Healthy snacks offer benefits

NUTRISPEAK by Vesanto Melina MS, RD

Portrait of Vesanto Melina• Can snacking be a key ingredient in a healthy lifestyle? If your first response was “No!” here’s a chance to update your perceptions. Some of us were raised with the advice to “never eat between meals,” which makes sense in protecting our teeth from sweets. Yet there can be significant advantages to snacking on healthy foods. Researchers have found that eating frequent mini-meals offers health benefits. Dr. David Jenkins and colleagues at the University of Toronto have reported some remarkable advantages with grazing.

In one study, participants were randomly divided into two groups and both groups were given the same types and amounts of food over a two-week period. One group consumed three meals a day. For those on the “Nibbling Diet,” food was divided into 17 mini-meals a day. After two weeks, the Nibblers had reduced their blood cholesterol levels by more than 15 percent. Cortisol, a stress indicator, was reduced by 17 percent. Nibbling proved to keep blood glucose more constant without the extreme valleys and peaks in blood glucose that occur before and after big meals. Average serum insulin levels of Nibblers were reduced by 28 percent. With less insulin, the body is less likely to convert the load of calories into body fat.

Granted, the typical North American way of snacking can’t be considered healthy. Grazing on concentrated sources of fat or sugar (or both) will pack the weight onto your body. However, see below for some examples of healthy snacks:

Raw veggies are particularly rich in vitamins and protective phytochemicals. It’s worth spending half an hour each week chopping an assortment of colourful, crunchy crudités: celery, carrots, peppers, cucumber, jicama, zucchini, snow pea pods or sugar snap peas, broccoli or cauliflower florets and cherry tomatoes. When you’re ready for a snack, they’ll be at the front of the fridge, making health an easy choice.

Hummus is the easiest way to get protein and enjoy the blood sugar-levelling effect of legumes.

Salsas are rich in lutein, a phytochemical found in tomato products. Researchers link lutein with protection against cancers, especially prostate cancer. Salsas are low in fat and high in vitamins.

Soynuts are a high protein snack food, which can also be added to a salad – like croutons.

Nuts are high in fat so keep portions moderate. However, the fat comes packaged with a wealth of minerals and protective substances. For growing youngsters, high-energy adults, athletes and those who have difficulty maintaining their weight, nuts are a great solution.

Dried fruits (raisins, currants, apricots) help you stock up on iron. If you tend to get cold in winter, keep raisins handy (in your briefcase, backpack, desk or car). When your blood sugar drops, you’ll have an instant remedy. (Keep a toothbrush handy, too.) Fresh fruit is also great choice.

Cereals, such as granola, aren’t only for breakfast. They can be high-energy, tasty snack foods. Look for organic, GMO-free products with little or no sugar.

Chips have a bad reputation, but if you look, you can find products that are organic, GMO free, moderate in fat content and free of hydrogenated oils. In addition to different colours of corn, chips are made from black beans, rice, taro and vegetables.

Chocolate: Since it is February, we must mention dark chocolate. After all, it comes from a bean.

Vesanto Melina is a Vancouver dietitian, author and consultant. www.nutrispeak.com, 604-882-6782.

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