How’s Your Snacking IQ?

By Mary Jane DIttmar

Do you think you know enough about snacks to qualify you for the “Ultimate Health Smart Snacker” award? Although I consider myself fairly knowledgeable in this area, there were a few things I learned while preparing this column. There might be one or two things that you may be able to add to that slide tray in your brain as well. 

Strawberries. Did you know, for example, that strawberries are packed with disease-fighting antioxidants and that they may reduce the risk of heart disease and help memory? They are a rich source of vitamin C (one contains up to 160 percent of the daily requirement). “Strawberries are a Plentiful Superfood,’, accessed Aug. 5, 2010


Photo credit:

Coffee vs. Tea: Much has been written about the pros and cons of these two popular beverages from the health aspect. Let’s look at coffee, that morning “eye opener” for many of us. The antioxidants in the coffee beans and caffeine have been associated with improvements in mental focus, organ function, and disease prevention. Some research indicates that it “does not appear to consistently elevate blood pressure.” However, you might get jittery hands or an upset stomach. Since, it is also is a diuretic, it might contribute to dehydration in some individuals. What to do? Limit intake to two 10-ounce cups a day (the maximum amount needed for the benefits without experiencing the side effects; the amount may vary with individuals), drink it early in the day (it won’t affect your sleep), and drink plenty of water as well. “Is It Good or Bad for Your Health? The Verdict on Coffee,” Madelyn H. Fernstrom, Ph.D., CNS;, accessed Aug. 27, 2010
Whether black, green, oolong, or white, tea comes from the
Camellia sinensis shrub. The polyphenols (flavonoids) have antioxidant and other biological properties that may help protect against disease. There is no consensus on which type of tea is most beneficial. In some population studies, not all, tea consumption has been linked with a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease. Some lab studies have found that tea consumption may inhibit some forms of cancer, increase bone health, and improve cognition. However, tea’s effects in the body are not yet fully understood. All types have benefits to offer. If you drink bottled tea, check the label for added sugar. Should You Join This Tea Party? Berkeley Wellness Alerts, April 16, 2010, accessed Aug. 9, 2010
Vending Machine Snacks. We have all been there. We are distracted, tired. Our body is telling us we are hungry, which may or may not be true. Alas, our only option at this time is a vending machine. We are already preparing ourselves to choose between the “lesser of the evils” as far as our diet/nutrition is concerned. If you are in these circumstances, which snack would you choose from the vending machine? Make a mental checklist of the criteria used to evaluate the snacks from the perspective of what is most appropriate for your health/diet.
1. Frosted Strawberry Pop-Tarts (3.6 ounce) or Rice Krispies Treats (1.7 ounces)?
2. Doritos (1.75 ounces) or Crunchy Cheetos (2.125 ounces)?
3. Snickers or Peanut M&M’s?
4. White Castle Twin Hamburgers or Hot Pockets Pepperoni Pizza?
5. Kellogg’s Nutri-Grain Cereal Bar, Apple Cinnamon or Nature Valley Oats ’Honey Granola Bar?“Which Is Worse? Battle of the Vending Machine Snacks,”; accessed Aug. 27, 2010.
Nutritional Experts’ Selections:
1. According to Miriam Pappo, RD, director of the department of clinical nutrition at Montefiore Medical Center in New York City, calorie-wise, both products have 200 calories for one piece. The catch here is that there are two tarts in the Pop-Tarts package (you could share them). She added that one Pop-Tart has 60 milligrams( mg) less sodium than the Rice Krispies Treat. 

2. Both are made from corn and contain less than 5 mg. of sodium, and no dietician would consider them “healthy,” says Sarah-Jane Bedwell, RD, of Nashville, Tennessee.

Remembering our dire circumstances, however—if you can’t find baked chips (I can tell you they are hard to find in vending machines here)—select the product in the smaller bag, thereby reducing your intake of calories, fat, and sodium. 

