Snacking Can Be Heart-Healthy

It’s Heart Month, and it’s a good idea to gradually add more heart-healthy foods to your overall diet. If you are trying to follow a DASH Diet plan and lifestyle, one strategy is to choose well at snack time.

Research about how consumers eat is showing that snacks are becoming more frequent, and often used as meal replacements. You may be wondering if you can still adhere to DASH Diet guidelines and include snacks during your day.

The answer is – Yes. Of course tried and true healthy snack foods, like fresh fruits and veggies or nuts, are always a great snack to enjoy anytime:

  • Fresh apples or pears
  • Citrus fruit
  • Fresh berries or melon
  • Raw carrots and bell pepper slices – dip in hummus
  • Banana with a smidge of peanut butter
  • 15-20 almonds or walnuts

But are there other ways to make snacks a little more exciting? Absolutely! For instance one of my favorite ways to use up leftover bananas (the overripe ones that nobody in my house likes to eat) is to turn them into oatmeal muffin cups. Just mash two bananas up, add 1 beaten egg, 1 cup of oats, 1/4 tsp baking powder, 1 TB brown sugar, stir until well-combined. Spoon into muffin cups, bake at 350 F. for 12-15 minutes. Boom! You have banana oatmeal cups to go! These also work well as a great DASH Diet breakfast snack on-the-go.

Since the DASH diet guidelines also encourage you to include 2-3 servings of low fat dairy daily – add a glass of milk or a low fat Latte to these muffins. Other ideas – enjoy a low fat yogurt or an ounce of low fat cheese at snack time. Low fat string cheese is convenient, and the individually wrapped sticks are easy to take with you.

Health Food On the Go

Having healthy snacks with you when you are away from home is a good strategy to ensure you choose well, and include heart-healthy nutrients into your diet. Along with fresh fruit, almonds, walnuts or peanuts are easy favorites. I keep a small tin of nuts in my purse for times when I’m late for a meal and hungry.

Popcorn can fit too. Popping your own with unsaturated oil (like peanut or canola oil) is best, and popcorn provides a good dose of fiber too. Don’t over-salt it.

Craving something sweet or crunchy?

While nuts and fruit make great snacks, sometimes you may be craving something else, or you may simply need something non-perishable and convenient. For this reason, I recommend keeping some healthy packaged snacks on hand for those “on-the-run” times. There are so many choices on the market – some make more sense than others. Many of the single-packaged snacks have me yawning (or scowling because I feel the packaging is wasteful), but others can really serve a purpose in adding healthy food, with convenience, to your diet.

KIND occasionally sends me snack bar samples. They are mostly nuts, and some contain some fruit. The nut bars are higher in protein, and each bar provides 180-220 calories and about 3-5 grams of fiber. If you suffer from any food intolerances, they are gluten free (and some are wheat free and dairy free as well). They also offer “mini” bars, which are great for middle-aged women needed to add just the right amount of nuts (and calories) to her diet.

Two things I like about these bars: 1. They taste really good! 2. They have simple ingredients, with fruit offering the sweetness (and they add chicory root fiber, inulin, which is a prebiotic fiber – a good thing).

Another great snack that’s been trending, are roasted chick peas. These make a great snack by the handful, or a great topping for salads. You can add either sweet or savory flavorings to suit your taste. If you don’t have time to make these at home, Bush’s Beans have created some new snacks that offer creative ways to get more beans and legumes into your diet. Their chick pea snacks are tasty and convenient. They offer a simple way to add beans to the diet for people who may not have experience cooking beans, or have otherwise not incorporated this healthy food group into their diet.

Always read the Nutrition Facts panel on packaged snack bars – check out the calories, sugar, and fiber content. Many may market products as “good source of protein” but this doesn’t mean they are necessarily high in protein, or that the product is healthier. Some “health bars” are really glorified candy bars. I recently compared one popular brand to a Snickers® bar, and while the “health bar” had 4 more grams of protein, it also had 5 more grams of sugar.

The Future of Snacking

The purpose of planning better snacks is to add more nutrition to your diet, plus provide energy to hold you over until the next meal, but they may also be used as substitute for a meal, at times when your schedule is hectic.

Stay tuned. I’ll be sharing more data in future posts about how meals and snacks have changed over the years – and you may be surprised to learn that snacking may be a great way to improve your eating habits!

 

 

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