely different from the others, they all provide high-quality nutrition in a delicious way.

    Today, my list expands to include Nana’s Omega-Fiber Cookie Bars.

    These bars are most reminiscent of Flavor & Fiber, and even have a similar ingredient list.

    Each bar offers 130 calories, 1 gram of saturated fat, 40 milligrams of sodium, 8 grams of sugar, and 5 grams of fiber.

    Certainly a great lunchbox treat — and an even better snack to have handy at the office when thoughts of the King Size Crunch Bar in the nearby vending machine start to take over.

    Here’s the ingredient list for the double chocolate flavor (vanilla almond is my favorite, though!):

    Fiber Mix (Whole Wheat Flour, Oats, Wheat Bran, Psyllium, Flax Seeds, Millet, Chicory Root), Fruit Juice (Apple, Pear, Grape), Rice Dextrins, Chocolate Chips (whole grain malted barley and corn, unsweetened chocolate, soy lecithin as an emulsifier, and pure vanilla), Dutched Cocoa, GMO-Free Expeller Pressed Canola Oil, Dried Apples, Raisins, Rice Crisp Cereal, Rice Syrup, Vegetable Glycerin, Baking Powder (non aluminum), Natural Flavors

    I do have two suggestions for the Nana’s team, though:

    1) No need to advertise your bar’s Omega-9 content. It is not an essential fatty acid, so we don’t need to particularly seek it out in food.

    2) The 250 milligrams of Omega-3 are great, but it would make them a lot more absorbable if you included ground — rather than whole — flax seeds in your fiber mix.

    Still, these are certainly worth making room for in your pantry.


    Crunch Away!

    A few days ago, a friend was picking my brain for portable, nutritious, and tasty snack ideas.

    He specifically mentioned that while he enjoys the taste of my standby bar recommendations (Lara, Clif Nectar, Gnu Flavor & Fiber, Pure), they are all missing “crunch” — his favorite texture.

    Crackers don’t really do it, he explained, because he likes a tinge of sweetness to his snacks.

    I suggested Kashi TLC (Tasty Little Crunchies) granola bars — and was just told it’s exactly the type of snack my friend was looking for!

    One individually wrapped container offers two bars and provides:

    180 calories
    4 grams of fiber (3 of which are soluble)

    8 grams (2 teaspoons) of added sugar
    6 grams of protein

    100% whole grains

    I specifically point out the presence of soluble fiber as that is the type of fiber that has been linked with reductions in LDL (“bad”) cholesterol.


    Sensible Nonsense

    The folks at Nabisco advertise some of their products under the “sensible snacking” monicker, meaning “they not only taste good, but you can feel good about eating them, too!”

    One of these products is Ritz Toasted Snack Chips, which, Nabisco points out, “are not fried [and] have 40% less fat than potato chips.”

    Very well, but an ounce of these chips only offers 20 fewer calories than an ounce of potato chips — and an additional 100 milligrams of sodium!

    The main ingredients?  White flour, sugar, and high fructose corn syrup.

    The flavored varieties’ ingredient lists, meanwhile, boast no less than 25 ingredients.

    The dictionary defines “sensible” as “acting with or exhibiting good sense.”

    Perhaps Nabisco would be better off using another adjective for these products?


    The Numbers Speak for Themselves

    Kraft’s latest snack product is Mac ‘n Cheese baked crackers available in three varieties: cheddar, mild cheedar, and white cheddar.

    “Made with real cheddar cheese!” the boxes proudly display.

    Let’s get down to the facts.

    150: the calories in a 1-ounce serving. This is the exact same caloric content of an ounce of Lay’s potato chips or Cheetos.

    300: the milligrams of sodium in a 1-ounce serving of the cheddar flavor. This is almost twice as much as the same amount of Lay’s potato chips and 10 more milligrams than 1 ounce of Cheetos.

    380: the milligrams of sodium contained in a 1-ounce serving of the white cheddar flavor.

    35: the number of ingredients that make up the cheddar and white cheddar flavors.

    Swap: 1 ounce of whole grain crackers and one stick of string cheese pretty much delivers the same calories with more substantial nutrition.


    You Ask, I Answer: Nighttime Snacking/Digestion

    My mom believes that eating right before bed is unhealthy and causes weight gain.

    I don’t believe that it causes weight gain because as you stress, what matters is how many calories are consumed [in one day], not when [you eat them].

    But, is [eating right before bed] unhealthy? My mom thinks [so, because she says] our digestive system needs to “sleep”.

    I always “need” to snack before bed (I think it’s more of a psychological thing), but keep my portions in check.

    She seems to think that fruit is “lighter” as opposed to bread which is “heavier” and harder on our bodies. Is it okay for me to have “heavy” foods like bread/cereal before I sleep as long as its within my caloric needs?

    — (Name Withheld)
    Kaoshiung, Taiwan

    One issue that can occur if you go to bed soon after eating is acid reflux, or heartburn (a condition in which stomach acid creeps up into the esophagus).

