In an age where obesity is on everyone's mind, snacking gets a bad rap; but according to Charles Stuart Platkin, one of the nation's most respected nutrition experts, not all snacking is bad, and some snacking is important and good for you.
A recent study in the International Journal of Obesity reported that people who are obese snack more frequently than non-obese individuals, and the more snacks people eat, the more calories they take in -- specifically sweet and fatty foods. Healthy snacking is a good way to keep hunger in check so you don't overeat. Platkin, explains that sometimes the only options available are not so healthy, so you need to know how to make the best choice.
Platkin a/k/a "The Diet Detective" (www.dietdetective.com), provides side-by-side comparisons of some popular snacks to help consumers make good choices when it comes to snacking.
Comparison of oatmeal cookies, chocolate chip cookies, fig newtons, graham crackers and animal crackers
Anything made primarily of butter and sugar should be treated as an occasional dessert -- not a healthy snack. Cookies are all about 100 to 150 calories per ounce. Calorie-wise there's no difference between an oatmeal cookie and a chocolate chip cookie.
Chips Ahoy Chunky Chocolate Chip cookie (one cookie, about 2/3 of an ounce): 80 calories vs. Keebler Country Style Oatmeal cookie (one cookie, about 1/2 ounce): 60 calories. If you have to choose, Platkin suggests going with an oatmeal cookie, since the fiber from oats (a whole grain) will fill you up more so you feel more satisfied. There's a rumor going around that animal and graham crackers are "healthy" choices -- not true. Animal crackers have about 130 calories per ounce and graham crackers about 120 calories per ounce, although because each cookie is smaller you feel like you're getting more.
Fig Newtons are lower in calories and make a better choice, but again, they're no health food at 55 calories per cookie (1/2 ounce).
Fit tip: Don't bring the whole bag or box with you. Take one at a time and seal up the rest. Avoid low-fat or low-carb cookies, which often are just as high in calories as the regular versions. Your best bet: those 100-calorie snack packs -- they really help control portions. Or you can make your own 100-calorie packs using Ziplocs. The only thing is, you might want to cut the cookies in quarters; otherwise you'll only have one or two in each bag.
Beware of those giant cookies. One Pepperidge Farm Soft Baked Dark Chocolate Chunk Nantucket cookie (slightly more than 1 ounce) has 150 calories. Also, just one Double Stuf Oreo or Milano cookie contains about 70 calories -- pretty high considering their size (and how many you end up eating).
Choose whole-grain cookies. These are not health foods and may not even have fewer calories, but often they're still a better choice. For instance, Whole Grain Fig Newtons contain 55 calories per cookie (same as regular Fig Newtons), but the first ingredient is whole-grain flour, which is better than refined flour. Even Chips Ahoy makes a 100 percent whole-grain cookie (but it does have 150 calories per 33 grams). Whole grains help you feel full longer and have fiber and nutrients such as B vitamins, vitamin E, magnesium and selenium.
Another choice: Bake your own. Oatmeal raisin cookies can be prepared using egg whites, skim milk, reduced-calorie margarine and an artificial baking sweetener (Baking Splenda).
Comparison of bagel chips, pita chips, potato chips and baked potato chips
Both bagel chips and pita chips have about 130 calories per ounce. Baked chips, at around 110 to 120 per ounce, are your best bet. Potato chips fall in the 150-to-160-calorie range.
While it's true that "baked" or "veggie" is usually code for healthier, it's best to check the actual nutrition information. Not all foods that boast healthy-sounding names are diet-friendly. People seem to think they've earned a "health halo" when they buy a bag of Baked Lays, baked pita or veggie chips (such as Terra Chips at about 11 calories per chip) -- and then devour them as though they have calorie immunity. Unfortunately, the calorie difference isn't overwhelming. Plus, you're not getting any notable health benefits.
Fit tip: Try a 1-ounce bag of chips. Prepackaged portions mean you can't eat more than one serving, and you can see how small those serving sizes really are.
Try other types of chips, such as Stacy's Soy Thin Crisps, which have 6.5 grams of protein at 110 calories per ounce. But watch out, because sometimes those single-serving bags are larger than 1 ounce. Also, lower-calorie chips should only be eaten to replace higher-calorie chips already in your diet.
Make your own whole-wheat pita chips (about 140 calories for a 2-ounce pita). Squirt the pita with margarine spray, add a bit of garlic powder and salt, toast and cut it into multiple chips. You'll get double the chips for half the calories.
Comparison of Ritz Crackers, Saltines, Wheat Thins and Triscuits
Triscuits rack up 20 calories per cracker but could be your best bet because they're 100 percent whole grain -- plus you might eat less because of all that fiber. Ritz crackers have about 16 calories each, whereas saltines have 12 apiece. Wheat Thins come in at a bit more than 9 calories per cracker. But gram for gram, they all contain roughly the same number of calories.
Fit tip: Always try to choose whole-grain crackers. Even if you don't save calories, at the very least you'll be getting the benefits of the whole grains.
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