The Politics Of Snacking

Clay slipped a bag of potato chips into the shopping cart.

“Caught you!” Dara announced as she added boxes of cookies and crackers.

She grabbed the potato chip bag. “There are loaded with fat. Mom trusts us to pick out good stuff to eat. That includes snacks.” Dara and Clay did the family grocery shopping every other week.

Clay pointed to the bag. “The big yellow letters on the front say ‘Fat-Free,’ They’re baked, not deep-fried, and have no fat.”

“Nice save,” said Dara.

Clay grinned. “Bet Mom will be pleased with us. Lots of healthy eating here.”

“Good choices,” Mrs. Lawson praised her two teens as they unpacked the groceries at home.

She stared at four boxes of cookies. “Why so many cookies?”

“They’re fat-free. We can snack on a lot of them,” Dara answered.

Mrs. Lawson shook her head and laughed. “Fat-free doesn’t give you the license of pig out!”

Fat-Free = Calorie-Free?

Fat adds taste to foods. To compensate for the missing flavor of fat, fat-free desserts and snacks often contain extra sugar and salt. The sugar increases the calorie count so that many fat-free foods contain nearly as many–or even more–calories than the original dessert or snack. Fat-free, then, does NOT mean eat as much as you want. It’s OK to treat yourself to fat-free desserts occasionally, but they offer few vitamins, minerals, and fiber.

Dara’s crackers say that they’re fat-free. However, popular snack foods, such as crackers, chips, pretzels, and packaged popcorn, can contain large amounts of salt. Pretzels and some brands of popcorn, for example, often contain up to 950 milligrams of sodium per serving. That’s high.

Today, we can choose from a wide variety of low-fat and no-fat snacks. Many are better for you. But they still contain calories. People gain weight from eating too many calories, not just from eating fat. So it’s best not to pig out, even though they’re low-fat or no-fat.

Juicy Truths

“No soda snacks this week!” Clay pulled out a jar of juice.

Mrs. Lawson picked up a bottle. “You’re got the right idea. But let’s look a little closer.”

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates food and requires that the actual amount of juice appear on the side nutrition panel of juice containers. Read the label to find out whether it’s 100 percent fruit juice. Many “juice” drinks contain little fruit juice–some only 5 percent to 10 percent.

What else is in those bottles and cans? Sugar and water! These beverages may cost as much as 100 percent fruit juice, so you pay a lot for sugar water. But even though these drinks are more sugar water then fruit, they’re still healthier than pop or soda.

Try quenching your thirst with frest fruits such as oranges, grapefruit, grapes, or melons. You’ll get added nutritional benefits such as fiber.


Up to 20 percent of your daily nutrient needs can come from snacks. Snacking has become a way of life for many busy families. Americans spend $13.4 billion a year on snack foods such as crackers, chips, and pretzels. Snacks also keep you from getting so hungry you overeat at your next meal.

You can benefit from snacking, but don’t fall into the habit of eating the same foods every day. Eating a variety of foods is the best way to meet your nutritional requirements. Snacks sometimes substitute for, rather than supplement, regular meals and may not provide the variety of nutrients you need. For example, a soda after school that replaces milk at lunch would mean a reduced amount of calcium that day.

Snacks high in fiber are good choices. They stimulate saliva, which helps wash away excess sugar in the mouth, accumulated naturally or from eating sugary snacks. This reduces the chances of tooth decay. High-fiber snacks include popcorn, fruits and vegetables, nuts, and whole-grain foods.

Snack Sleuthing

Snacking can become a problem if it results in more calories than needed. Obesity often starts during the teen years. So, sensible, healthy snacks are a good idea.

Do your own sleuthing for healthy snacks by reading food labels. Food labels list ingredients; sugar, fiber, and fat content: cholesterol and sodium; plus important vitamins and minerals. Look for healthy snacks that will supply part of your total dietary needs for vitamins A and C, folic acid, fiber, and minerals, especially calcium. Empty snacks–those with little or no nutritional value–are easy to spot when zero percent is listed on the food label for essential nutrients.

You might want to set your own snack guidelines. For example, if a snack’s:

* fat content is more than 5 grams per serving,

* cholesterol is more than 60 milligrams (mg) per serving, or

* sodium level is higher than 480 mg per serving, consider eating something else.

Choose snacks from different food groups–low-fat milk or low-fat yogurt teamed with a few graham crackers, an apple, or raisins. Vegetables and fruits are good choices. For crunchy snacks, try some dry cereal, rice cakes, baked chips or tortillas, bread sticks, or unbuttered popcorn.

You don’t need to give up your favorite dessert or snacks. If you eat smart at meals, desserts and chips are OK for occasional snacking. They key is balance–don’t eat too much of any one thing. And read the food labels to plan for snack attacks.

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