Between-meal treats that won't blow your diet
By Colette Bouchez
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic - Feature
Reviewed By Kathleen Zelman, MPH, RD/LD
It can happen when you least expect it ... or show up at about the same time every day. It's a "snack attack" -- that moment when the munchie monster grabs your appetite and won't let go!
Many people blame these between-meal urges for making it difficult to control their weight. But experts say it's not snacking in itself, but the size of the snacks, that can really do a dieter in.
"We are supersizing everything, but particularly snack foods. So even if you eat just one portion, it can really be like three portions, and that can definitely derail your diet," says Noralyn Wilson, MS, RD, a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association.
One way around the problem: Have your snacks, but keep them to 100 calories or fewer.
"If you focus on the calorie count, it can make it much easier to chose a snack and much easier to stick to your diet, and you can't stray too far if you only allow yourself that 100-calorie limit," says Christine Gerbstadt, MD, RD, a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association.
To keep your appetite in check, make sure those 100 calories contains a bit of protein, fiber, and fat, along with some carbohydrate. While junk food may satisfy your brain, it does little to satiate your hunger, says WebMD Weight Loss Clinic "Recipe Doctor" Elaine Magee, MPH, RD.
"These kinds of balanced snacks -- like some peanut butter on a whole-wheat cracker, for example, or a light cheese with a pear -- will satisfy your appetite as well as help reduce the amount of food you'll eat at the meal that follows," says Magee, author of The Change of Life Diet and Cookbook.
"When snacking becomes bad for a dieter is when you choose empty-calorie foods. If you're trying to keep your calorie count down, you want to make sure that you spend every calorie you have wisely, in terms of both satisfying your hunger and your nutritional needs."
And keep in mind that fat grams do matter. "In general, the snack should be less than 30% fat -- and, when possible, should not be laden with sugar," says Wilson.
And if you're craving something sweet?
"People hate to hear it, but a piece of fruit is really the perfect snack -- it's usually less than 100 calories and it can satisfy your sweet craving without adding too much sugar to your diet," says Wilson.
What to Do When Only a Cookie Will Do
Fruit is great, but let's face it: There are times when it simply won't tame the raging munchie monster. The good news is that experts say it's OK to indulge in a few cookies or chips as long as you eat reasonable portions.
Of course, that's not so easy to do when faced with a big box or bag of your favorite indulgence. So one major food manufacturer is now offering pre-measured, 100-calorie packages of its favorite treats.
Kraft/Nabisco is marketing "100-Calorie Packs" of things like Oreos, Chips Ahoy, Wheat Thins and Cheese Bits. Each grab-and-go package of 15-20 "bites" has 7-9 grams of sugar (except the Cheese Nips, which have 0), less than 3 grams of fat, and no trans fat.
Some say that having such pre-portioned foods at hand could help dieters get over the rough spots.
"Having these 100-calorie snacks can really help some people get through a bad time and still not totally derail, calorie-wise," says Wilson.
At the same time, Gerbstadt points out that these snacks aren't a particularly nutritious choice.
"Two to 2 1/2 teaspoons of sugar in each cookie pack is a lot," says Gerbstadt. "Would you eat that from a spoon, or put it in your coffee? Once in a while it's not going to harm you, but eating these cookies every day or several times a day -- well, the unhealthy effects are going to add up."
New York nutritionist Samantha Heller, MS, RD, says she is concerned because some of these treats contain high-fructose corn syrup. A few studies have indicated a possible link between high-fructose corn syrup and obesity that goes beyond calorie counts.
"More and more studies are starting to look at what high-fructose corn syrup does. It seems to metabolize a little differently than glucose ... so it may have greater consequences than regular table sugar. We just don't know yet," says Heller, a nutritionist at NYU Medical Center.
If price is a concern, these pre-packaged treats might disappoint you. They can be more costly per ounce than a regular box of cookies, which you could divide up into single-serving packets on your own (if you can resist the urge to sneak a few).
Plus, the treats in the snack packs don't always taste exactly like their regular counterparts. The Oreos, for example, don't have the white filling, just the crunchy chocolate wafer.
That said, Nabisco's 100-Calorie Packs do contain less fat and sugar than regular cookies and crackers, and their taste will certainly satisfy your salt or sweet tooth -- and probably your craving.
Of course, you can easily prepare your own 100-calorie snacks, built around foods you like to eat. The key to controlling calories is to work with a reliable calorie-counting guide, then weigh and measure every ingredient -- at least at first.
"If you are not measuring, you will underestimate the portion; that's almost a guarantee," says Heller. She also recommends you study how the snack looks on the plate before you take the first bite, to get an idea of what a portion should look like.
When you're buying a snack on the run at a restaurant, deli, or street vendor, use your hands and fingers to estimate how much you're eating.
"The palm of the hand is usually a 3-ounce serving; a tablespoon is about the size of the last digit on your thumb; and if it's a long item, like string cheese, an ounce is about the length of your forefinger," says Wilson.
"Most restaurant portions are two to three times what a true single-serving portion is, particularly if you are buying a sweet treat, so keep that in mind when ordering," Wilson tells WebMD. One temptation it's usually best to avoid, she says, is buying snacks from a vending machine.
"Unless that machine is stocking fruit, I can guarantee it's almost always going to be over 100 calories -- and probably not very healthy," says Wilson.
100 Calorie Snacks: 20 Choices
Need some ideas? To get you started on the road to calorie-controlled snacking, our experts offer some suggestions for healthy 100-calorie munchies:
1. Half an apple with 2 teaspoons of peanut butter
2. An orange and a few dry-roasted nuts
3. 10 cashew nuts
4. 10 almonds
5. 2 ounces of lean roast beef
6. Half a small avocado
7. 3 ounces cooked whole-grain noodles with 1 fresh tomato and 1/2 ounce hard cheese
8. 1 seven-grain Belgian waffle
9. 4 mini rice cakes with 2 tablespoons low-fat cottage cheese
10. 3 ounces low-fat cottage cheese and 3 whole-wheat crackers
11. 1/4 cup fat-free ranch dressing with mixed raw veggies
12. 6 Wheat Thins crackers with two teaspoons of peanut butter (or any nut butter)
13. 1 small baked potato with 1/2 cup salsa and 2 tablespoons of fat-free sour cream
14. 1/3 cup of unsweetened applesauce with 1 slice of whole-wheat toast, cut into 4 strips for dunking
15. 1/2 cup frozen orange juice, eaten as sorbet
16. 2 large graham cracker squares with 1 teaspoon peanut butter
17. 3 handfuls of unbuttered popcorn, seasoned with herbs
18. 4-6 ounces of no-fat or low-fat yogurt
19. A 5-ounce tossed salad with lettuce, tomato, cucumber and 1/4 cup fat-free dressing
20. Half a "finger" of string cheese with 4 whole-wheat crackers
Originally published Sept. 23, 2004.
Medically updated Aug. 24, 2005.
SOURCES: American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 2004; 79:537-43; American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 2004; 79:774-9. Noralyn Wilson, MS, RD, spokeswoman, American Dietetic Association, Baltimore. Christine Gerbstadt, MD, RD, spokeswoman, American Dietetic Association, Altoona, Pa. Elaine Magee, MS, RD, WebMD Weight Loss Clinic dietitian; author, The Change of Life Diet and Cookbook. Samantha Heller, MS, RD, New York University Medical Center, New York.
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