    Other than that, there isn’t anything inherently unhealthy about having a slice of bread or a bowl of cereal an hour or so before going to bed as long as it isn’t a caloric overload.

    Heavy foods should be avoided before going to bed so as to not cause indigestion, so either fruit or cereal are smart options. I do not consider cereal or bread to be heavy, especially not if you’re just having a cup of a whole grain cereal low in added sugar.

    Keep in mind that even though we go to sleep, our organs do not.

    Full digestion of a meal, for instance, takes anywhere from 18 to 48 hours. So, our digestive tract works all day, every day.


    You Ask, I Answer (On YouTube!): Healthy Eating Outside The Home

    How do I start onto the path of eating and living more heathfully? Hopefully, there are others who, like myself, know what they “should” be doing, but don’t know where to begin or what to pay attention to the “most.”

    For example (speaking only for myself here), here is a glimpse of all the food-related thoughts running through my mind daily:

    “Watch your calories, fat, salt, refined sugar, and flour intake…. no fast food/chips/soda/Starbucks mocha whip lattes (sob!)…. pay attention to the glycemic index/volumetrics/South Beach/Weight Watcher/Zone Plan… eat your largest meal early and your lightest meal later… get your daily serving of fruits and vegetables (ha!), fiber, and protein… don’t forget to take your vitamin/calcium suppleent… and put down that ice cream/cookies/cake!!”

    I currently work full-time and go to grad school part-time, so 3 days out of the week I leave my apartment at 8:30 am and don’t get home until after 11:00 pm.

    I work either Saturday or Sunday each week to make up my school hours.

    My eating schedule is seriously out of whack — many times I’ve eaten cold pizza at midnight.

    I struggle with the “healthful vs. convenienc” battle every day.

    And as for cooking? I use my oven as storage space for pots and pans that never get used — I just don’t have the time.

    Any advice?

    — Amie Lemire
    (Location Unknown)

    Great question, Amie.

    People tend to overcomplicate nutrition. If you focus on the basics, though, the rest of your concerns will fall into place.

    Rather than write out a lengthy response, I thought I would use this as an opportunity to debut Small Bites on YouTube!

    You can view my answer below. Be sure to bookmark the Small Bites channel on YouTube, too!

    Readers: I would like to post a YouTube clip every 7 to 10 days.

    Let me know what you would like to see on the channel. Product reviews? Questions and answers? Fad diet critiques? Let your voices be heard!


    Perfect Pickings: Nut Mixes/Trail Mix

    Let me begin by saying that all nut products will contain (heart-healthy) fats — there is no use in looking for low-fat trail mix!

    Contrary to popular belief, raw and roasted nuts are virtually identical.

    An ounce of raw almonds contains 164 calories, a mere five less than the same amount ounce of a roasted variety.

    What differs most between the two is sodium content.

    Whereas an ounce of raw almonds contributes 0 milligrams of sodium, that same amount of roasted almonds contains 100 milligrams.

    You won’t find too many nutritional differences among commercial trail mixes.

    The overwhelming majority pack in the following per quarter-cup serving:

    • 130 – 150 calories
    • 75 – 100 milligrams of sodium
    • 2 grams of fiber
    • 5 – 8 grams of protein

    However, this is one product where a peek at the ingredients list comes in handy.

    All trail mixes containing dried fruit, for example, will show high sugar values on their nutritional labels.  This is where you need to read the ingredient list closely.  Look for plain and simple dried fruit.

    Hence, seeing “raisins, dried mangoes” (literally dried fruit) is much better than “dried cranberries [sucrose]” (fruit with added sugar).

    Since berries are generally tart when dried, expect trail mixes containing them them to contain added sugar for flavor-enhancing purposes.

    While M&M’s and caramel corn are tasty additions, they make for trail mixes with inferior nutrition profiles.

    If it’s nutrition you seek, stick to the tried and true classics.

    Speaking of dried fruit, though, there is one component in trail mix that is especially worth looking out for.

    The sneaky culprit I am referring to? None other than dried bananas!

    Their nutrient profile is inferior to that of a common banana (potassium, vitamin C, and fiber are significantly lower), and since they are deep fried prior to being dried, their calorie and fat content is significantly heightened.

    Keep in mind that all trail mix is calorically dense (a quarter cup clocks in at roughly 150 calories); it was originally a snack consumed by people who hiked for hours and needed a quick and healthy energy boost.

    That said, if you’re seeking a nutritious trail mix, Bear Naked’s Pacific Crest Mix is one I have enjoyed a few times — it’s low in sodium and contains no added sugar.

    Sometimes, I prefer to make my own trail mixes.

    I usually throw in a whole grain (usually oat-based) cereal low in added sugar, sunflower seeds, almonds, cashews, raisins, and half a handful of cacao nibs (you could also break up a square of dark chocolate — comprised of at least 75% cocoa, if you’re looking to get some health benefits — into small bits and mix it in!)

    If you enjoy the combination of fruits and nuts and want it in an even more nutritious package, I suggest trying Lara, Clif Nectar, or Pure bars.

    If they are hard to find in your area, click on each bar’s name to be directed to their respective order pages.

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