12/1/09

How dense are your snacks?

One of the biggest successes in my quest of living a healthy and balanced life has been my density approach to meal and snack planning.
Especially around the holidays, I find that many people struggle with eating (especially unplanned eating) due to the high amount of processed foods, in addition to sweet treats which consume the work office, grocery store, friend's houses and well, your own house. It's as if people who attempt to diet during the holidays feel hungry 24/7 and then go overboard when the big eating day comes, all because of poor meal and snack planning. But then, on the other hand, there are so many people who feel stuffed, bloated, gross and out-of-control from late November until Jan 1st, due to the high quantity of high fat/high sugar food associated with the holidays. Although there are many people who stick to a healthy diet and exercise routine and enjoy a little sweet treat every now and then throughout the year, many people struggle with the concept of healthy eating 12 months out of the year. I think November and December just put the icing on the cake (pardon my pun) when it comes to uncontrollable and unhealthy eating.
Unfortunately, people aren't snacking unconsciously on celery sticks. While an occasional cookie, brownie, piece of candy or high calorie entree is acceptable a few times throughout the holiday season, the tendency to overdo-it on these delectable holiday treats is easier said than done.
In terms of planning meals and snacks, nutrient density can really save you when you want to stick to a lifestyle of healthy and balanced eating. And when I say balanced, there is room for that sweet treat every now and then. But rather than trying to save your calories for a 400 calorie piece of energy-dense pie, focusing on nutrient dense foods, without a lot of calories (low in energy density) will allow you to feel satisfied during the day without going overboard on your daily calories. Thus, in the long run, when it is time to sit down and enjoy a piece of pie, you can truely enjoy a 100 calorie piece of pie and feel satisfied after your clean your plate.
I hope you enjoy my latest article from the FREE Iron Girl Newsletter. By the way...IG just announced the 2010 calendar and there are a few new races which look fabulous!
If you have any questions about my article, don't hesitate to comment


How Dense are your Snacks?

Pre-planned, healthy snacks are essential in a balanced and heart-healthy lifelong eating plan. Although some people graze on unhealthy snacks due to poor daily nutrition choices, emotions and/or boredom, you should seize the opportunity to eat nutritious foods between meals for several reasons.

Consuming healthy snacks can help to control blood sugar, prevent overeating and indulging, manage hunger and cravings, maintain energy levels throughout the day, support weight loss or weight maintenance and provide fuel for physical activities.

Portions, calories and nutrients should always be kept in mind when planning and preparing healthy snacks, but factors such as energy density should also be considered. Processed and packaged foods, sweets and fast-food meals are typically energy dense, packing a lot of calories in a relatively small portion. Consequently, energy-dense snacks are generally low in nutritional value. In contrast, fruits and vegetables are viewed as low energy density foods, meaning that you can eat a large quantity without a lot of calories.

Nutrient-dense foods, which are naturally low in calories, are filling because of fiber and water content. Alongside high-fiber vegetables, whole grains and fruits, which provide volume and a subsequent slowing of digestion, protein food choices, such as nuts, yogurt or lean meat, provide healthy fat and/or protein to help fill you up. If adding nuts to your snack repertoire, be sure to monitor the portions because although they are energy-dense, they are also high in calories and fat.

As you make the change to smart, low-energy density snacking, you will learn to choose foods that are low in calories (energy density), yet still high in nutrients (nutrient density). In the long run, you are teaching yourself how to eat more nutritious food throughout the day while feeling satisfied with less total calories.
If you were planning to eat a snack of approximately 200 calories, which of the following would leave you more satisfied after eating? Additionally, which snack would you look forward to eating as a way to postpone hunger between meals?

1) High-energy density snack: 1 strawberry Pop-Tart
2) Low-energy density snack: 1 medium mandarin orange + 1 plum + ½ cup plain fat-free yogurt + 11 pistachios + 1 dark chocolate Hershey's Kiss

Hopefully, you choose the second snack. Ultimately, low-density foods will allow you to add more vitamins and minerals into your diet without sacrificing portions. Learn to appreciate the value of natural and wholesome foods as you begin to substitute low density, nutrient-filled foods for calorie- dense, heart-unhealthy foods. As with any healthy diet, planning your portions and food choices will allow you to recognize the most satisfying and nutrient-filled foods for a lifelong, healthy eating plan.