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How can I tell if a snack is healthy?

Maoshing Ni, PhD, LAc
Geriatric Medicine

The Healthy Snack Test:

  1. Are you actually hungry? Would you eat an apple or a banana? If the answer is no, you’re not actually hungry. We often eat out of habit without realizing that we are not actually hungry. Try skipping a meal sometime -- that’s what hungry feels like.
  2. Is the snack you are about to munch on helping your body? If it is heavily processed, won’t expire anytime soon, and has ingredients you can’t pronounce, that snack is not doing you any favors.
  3. Is the snack full of empty calories? Look carefully at the label and notice sugar and fat content. Or forget the labels altogether by eating whole foods, like fresh fruits, veggies, and unsalted nuts.
You vow to buy all the “reduced-fat,” “no-fat,” “low carb,” “less sugar,” “all natural” snacks you can find. Hold on a minute. That’s precisely what snack manufacturers want you to do. Clever marketing often leads consumers to believe that certain foods are healthy. After all, it says so right there on the front of the package. But should you rely on that? Maybe. Turn the package over and read the ingredient label. That will be a more truthful accounting of what’s inside.
The ingredients are listed in descending order, by weight. That means the first ingredients play a starring role in the snack you choose for your child.

If flour is part of a snack, look for whole grains. Just because something lists “wheat” flour doesn’t mean that it’s “whole” wheat. And enriched flour is refined flour that has nutrients added back in. Why take them out in the first place?

Stay away from foods that contain trans fats, which are listed as hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oil. Those are the fats most responsible for heart disease. Should you avoid all fat? No. Children need some fat in their diet. And if a product is fat-free, it usually makes up for that loss by increasing sugar or sodium. Not a great trade-off.

Keep in mind that less is usually more. The fewer ingredients -- provided they’re healthy, whole foods -- the better.

From Good Kids, Bad Habits: The RealAge Guide to Raising Healthy Children by Jennifer Trachtenberg.
Good Kids, Bad Habits: The RealAge Guide to Raising Healthy Children

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.