Nutrition Column – Making Snacks Count for Good Health

Is it better to have three "squares" or six mini-meals per day? For most adults, the answer lies more in what’s in the meals and snacks rather than concentrating on eating three or six times a day.

With their smaller stomachs, young children may benefit from well-planned nutritious snacks as supplements to regular meals. Growing teenagers also may need the extra calories and nutrients that healthy snacks provide. Older adults are another group that may find smaller, snack-like meals more suited to their appetite, digestive system and energy needs. Even busy adults who experience mid-afternoon slumps may benefit from well-chosen snacks.

A common myth is that snacks get in the way of good nutrition. In truth, carefully selected snacks can promote good health. They can be a great way to get the fruits and vegetables so often missing from today’s diets. They also can be a good way to get nuts high in protein and monounsaturated fats into our diets. And if carefully chosen, they won’t add too many extra calories to your diet. For healthy snacks, think fruits, vegetables and nuts.

Fresh fruits: In addition to being nutritious, fresh fruits are a juicy, refreshing, great-tasting snack. Whether you choose apples, oranges, strawberries, peaches or papayas, you give your body a snack low in calories and high in vitamins, minerals and fiber. Just one medium apple or banana, one-half cup of strawberries or melon cubes, or 12 grapes counts as one serving of fruit. Before you bite into it, always wash fruit thoroughly using clean, running water.

Raw vegetables: Vegetables are a nutritious, low-fat snack that need little or no preparation. Dark green, leafy vegetables and deep yellow ones, such as broccoli or carrots, supply vitamin A in the form of carotenes. Tomatoes, bell peppers and Brussels sprouts provide vitamin C. Most vegetables are good

sources of fiber. All these nutrients are important to the everyday functioning of your body, and they may help lower the risk for certain cancers and heart disease. One-half cup of chopped, raw, non-leafy vegetables or one cup of raw, leafy vegetables counts as a serving. To remove dirt, bacteria and pesticide residues, thoroughly rinse or scrub all raw vegetables under running water before eating them.

Nuts: Nuts are for people who need a quick, no-mess, healthful snacks. Nuts such as pistachios and almonds make a distinctive snack because of their unique shapes, flavors and textures. They’re also packed with vitamins and minerals, like vitamin E, calcium, phosphorus, copper and zinc. In addition, nuts are energy dense, meaning they are good sources of protein, carbohydrate and fat. Nuts are especially rich in monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, which are considered healthier for your body than the saturated or trans-fats commonly found in cookies and chips. Because nuts are energy dense, it doesn’t take long for the calories to start adding up. One ounce (about 2 tablespoons) counts as a serving for most nuts. Be careful when giving nuts to children as they are common causes of choking in small children and may also cause allergic reactions.