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Why low-cal snack packs may not be the answer

Low-calorie snack packs and bars line the shelves at the grocery store, and though their packaging and promises can draw you in, their substance often leaves plenty to be desired. Here, we demystify the “low-cal” label so you can decide whether they are truly the products you are looking for.

Woman eating a granola bar

They seem simple

There’s no denying that the headline “low-cal” can draw you in if you’re looking to drop a few pounds or hoping to adopt a healthier lifestyle. It seems like an easy way to keep track of how much you are consuming and therefore promises results. Because we are told so often that losing weight comes down to “calories in vs. calories out,” choosing low-cal options seems like the perfect fit.

They look yummy

With so many delicious food options in the world, it can feel impossible to stick with a diet. This makes low-calorie packs seem all the more appealing, as they often represent some of our favourite foods — such as chips and chocolate — in controlled portions. They give us hope that we can still enjoy the treats we love while sticking to our diet.

Therein lies the problem

The fact that they are “junk foods” disguised as health foods is a problem. It creates the illusion that we are doing our bodies a favour by consuming these low-cal bags and bars as snacks. Unfortunately many of these products have little or no meaningful nutritional value in them. If they do contain natural ingredients such as milk, nuts or grains, these items often fall at the very end of the ingredient list — after a long lineup of sugars, syrups, artificial flavours and unpronounceable additives.

Educate yourself

Rather than focusing on the pretty writing on the front of the package and assuming it must be good for you, take the time to really look at the nutritional content and ingredients listed on the side or back. Will it provide you with useful vitamins and minerals? If it will, it might be worth considering. But if the first or second ingredient is sugar and the nutritional content is next to nothing, maybe it’s best to leave it on the shelf.

Healthy alternatives

It’s important to remember that store-bought snack packs are not the only way to go. It’s easy to create your own healthy options that will sustain you through the day and give you the nutrients you need. If you’re at a loss, consider trying some of these options:

  • 1 tablespoon of peanuts mixed with 2 tablespoons of raisins
  • Half a small whole-wheat pita with a little bit of almond butter
  • Veggies and homemade hummus
  • A piece of fruit (apple, pear, plum, nectarine, etc.)
  • 1 tablespoon of dark chocolate chips mixed with 1 tablespoon of dried cranberries
  • A small handful of homemade granola

Finding the balance

All this being said, no weight-loss program or lifestyle change is ever successful when based on deprivation. If you truly enjoy a 100-calorie pack a day, that’s OK. But consider it a treat, not a means of sustenance. There is no harm in ending your day with a little pack of chocolate-covered pretzels if that makes you feel good and allows you to make other healthy choices. As with anything in life, it’s all about balance. So do your research, and find the fit that’s right for you.

more on healthy snacking

Healthy after-school snacks your kids will enjoy
5 Ways to snack smarter
What to avoid in a fruit snack

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