Thursday, May 22, 2008

Healthy Snacks

I frequently attend social gatherings hosted by a friend and his wife. Yesterday he asked me what sort of healthy snacks they could provide that would help me stay on my weight loss program. As it happens, due to my tendency towards compulsive overeating I try to avoid between meal snacking. I really should only be eating because I'm actually hungry. Still, it's a legitimate question. What sort of snacks can we eat that are healthy? (Photo courtesy of the USDA Agricultural Research Service)

A lot of traditional snack foods aren't particularly healthy. Potato chips, corn chips, tortilla chips, attendant dips, crackers, pretzels, cheese sticks, fried or otherwise, bagels, with or without cream cheese, cookies and candy are all bad for us consisting, as they do, largely of starch, fat, salt and/or processed sugar.

These days some nutritionists say we shouldn't snack at all and that the way to avoid snacking is, instead of eating 3 big meals, we should eat 5-6 fist-sized meals over the course of a day. That works out to eating about once every 3 hours. Unfortunately I don't know of too many employers who would looking kindly on their employees taking 3 meal breaks during the course of a day.

So what kind of snacks can we eat that's not bad for us? Fruit, raw vegetables and nuts (little or no salt added please) are all good. In moderation of course. Gorging on anything, even relatively healthy food, is never a good idea. Want a tasty snack? How about apple slices dipped in 100% natural peanut butter? Want to talk about convenience? Few things are more convenient than a piece of fruit like an apple, peach or pear that you can eat without any special preparation beyond washing it off. Many grocery stores sell ready-to-eat celery sticks and peeled baby carrots not to mention containers of pre-sliced cantaloupe, honeydew and watermelon. Nuts are also quite convenient though I would stay away from honey roasted and flavored varieties that may have a lot of added salt and/or sugar.

When I was a child, my grandparents had both a pear and a peach tree as well as some fig trees. One of their neighbors had black walnut and pecan trees. Some of my fondest memories growing up are of Sunday visits with them when we would sit out on the front porch, where they had a porch swing, or at the kitchen table snacking on freshly picked fruit and nuts. I look at modern housing developments, houses packed together tightly on small lots with little room for trees and nary a porch to be seen and I feel sorry for the people that live in them. Sure, they've got their Wiis and their X-Boxes, Playstation 3s and big screen tvs, and all the other amusements that modern life affords. Yet sometimes there's just no substitute for a lazy Sunday afternoon swinging on the front porch talking with friends and family while watching the world go by or stepping out into the backyard and picking fruit right off the tree.

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