3. Both have peanuts and chocolate and weigh about two ounces. However, Pappo says the M&Ms are lower in calories, sugar, and sodium—and give you double the fiber. The fiber will keep you fuller longer, she explains, making it less likely that you will make another trip to the vending machine.
4. The hamburgers don’t have the extra cheese or sauces, Bedwell notes, decreasing the saturated fats. The hamburgers offer fewer calories, less saturated fat, and more protein.
5. Bedwell notes that either of these products is better than many of the snacks offered in a vending machine, and they are “petty close” in nutritional value. One Nutri-Grain bar has 130 calories; the two granola bars in one pouch have 190 calories. Both are made with whole grains and have 2 grams of fiber. Nature Valley’s two bars have 4 grams of protein and the Nutri-Grain bar 2 grams. The extra protein in the granola bars, Bedwell explains, will leave you feeling fuller, longer for 60 extra calories.

As you can see from the above exercise, it is very important to read labels and package materials carefully so you can “size up” and “preplan” your “Nutrition Action Plan.”

This brings me to a personal experience closely aligned to this topic. 

A real-life lesson learned
Every evening as I watched a favorite program with my 97-year-old Mom, we would see and listen to the same advertisement for a certain food product being promoted as a wholesome breakfast food. The ingredients mentioned were all those diet-conscious people would embrace. After several announcements to my Mom that I was going to buy that product to see if she would enjoy it as much as the people in the advertisement, I followed through. When I made out my next shopping list on the computer (I have been having my groceries delivered until I fully recover from double knee replacement and my husband’s inflamed tendon heals) I added this product. (I could not check the label as I would do if I were in the store making the purchase.) When the product arrived, I was in for a surprise! The main ingredient hyped in the TV ad was listed on the label as a specified number of the food item in the jar; it was not the main or primary ingredient. The first item listed on the label was SUGAR—a no-no for our house, as we are watching sugar and triglyceride levels and calories. From now on, if I cannot check the label before making the purchase, I will just wait until I can do so.
Did you know that…
Sitting on your fanny for six or more hours a day—compared with less than three hours–outside of work is associated with an increased risk of death,
even if you work out? That’s the finding of a study published in the
American Journal of
Epidemiology, based on questionnaires completed by 53,440 men and 69,776 women, who were asked how much time they spent sitting when not at work and how much physical activity they got each day. Scientists followed up with the respondents 14 years later. They found that 11,307 mean and 7,923 women had died. They adjusted for “unhealthy” habits like smoking and obesity and found that those participants who sat for six or more hours a day outside of work had a greater risk of death. The female statistics were worse than those for men.
Exercise was a significant factor. The most active respondents (but who still sat on their backsides for six or more hours a day), were more likely to die during the study period (48 percent) than the men and women who engaged in the least physical activity (94 percent). Men and women who did some form of exercise daily and still spent six or more hours sitting reduced their chances of dying during the 14-year study 37 percent and 18 percent, respectively.
According to the researchers, the increased risk of death may be connected with metabolism changes when we sit for long periods of time. Sitting also can affect our triglycerides, cholesterol levels, blood sugar levels, blood pressure, and hormones associated with obesity and chronic.
So, besides getting your 30 minutes a day of exercise, look for opportunities to move about: run errands, clean the house/station, garden, mow the lawn, walk your dog—even deep six the TV remote control and get up to change the station or adjust the volume. At least, stand up at regular intervals. “Sitting Down Can Up Your Risk of Death,”; accessed Aug. 2, 1010. 

Note: The information in this column is not a health recommendation or endorsement of a product. If you are being treated for a medical condition or want to make a significant change in your lifestyle, consult with your medical practitioner. This information is presented to enhance your awareness.


Mary Jane Dittmar is senior associate editor of Fire Engineering and conference manager of FDIC. Before joining the magazine in January 1991, she served as editor of a trade magazine in the health/nutrition market and held various positions in the educational and medical advertising fields. She has a bachelor’s degree in English/journalism and a master’s degree in communication arts.



No posts to display