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Healthy Living

Snacks We Love

Munch away! Here are 10 choices for goodies that'll suit your taste buds--and your waistline!

Look in the mirror and what do you see? A two-fisted, bag-ripping, lip-smacking, unreformed snacker. Forget baseball, television, and even sex. The true American pastime is the comfy game of hand-to-mouth.

Virtually all of us snack at least once a day, says Columbia University researcher Audrey Cross, one of the first scientists to take a serious look at the nation's munchies. And half of us snack two to four times a day, according to her survey of more than 1,800 adults and children.

Our favorite snack time is afternoon, Cross says; that's when we tend to reach for something salty. Next comes the cozy time right before bed, when we're most likely to dish up ice cream. Then there's the morning nibble, typically something sweet.

In 1997 these treats added up to 21.6 ponds per American, by the reckoning of the Snack Food Association, up more than two pounds from a decade ago. All told, some 20 percent of our daily calories now come from snacks. Small wonder we feel a pang of guilt as the chips disappear from the bag. Yet, amazingly, many weight-loss experts say nibbling between meals is one of the best things you can do.

"Snacking is great," says John La Puma, a physician who runs a well-regarded weight-management program at Alexian Brothers Medical Center outside Chicago. "More people should be encouraged to grab a bite instead of waiting until the next meal. A snack can keep you from binging when you get too hungry. And snacking is a good way to pay more attention to what your body is telling you--to recognize when you're hungry and to eat only as much as you need to satisfy yourself."

It's worked for members of the National Weight Control Registry, a program that tracks people who have lost at least 30 pounds and kept the weight off for a year or more. Many of these dieters say they've held hunger at bay by abandoning three square meals a day for as many as five mini-meals--a kind of regimented snacking.

There may be other benefits as well. In 1989 researchers with St. Michael's Hospital at the University of Toronto tested two diets with the same nutritional content. In one, the study subjects ate standard breakfasts, lunches, and dinners. In the other, they munched 17 snacks spread over the course of the day. During the snacking phase, volunteers saw their total cholesterol drop more than 8 percent and artery-damaging LDL fall more than 13 percent. Frequent small meals, the researchers concluded, may reduce insulin levels in the blood, which slows the body's cholesterol output.

Of course, nutritionists say, you have to look at snacks as a real part of your diet, not as nibbles that somehow don't count. Had a chocolate bar this afternoon? Promise to make tonight's dessert a piece of fruit, says John Foreyt, leading weight-loss authority at Baylor College of Medicine.

"Snack calories can add up fast," warns Evette Hackman, a nutrition professor at Seattle Pacific University. A four-ounce package of honey buns? Oh, 450 calories. A six-ounce bag of nacho-flavored chips? A full 850 if you happen to buy the fattiest brand.

Happily, it's not hard to find snacks that weigh in at 250 calories or fewer. Many nutritionists would point you to an apple or some carrot sticks on the grounds that on most days you probably fall shy of the requisite five to seven fruit and veggie servings. Granted, an apple gives you almost four grams of fiber--15 percent of the daily ideal. And carrots are loaded with vitamin A.

But we know that what you really want sometimes is a candy bar or a bag of chips. So go for it. The trick is to choose well--to pick snacks that taste deliciously junky yet won't make your body pay a price. That's why we've let you in on our favorites. Who said a little knowledge is a dangerous thing?

Fruitfull Juice Bars Orville Redenbacher's Light Popcorn
Fruitfull Juice Bars
With chunks of actual peaches, oranges, pineapples, and other treasures, Fruitfull frozen juice bars are among the tastiest--and worthiest--treats around. One bar has only 70 calories and no fat. If, however, frosty fruit doesn't wake up your taste buds, help yourself to an old-fashioned Fudgesicle. It'll satisfy your chocolate lust for just 90 calories, a mere ten of them from fat. What's more, one Fudgsicle delivers 8 percent of most women's daily calcium needs.
Orville Redenbacher's Light Popcorn
Watch your step when you prowl the market aisles for a package of microwave popcorn. Some kinds stick you with 11 or more grams of butter or hydrogenated vegetable oil per cup of popped kernels. We like Orville Redenbacher's Light Natural Gourmet Popping Corn, which has less than half that amount of fat and all the flavor you could want. Each cupful delivers a whole gram of fiber yet sets you back just 20 calories, only a quarter of them from fat.
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