The Value of Healthy Snacks
By Dr Lucy Mkandawire-Valhmu PhD – Staff Writer
Contrary to popular opinion, snacking can actually be valuable to health as long as the foods constituting the snack are healthy ones. Consuming Healthy Snacks is key to weight management and to reducing cholesterol, both of which are important in reducing our risk for high blood pressure, diabetes and heart disease. High blood pressure is a contributing factor to heart disease, the leading cause of death in the United States (Miniño, Murphy, Xu &Kochanek, 2008). Diabetes, which is also a major cause of heart disease, affects 8.3% of the total US population (American Diabetes Association, 2011).
Healthy snacks can help control appetite such that during regular meals you are better able to reduce portion sizes. Healthy snacking can also lead to consistent metabolism resulting in the efficient burning of calories in your body (O’ Connell, 2006). Additionally, snacks that are well-planned and healthy can boost energy levels particularly during the middle of the day when energy levels tend to drop, providing both physical and mental energy required to efficiently complete the day (Turner, 2010). A study conducted by Lloyd-Williams and colleagues (2008) in the United Kingdom, where heart disease is also the leading cause of death, showed that just by substituting one unhealthy snack with a healthy one every day, cholesterol levels would be reduced and approximately 6000 deaths would be prevented annually.
Unhealthy snacks conveniently available and heavily marketed so much so that we are more inclined to consume them rather than healthy ones include candy bars, chips and pastries. Such snacks are unhealthy because they are high in saturated fats, salt and/or refined sugars. They not only elevate our cholesterol levels but they also increase blood pressure and weight thus increasing our risk for heart disease, stroke and diabetes. Taking into account that the places we spend most of our time, such as workplace environments, often do not have healthy snack alternatives, it is important that we devise ways in which we can either combat our cravings to snack or ensure that we have the necessary alternatives to unhealthy snacks that are readily available through vending machines, for instance.
The Value Of Healthy Snacks
One approach to combating our cravings to snack is to increase our water intake. Water or other liquids that do not contain calories, such as black tea or coffee are a healthy alternative to snacking. Taking a glass of water is particularly beneficial when taken immediately after you sense the desire to snack. Another approach to combating cravings is to avoid skipping breakfast, which can reduce the desire to snack and overeat during the day. Eating breakfast, therefore, has health benefits particularly when it constitutes a healthy morning meal.
Nevertheless, even though combating our cravings to snack is valuable in helping us avoid unhealthy snacks, as mentioned earlier, snacking is in fact beneficial to health if the snacks ingested are healthy. By engaging in healthy snacking we satisfy our craving to snack while removing the guilt often associated with unhealthy snacking that frequently leaves us feeling despondent about having made poor food choices. The key to healthy snacking is planning. Putting a healthy snack in a cooler, for instance, and making it readily available at home or at work helps prevent snacking on impulse, which often results in intake of unhealthy foods (Harvard Women’s Health Watch, 2012). Healthy Snacks are especially important for those who skip meals, substituting them with snacks, and those who have cravings very late at night.
“Healthy snacks” include fresh fruits and vegetables (that are pre-cut, if preferred), low-fat string cheese, dried fruits and unsalted nuts (Lloyd-Williams et al, 2008; Sansone, 2008; Turner, 2010). Peanut butter is a particularly good choice for a snack because it provides a feeling of satiety thus reducing the desire to continue to snack. Including nuts in the preparation and planning of a healthy snack alternative is also helpful to those trying to lose weight or avoid weight gain (Clark, 2009).
Healthy Snacks Are Good For You
It is important to recognize that the health challenges we experience in relation to unhealthy food intake has a lot to do with corporations that market unhealthy food items to the general public. Those in management positions at various work places can take a stand by changing the food culture in our work environments so that we begin to appreciate the value of healthy eating. Substituting fruits and salads as a healthy alternative to donuts during meetings (Harris, 2010), for example, could help set the tone for an important cultural shift in our working environments that employees may eventually embrace to the benefit of their own health. Healthy snacking not only minimizes our risk of acquiring heart disease and other ailments common when one is overweight, but it also helps us experience an overall sense of good health physically as well as emotionally.
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Lucy Mkandawire-Valhmu is an Assistant Professor at University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee in the College of Nursing. She graduated from University of Malawi, Kamuzu College of Nursing and did her graduate studies at Syracuse University and University of Wisconsin-Madison. Her research focuses on women and children infected and affected by HIV in Malawi.
The Value of Healthy Snacks: Cited Works
American Diabetes Association (2011). Data from the 2011 National Diabetes Fact Sheet. Retrieved June 15, 2012 from http://www.diabetes.org/diabetes-basics/diabetes-statistics/
Clark, N. (2009). Nuts and athletes. Love ‘em or leave ‘em. American Fitness, 64-65.
Harris, C.S. (2010). Step in to witch donuts to healthy snacks at meetings. Occupational Health Management, 4-5.
Harvard Women’s Health Watch. (2012). 12 for 2012: Twelve tips for healthier eating. Harvard Women’s Health Watch, 19(5), 1-4.
Lloyd-Williams, F., Mwatsama, M., Ireland, R., & Capewell, S. (2008). Small changes in snacking behavior: The potential impact of CVD mortality. Public Health Nutrition, 12(6), 871-876.
Miniño, A.M., Murphy, S.L., Xu, J., Kochanek, K.D. (2008). Deaths: Final data for 2008. National Vital Statistics Reports, 59(10). Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics. 2011.
O’ Connell, D. (2006). Weighty matters. Inside MS, 40-46.
Sansone, A. You’ll probably gain weight when…Essence, Healthy Living/Fitness & Nutrition, 198-200.
Turner, L. (2010). Snack smarter. Better Nutrition. Healthy Handbook, 44-45.
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