Today’s article stems from a conversation I had with a client recently. As a coach, my job is to help provide clarity. In my client’s case, we were discussing strategies for reducing cravings and improving the quality of foods he selected, should a craving arise. Specifically, he needed some concrete ideas about healthy foods that he could have readily available as snacks. As we talked through those ideas, it occurred to me that “healthy” isn’t always obvious.
The “health food” market is valued at nearly 1 trillion dollars worldwide. By incorporating buzzwords/phrases like “organic”, “paleo” and “gluten free”, advertisers are able to sell people on the idea that a given packaged product is both “good for you” and “convenient”. While there’s no doubting the convenience of stuffing a protein bar into your bag, I think it’s important to recognize that packaged foods have a few distinguishing characteristics:
Sugar content tends to be higher
Saturated Fat content tends to be higher
Protein content depends upon the nature of the product you’re purchasing. Plan-based protein sources may not have a complete amino acid profile
Fiber content tends to be lower
Preservatives and artificial flavorings may be present
Overall nutrient density tends to be lower
With those generalizations out of the way, I think it’s also important to note that processed foods have more bioavailability than whole, natural foods. With packaged foods, the processing has been done ahead of time. If a snack bar contains 2000 calories, you’re going to absorb 200 calories when you eat it. If your apple contains 75 calories, you may only get 50 calories by the time the body digests and processes it. Some of those calories are lost to the thermal effect of food and others may be excreted before they can be absorbed. We also know that whole foods are more nutrient dense than processed foods. This explains why 100 calories from mixed greens impacts our body differently than 100 calories from a bowl of ice cream.
We may also be inclined to overconsume food products we deem as “healthy” because we perceive them to be more nutritious or less damaging than a competing product. In reality an organic granola bar and a regular granola bar aren’t that much different in terms of nutritional value. Now, none of this means that you can’t have some processed snacks available to you. I usually have a protein bar or fruit/nut bar handy in the event I need one. I just don’t rely upon them as my primary food source and I try to avoid eating them if possible.
First, be sure that you’re actually hungry. Sometimes, thirst or lack of sleep can manifest as hunger. Try drinking a glass of water and waiting 20 minutes. If your hunger resolves itself, there’s no need to reach for a snack.
If those hunger pangs stick around, there are plenty of options for healthy snacks. We can even combine some of the options below to form a snack with a complete nutritional profile. Remember, the goal here is both health and convenience. Let’s take a look at my favorites:
1. Veggie sticks/strings: Baby carrots and cut up bell peppers make for an easy, transportable snack, as do broccoli and cauliflower heads. Snap peas (in the pod) are another option. All of them satisfy the crunchy response we get from processed items like potato chips, except they’re quite healthier than potato chips. Just bag them up and go.
2. Fruit: When I’m on the go I like ‘low-maintenance’ fruits, meaning those that don’t require any work to store or eat. I always carry an apple or a banana with me. Grapes or cut up strawberries work if you seal them in a plastic bag. Oranges are also a great choice, but I will peel, separate and bag them first.
3. Beef Jerky: I love beef jerky. I’m not talking about the kind that looks like a dog treat. I’m talking about actual beef that’s been dried. Your local farmers market is your best bet, but you might find something in the grocery store. If it needs to be refrigerated it has fewer preservatives, which is a good thing. If you’re up to it, you can find a recipe and make your own.
4. Air-popped popcorn: When done correctly, popcorn is pretty healthy. It’s a whole grain snack that’s fiber dense and low in calories. To do it right you need an air popper and a jar of popcorn kernels – that’s it! Lightly flavor with salt/pepper or parmesan cheese and you’ve got a tasty snack.
5. Protein Powder: One of the most versatile options you can have on hand. Protein helps you to feel satiated, which is especially valuable in the evening when a late-night craving hits. You can use it in a smoothie or mixed by itself in water. I always keep a scoop in plastic bag just in case.
6. Nuts: Choose raw or unsalted nuts over their heavily salted or sweetened counterparts, as you can quickly overconsume the latter. However, a handful of the former should help you to feel satiated and they’re easy to carry around.
As you can see, we have options out there for healthy snacks both during our day and at night. While processed and packaged foods are easy to find and carry they’re also very easy to overconsume. Whenever possible, try to choose whole foods that are convenient and easily transportable. Not only will you feel better, but your waistline will thank you.
Lastly, we know this stuff can be confusing and overwhelming. If you’re looking to modify your current eating strategies and need guidance, contact us today to join the Vitalifit Coaching Program that is right for you.