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5 Snacks with misleading health halos

Published by Cheryl Mussatto, MS, RD, LD on Feb 14, 2021

    Starting with rice cakes, for one…

 

Americans love their snacks and the snack industry knows this.  If you look at the global snacks market in 2018, it was valued at USD of 439.9 billion and is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 6.2% from now to 2025.

The demand for snacks is driven by changing diets and busy lifestyles.  Many of us are replacing meals with long shelf-life, on-the-go snacks as the demand for more allergen-free and vegan products increase.

If you fit into the category of someone who chooses a “snack” as a meal replacement, how healthy is that snack you’re choosing?  Before you stock up on snacks you believe to be healthy, here’s a look at 5 supposedly “healthy” snacks that rarely meet that criteria.

  1. Rice cakes

Rice cakes are often deemed as healthy due to their minimal ingredients. One reason why they are low in calories is because they do not carry a laundry list of ingredients – the main ingredient is obviously…rice.

If you crave something crunchy, then rice cakes fits the bill. But nutritionally, they offer little more than carbohydrates for energy. They contribute calories but lack fiber and important key vitamins or minerals. Flavored rice cakes are going to have either or both added sugar or artificial flavors. Avoid rice cakes drizzled with chocolate or other sweet flavors as they then are really no better than candy.

How to improve this choice: Instead opt for unflavored, lightly salted rice cakes made from brown rice or other grains such as quinoa. Quinoa is a fair source of protein and brown rice offers a bit more fiber than white rice. And stay away from “sugared up” rice cakes.

  1. Pretzels – hard or soft

Who doesn’t like snacks that can be crunchy and salty or soft and doughy like a pretzel?  This portable snack has been a perennial favorite for decades. Nutritionally, however, that’s a different story.

Pretzels are simply not that nutritious or healthy. Made with refined flour and salt, hard or soft, pretzels will do little for your body other than put your insulin and blood sugar on a roller coaster ride. Once your body comes down from that ride, guess what, you’re hungry once again. Pretzels also have more sodium than both chips and popcorn. Placing salt crystals on the surface of pretzels signals it’s a high sodium food. It’s recommended to consume less than 2300 milligrams of sodium a day.  If pretzels are your frequent go-to for something salty, it’ll likely put a push up the amount of sodium you’re consuming each day.

How to improve this choice: If you still want to enjoy pretzels on occasion, consider reducing your portion size, buy low-sodium versions, and pair them with a protein to prevent blood sugar spikes and increase satiety. Dip pretzels in protein sources such as nut butters (peanut, almond, and cashew) or hummus.

  1. Veggie straws

Maybe you’re trying to increase your veggie intake and veggie straws seem like a good plan. It sounds healthy and you assume they’re a better choice than chips. But this purportedly good-for-you snack is really junk food in disguise.

Veggie straws are a heavily-processed snack that appears healthy because they are supposedly made of vegetables. The amount of any vegetable, such as spinach or tomato paste used in veggies straws, is very small and they are still a deep-fried food containing fat. And when compared to the real deal, veggie straws lack significant fiber, protein, and antioxidant-rich vitamins and minerals vegetables contain.

How to improve this choice: While veggie sticks have slightly less fat content than potato chips, the best decision is to simply eat actual veggies – bell peppers, baby carrots, grape tomatoes, cut-up broccoli, or sliced cucumbers. Serve them with hummus or a ranch dressing made with plain, low-fat Greek yogurt, and you’ll be getting a very nutritious and fulfilling snack.

  1. Granola bars

It’s assumed that granola bars are automatically healthy; however, that assumption is false. Many are highly processed and loaded with added sugar, calories, vegetable oils, and artificial ingredients. Excess sugar and calorie consumption is linked to several chronic conditions including type 2 diabetes, obesity, and heart disease. Granola bars may also use sugar alcohols like xylitol and sorbitol that are not completely broken down in your body and may cause digestive issues in some people sensitive to their effects.

How to improve this choice: Granola bars, when eaten on occasion, can be a fulfilling snack or used as part of a meal. When choosing a healthier granola bar, start by checking out the ingredient list. Choose bars that are made mostly from real foods such as nuts, fruits, and grains. Look for granola bars with less than 10 grams of sugar, at least 5 grams of protein, and at least 3 grams of fiber in each bar.

  1. Baked potato chips

Surely baked chips are a “healthy” snack, right? Not really. Mindlessly munching on a bag of baked potato chips may make you feel better than munching on fried potato chips but here’s a closer look: Baked chips are higher in sodium (257 mg per ounce) compared to fried chips (147 mg per ounce).  That’s because the added sodium makes up for the loss in flavor due to not being fried. And if you think baked chips provide more vitamin C than fried chips, think again. Baked potato chips are actually lower in vitamin C (4 percent of the recommended daily dose per ounce) as opposed to traditional potato chips that contain 10 percent of the recommended daily dose per ounce.

How to improve this choice: While you’ll save calories and fat choosing baked over traditional potato chips, it’s still best to keep your intake to a minimum and to have them only occasionally. Consider swapping baked chips for a leafy green salad loaded with fresh veggies – higher in fiber, antioxidants, and little sodium.

 

 

 

 

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Cheryl Mussatto, MS, RD, LD

Cheryl Mussatto MS, RD, LD is a registered dietitian with a master’s degree in Dietetics and Nutrition from the University of Kansas and a bachelor’s degree in Dietetics and Institutional Management from Kansas State University. She is a clinical dietitian for Cotton O’Neil Clinics in Topeka and Osage City; an adjunct professor for Allen Community College, Burlingame, KS where she teaches Basic Nutrition; and is a freelance writer and blog contributor for Dr. David Samadi, Urologic Oncologist Expert and World Renowned Robotic Surgeon in New York City. Cheryl is also the author of The Nourished Brain, The Latest Science on Food’s Power for Protecting the Brain from Alzheimers and Dementia and The Prediabetes Action Plan and Cookbook, both available on Amazon in Kindle and paperback editions.

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