Snackage Dosage: Guide for the Healthy Snacker

by Elizabeth Nash

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The majority of the college student’s appetite revolves around snacks. Too often, the college student can be found nursing a box of Oreos during a movie night, finding the bottom of a potato chip bag during midterms, and, of course, navigating through finals with an energy drink in hand.  Oh yes, college kids know snacks on a very personal level.

But what about the students concerned with eating healthily?   Is a trip down to the C-Store to cure the rumblies a feasible possibility?  The answer is yes, according to Kelly Knust, a registered dietitian at Richland Memorial Hospital. “You simply have to be willing to read over nutrition labels and then pick and choose between your many choices.” Her advice leads to a series of rules that will help snack-seeking studiers feed their appetite without having to regret it in the morning.

Rule #1: Look at the serving size on the nutrition label—this is possibly the most important thing to remember when snacking.  No matter the type of food, Knust points out that the difference between a healthy snack and a fatty snack can be eating a serving size too many, “you may have a serving size of Cheetos, which is 21 pieces with 10 grams of fat.  But if you absentmindedly eat 42 pieces, then you’re up to 20 grams of fat.  The numbers really do add up quickly.”  Jordan Newell, a senior at Emerson, explains that “snacks are a necessity at almost every social event, and if you’re not careful, you can end up eating way more than you intended to.”  Sticking to the portion size on the package keeps one from overdoing it.However, a limited portion size doesn’t automatically mean the snack is healthy, which leads us to the next rule…

Rule #2: Make sure that the serving size isn’t going to do more harm than good.  “Try to choose a snack with at least 2 grams of fiber.  That will help keep you fuller for longer,” Knust mentions.  “Also look for complex carbohydrates containing more fiber and minerals, such as whole wheat.  These are more nutritious than ingredients such as enriched flour, which means the food company has taken certain healthy ingredients out before trying to add them back in.”  When in the mood for something crunchy, try choosing pretzels that contain whole wheat or whole grain flour such as Snyder’s Organic Whole Wheat Pretzel Sticks.  Another helpful tip is to look for a snack between 100 and 200 calories for the right amount of energy.

Of course, sometimes choosing the right snack can come down to choosing the lesser of two evils.  A single serving of Ben & Jerry’s Triple Carmel Chunk Ice Cream will cost you 15 grams of fat and 270 calories, all for only ½ cup of the good stuff.  Whereas, ½ cup of Edy’s Slow Churned Double Fudge Brownie Ice Cream only has 4 grams of fat and 120 calories—a big difference for something that will satisfy the same sweet tooth.

The same rule applies to savory microwaveable meals.  Knust explains that prepackaged foods often contain extremely high amounts of sodium, making them more likely to cause bloating and sluggishness.  “Most people need about 2,000 milligrams of sodium per day, and yet Chef Boyardee’s Beef Ravioli contains half that amount!  And that’s only for one serving, at one meal.”  A healthier choice would be Annie’s Homegrown Creamy Deluxe Mac & Cheese with 580 milligrams of sodium.  Perhaps not the healthiest meal, but it’s still a better choice.

Rule #3: Pick simple snacks, ones with shorter ingredient lists that aren’t dipped or sprinkled with sugary/fatty toppings.  Choose a plain cereal like Cheerios, which has 100 calories per cup and only 1 gram of sugar.  Compare that to a cereal loaded with sugar like Lucky Charms, with 11 grams of the sweet stuff per cup.  Easy choice, right?  Following that mindset, look for granola bars with less sugar too.  While Nature Valley’s Oats N’ Honey Granola Bar has 11 grams of sugar, Kashi’s Cherry Dark Chocolate Granola Bar has only 8 grams. “Try to pick foods that don’t list sugar within the first three ingredients,” suggests Knust.  “This is a sign that the snack isn’t completely loaded with it.”

Rule #4: Nobody says you have to stick to packaged foods to get your snack on.  Fruits and vegetables are an obviously healthy snack that can satisfy all sorts of cravings: strawberries and bananas for your sweet tooth, celery and apples for that crunch, and pineapple and oranges for that tangy, party-in-your-mouth sensation.  If you want to jazz them up, try dipping them in hummus, which, according to Knust, “is loaded with heart-healthy fats per serving.”   Newell describes spreading “peanut butter on apple slices as a go-to healthy snack.  It’s really quick and convenient, perfect for a college kid.”

More good picks for the health-conscious snacker:

  • Lean Cuisine’s Ginger Garlic Stir Fry with Chicken, which has whole wheat spaghetti and vegetables
  • Sabra Roast Garlic Hummus with Pretzel Crisps, which is low in sodium
  • Chobani Greek Yogurt, which is non-fat
  • Mozzarella cheese sticks, which are good sources of protein
  • Chocolate Mint VitaMuffins, which are low calorie and packed with nutrients

So in the end, read your labels to know what you’re eating.  That way there’s nothing to feel guilty about come snack time.

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