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June 20, 2013

FIT FAMILIES: Keep snacks full of nutrients handy, ready to eat

What is a snack? A snack is defined as a small portion of food or drink or a light meal, especially one eaten between regular meals.

Snacks may have a bad reputation of being unhealthy and are assumed to be a cause for weight gain. However, snacking can be an essential benefit to your diet. Snacks are important because they can boost your energy level between meals and prevent overeating.

Growing kids who do not eat enough at meals can increase their nutrient intake by snacking, and most toddlers get one-third of their calories from snacks. Teens also may need snacks to support growth.

Snacks are not just for kids though. Most adults snack at least once on any given day, (90 percent of men and 91 percent of women). And many adults are actually snacking more frequently. One in six men snack four or more times per day, and one in five women snack four or more times per day.

Snacks are currently providing one-third of all daily calories for adults, as well as 17 to 20 percent of solid fat intake and 41 to 43 percent of added sugar intake. So it’s important to choose smart snacks.

Smart snacks contain nutrient-rich foods, including fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy, lean protein and whole grains, vs. snacks with “empty” calories, including processed baked goods, carbonated beverages or high-fat snacks.

Be aware of what’s in your snack too. Sometimes snacks can appear healthy, but may be high in calories, saturated fat, trans fat and added sugar, including energy bars, microwave popcorn and trail mix to name a few. Try these nutrient-rich snacks that contain 200 calories or less: 1 Tbsp. peanut butter spread on slices of a small apple (baseball size), 3 cups air-popped popcorn sprinkled with 3 Tbsp. grated Parmesan cheese, a small baked potato topped with salsa and 1 oz. low-fat cheese, or a whole grain waffle topped with ½ cup blueberries and 2 Tbsp. low-fat yogurt.

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