Holiday goodies from neighbors and friends lined up on the dining table; a groaning snack table at the New Year’s Eve party; an open bag of chips passed around while you’re watching football on TV: If you’re worried about holiday weight gain, this may be where your battle will be won or lost.
Snacking has earned its bad name, but that doesn’t mean that all snacking is bad. Research on the issue is, in fact, divided.
In one USDA study, women ate 700 calories more than they thought because of thoughtless snacking. The XENDOS study found that obese persons were more frequent snackers than normal weight subjects.
But, no clear cause/effect relationship between snacking and weight gain has been established, and some studies suggest that snacking may actually help prevent weight gain by stabilizing blood sugar. While many weight loss programs discourage or forbid snacking, others, such as the Mayo Clinic Diet, incorporate snacks — or frequent small meals— as a way to manage hunger and reduce the urge to binge.
The key is not so much when you eat, but rather what you eat and how much. Below are some strategies for guiltless snacking.
AVOID CALORIE-DENSE SNACKS. The ideal snack should be 100 to 200 calories— just enough to tide you over until the next meal. You don’t get much candy or cookies for that amount, and the concentrated sugar will cause a bounce in blood sugar and a rebound hunger all too quickly. If you can’t resist Aunt Elsie’s fudge, eat it after the meal rather than as a between-meal snack.
FRUITS, VEGGIES ARE BETTER. One hazard of frequent snacking is that junk food can easily crowd out other foods, making it harder to get the necessary five servings a day of fruits and vegetables. Make fruits and vegetables your snack, and you win twice.
At holiday snack tables, you’re likely to see a tray of raw vegetables — carrots, cauliflower and broccoli — along with a spinach or artichoke dip. Go easy on the dip, and you’re doing OK. Hummus, made from chick peas, is a better dip than those based on sour cream and cream cheese.
GO EASY ON SALTY CARBOHYDRATES such as chips and pretzels. Do you remember the old advertising slogan, “You can’t eat just one”? The extra salt is part of the habituating effect, and it’s not good for your blood pressure. The chips, as simple carbohydrates, go through the digestive system quickly, leaving you hungry again all too soon.
NUTS ARE A BETTER CHOICE, satisfying your desire for a savory snack while providing a healthy balance of protein, fat and carbohydrate. Nuts were once banned from weight-loss plans because of their high fat content, but it’s now known that the fat in nuts is mostly the healthy monounsaturated kind that helps lower cholesterol.
Walnuts are high in omega-3 fatty acids; Brazil nuts are one of the best sources of selenium. Almonds and hazelnuts are lowest in saturated fat, but all nuts are beneficial to cardiovascular health. In addition to providing fiber and healthy fats, nuts are high in L-arginine, a substance that makes arteries more supple.
GO FOR THE WHOLE GRAIN. Whole grains are slower to digest, and studies have found that they tend to discourage weight gain by increasing the efficiency of insulin.
When there are crackers on the snack table, at least some of them are likely to be whole grain, and these are the best choices not only for good health but weight control. For a delicious, low-calorie snack, try four whole-wheat crackers with thin slices of a low-fat cheese such as Mozzarella.
TAKE IT SLOW. High-fiber foods like whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts and beans make good snacks because they pass through your system slowly. Do your part by eating slowly.
Remember that your brain lags about 20 to 30 minutes behind your stomach in telling you how full you are. Choose your foods carefully, making sure you have snack items that will satisfy your hunger and provide energy and nutrients. Savor each bite and quit when you’ve had enough.
Rupp is a certified information and referral specialist on aging for NODA Area Agency on Aging. Contact her at 237-2236.