For many Americans, snacking is an activity that transcends tiding oneself over until the next meal. We snack while at work, while watching TV, at parties, during the holidays, and endless other occasions. Moreover, the variety of snack foods we indulge on is just as diverse: chips, cookies, crackers, pretzels, candy ... the list of foods goes on and on. But while noshing on snacks between meals seems relatively innocuous, the truth is that most of this snacking involves foods that are chock full of added sugar, salt, fat, and empty calories.
Why Should I Be Concerned About the Kind of Snacks I Eat?
The reason this matters from a health perspective is that these snack foods represent just one part of an American diet that has been getting worse overall for decades. What’s even more troubling is the connection between poor diet and heart health. In fact, while there are indications that the trend has been gradually improving since the 1960s, cardiovascular heart disease still kills hundreds of thousands of Americans every year. According to the American Heart Association, heart disease takes more lives each year than all forms of cancer combined.
It is this concern about heart health that is at the center of why we need to rethink some of our daily habits. After all, other than smoking, high blood pressure and high cholesterol are two of the most important factors in the development of heart disease, and they are both heavily linked to dietary choices. It can be difficult, however, to totally switch to healthy eating overnight, so that’s why switching to healthy snacking can be a great first step on the way to an overall healthier diet and a healthier heart.
The Slippery Slope of Snacking
The first step in reevaluating snack choices is tracking the actual calories in the snacks you currently eat. Most people don’t stop to count calories, so they are fairly oblivious to the quantity of calories, fat, sugar, or cholesterol in what they eat or drink. For example, a venti Caramel Frappuccino at Starbucks contains over 400 calories, or about 20% of the daily recommended calories in a 2000 calorie diet. When you add three meals a day and a variety of snack foods, it’s easy to see that the calories (and sugar, fat, etc.) can add up fast.
Choose Heart-Healthy Snacks Instead
Indeed, for some people, just reducing or changing up the snacks and sugary beverages consumed in between meals can make a huge difference in curbing the intake of unhealthy foods. Assuming you’re not ready to ditch all snacks, though, there are other ways to modify your diet to reduce the amount of heart-impacting food elements that can keep you sufficiently satisfied at the same time as pivoting to a healthier diet. Below are some healthy snack ideas that are good for your heart and your calorie count:
- Apples: Research has shown that apples (and pears) are associated with lower risk of both cardiovascular disease and coronary heart disease. There is also similar research related to the risk of stroke. The reason for this appears to be antioxidant flavonoid compounds in apples that prevent LDL cholesterol (the “bad” kind of cholesterol) from oxidizing and leading to plaque buildup in the arteries that can lead to a heart attack or stroke.
- Yogurt: In addition to a variety of other benefits (including bone-strengthening calcium and muscle-building protein), eating low-fat yogurt and Greek yogurt have been linked to both improved blood pressure and lower cholesterol. For maximum health benefits, opt for sugar-free or low sugar varieties.
- Nuts: The heart-healthy monounsaturated fats of nuts make them an excellent addition to any health-conscious diet. Additionally, nuts have numerous vitamins and minerals that are associated with positive health outcomes. Some of the best nut options are: pecans, walnuts, almonds, pine nuts, cashews, peanuts, and pistachios. Nuts can also be combined into a trail mix with other healthy items like chia seeds or granola.
- Dark Chocolate: It almost seems too good to be true, but dark chocolate has been identified as a beneficial food item because it contains flavanol and epicatechin, two components that can have a positive effect on cardiovascular health and the health of blood vessels. As with any snack food, however, it should only be eaten in moderation.
- Edamame: A stalwart of East Asian cuisine for centuries, edamame is the name for a preparation of soybean pods that make an excellent snack food. Beyond the heart-healthy benefits of antioxidants, edamame also contains a lot of protein, soluble fiber, and vitamin K.
- Raisins: These dried fruits (along with dried apricots and prunes) are a tasty snack that also happen to be loaded with antioxidants. Beyond their impact on heart health, however, the antioxidants in raisins are also thought to be beneficial fighting a type of bacteria that can lead to inflammation and gum disease. Additionally, the antioxidants in raisins and other foods are known to have anti-inflammatory properties that are beneficial for many chronic conditions. Be mindful of portion sizes, however, as the recommended serving size is just two tablespoons.
- Crudité: This exotic-sounding term is really just the name for a plate of select veggies that are paired with a dip. There are endless combinations, but a common (and healthy) example is an array of carrots, bell peppers, broccoli, and celery with hummus. The vegetables are of course naturally healthy in a number of ways, but hummus (a dip made from pureed chickpeas) also has monounsaturated fats that can improve cholesterol and lower the risk of heart disease.
- Whole Grains: Sometimes, in the search for healthy foods, we end up throwing the baby out with the bath water: while empty carbohydrates in white bread (for example) should be avoided, whole grain carbohydrates provide a number of health benefits like improved cholesterol levels. One great example of this is whole grain toast paired with the healthy fats present in natural peanut butter.
- Smoothie: One of the best ways to incorporate healthy snacks into your diet is to sneak beneficial foods into formats that otherwise feel indulgent. A great example of this is the smoothie; put a cup of heart-healthy berries (especially blueberries, blackberries, or strawberries) and a cup of nonfat yogurt into a blender, and you’ll have a delicious snack that your heart will thank you for. Just be careful about how much sugar your smoothie contains–it can add up quickly.
Freedom is Waiting
Being mindful of heart health is an important part of both short term and long term health, and the snacks we choose can be a great first step in the right direction. Even modest shifts toward a healthy diet can begin to make a difference to your health, but that’s only the beginning; this is especially true if weight loss (and the health benefits related to weight loss) is also one of your goals.
At True You Weight Loss, we understand that traditional weight loss methods that focus on a restrictive diet and hard-to-sustain exercise regimens are often not effective at helping you achieve your goals. So to help you live the life you want, True You offers a variety of non-surgical, cutting-edge weight loss procedures that lead to lasting results and sustainable changes to your diet and overall health. If you’d like to talk with one of our weight loss professionals to learn more, request a consultation today!