Take It In: Let between-meal snacks raise health

Apr 20, 2017 by Carol Bareuther

Take It In: by Carol Bareuther

Say the word snack and images of junk foods such as chips or cookies used come to mind. Today, the act of eating between meals is on the rise due to hectic lifestyles, a greater number of one- or two-person households and most importantly, a perception that snacks can be a part of – even essential to – a healthful diet.

In the U.S., 94 percent of adults snack at least once daily, and 50 percent snack two to three times a day, according to 2015 data from market research firm Mintel. Americans aren’t the only ones grabbing for a quick bite between meals. The global market for snack foods is projected to exceed $630 billion by 2020, driven by demand for protein-rich, organic- and natural ingredient-based snacks, per a report by Global Industry Analysts.

So, how do we snack healthfully? It doesn’t mean rushing out to the store to stock up on items specifically marketed as snacks. Sure, some of these items (think bags of 100 percent whole corn tortilla chips or cans of nuts) do make nutritious snacks. However, what food researchers are finding is that there is a broadening of the definition of what constitutes a between-meal food. In fact, research by market research firm Technomic revealed that many consumers consider a salad a snack, not strictly a side dish, appetizer or even entrée. This means virtually any food in the galley, supermarket or restaurant can be fair game as a snack or snack ingredient.

Here are nutritious snack ideas for a variety of likes and needs.

  1. On-the-Go and Portable. Whole-grain crackers, granola bars, pretzels, meat or fish jerky, seeds such as pumpkin and sunflower, nuts and nut butters are all items easily stored without refrigeration in a backpack or drawer. Interestingly, an article published in March in the Nutrition Journal showed that replacing traditional snacks with nuts led to a more nutrient-rich diet that was lower in empty calories and sodium, and that also provided more heart-healthy fatty acids. If a refrigerator is available, or even cold packs, yogurt, cheese, hummus and edamame are good alternatives.
  2. Mini Meals. Ready-to-heat-and-eat veggie, poultry or bean soups are easy choices, filling and satisfying. So are store-bought packs of tuna and cracker combos, a mini meal easy enough to whip up in seconds in the galley, too. Ditto for salad bowls. Many companies now make salads complete with protein such as nuts or chicken, plus dressing. Or assemble a snack-size charcuterie platter from deli or galley ingredients such as meats, cheeses, a few olives and crackers.
  3. Chips and Dips. Forget old school potato chips and sour cream onion dip. This hand-in-glove combination turns nutritious with trendy choices. Pair 100 percent corn chips with salsa, baby carrots with guacamole, or whole-grain pita with hummus. Researchers writing last year in the journal Nutrients found that hummus consumers had higher intakes of dietary fiber, polyunsaturated fatty acids, vitamin A, vitamin E, vitamin C, folate, magnesium, potassium, and iron as compared to non-consumers.
  4. Breakfast All Day. This trend isn’t just for fast-food restaurants. Many traditional breakfast foods make great snacks any time of day. Examples are packets of instant oats topped with berries, granola stirred into Greek yogurt, or a hard-boiled egg and whole-grain crackers.
  5. Fruits and Vegetables. Apples. Bananas. Carrots. There’s a whole alphabet of fruits and vegetables that check all the boxes: fast, portable, hand-held, no-prep and healthy. Also, it’s easier now to find cut fruit cups in a variety of settings from grocery stores and mini-marts to take-out restaurants. In the galley, cutting up over-ripe or blemished fruit is a great way to prevent waste and have a healthy snack, too. In fact, researchers writing in the journal Preventing Chronic Disease back in 2011 found that those who were more likely to eat the recommended servings of disease-preventing produce did so by including these foods in snacks.

So, don’t feel guilty about snacking anymore. Just make sure to choose snacks wisely.

Carol Bareuther is a registered dietitian and freelance health and nutrition writer. Comments are welcome below.