Portion Size And Obesity
It’s no secret that a shift in our relationship with food has been steadily occurring over the last several decades. Today, most experts believe that including healthy snacks for weight loss should be an integral part of any successful weight loss regimen. The theory goes that snacking helps allay hunger pains, which then cut down on excessive eating. But, although today’s concern is about an excess of calories, American’s living in the 1900′s faced the opposite problem. At that point in history, the concern was about not eating enough. However, in the last 40-years, that problem has been supplanted by steadily rising caloric excess. Understanding where excess calories sneak into our diets helps lay the groundwork for reversing that trend.
There is a tendency in the U.S. to blame the obesity epidemic on portion sizes. Most consumers are familiar with the the so-called “super-size” effect, which is the ever-growing problem of portion sizes. Research supports the idea that increasing portion sizes have been the major reason for rising obesity rates from the 1970′s into the early 1990′s. However, research has also shown that average portion sizes started shrinking in the mid-1990′s. That trend continues today, yet obesity rates continue to rise.
In recent years, it has become apparent that Americans are eating for often. With this revelation, more recent studies have focused on “eating incidents per day,” which scientists consider the total number of meals (including snacks) that we have daily. A study conducted by Popkins, et. al, drew attention to the fact that while portion sizes have fallen slightly, the frequency of eating has grown dramatically since the early 1990′s. This has led to a focus on snack machines in schools, high-calorie drinks devoid of nutrition, and a desire to increase the availability of healthy snacks, which are lower in calories and higher in nutritional content. Below is a list of options intended to meet the needs of those wishing to widen their selection of healthy snacks.
When it comes to healthy snacking, there are a myriad of ways to break up your choices. Everyone knows that the public at large would be better served by eating more fruits and vegetables, so for the purposes of this exercise, we’ll try moving beyond the obvious and break snacking options up in ways that meet a particular need. All healthy snacks share a few common traits, like being low in calories, but how those calories are distributed between protein, carbs, and fat makes a difference, depending on what your goals may be. When you’re seeking snack ideas, the purpose is to meet a specific need, whether its an after school snacks for kids, a little something to sustain you during a day-long hike with friends, or even help you make it through a day of intermittent fasting. Let’s take a look at what some of those needs entail, and see about providing options to meet those needs.
Getting kids interested in eating healthy is a challenge for every parent. The preponderance of high sugar, high calorie packaged goods being marketed to kids makes it tough for parents. Try these options for ideas to meet the discriminating tastes of your kids, while still satisfying Mom & Dad’s need to provide healthy snacks for kids.
- Low Fat Mozzarella Cheese Sticks
- Apple Valley Fruit Crisps
- Oatmeal cookies — pick low fat, high fiber varieties
- One Banana
- 100-calorie Baked Lays Chips
- Fat Free Instant Pudding (individually packaged, or made by the box)
- 1 cup of sliced melon
- One Breakfast cereal bar (avoid those containing high fructose corn syrup)
- Almond Butter & Jelly Sandwich on White Wheat Bread
- 1 cup of fresh strawberries drizzled with chocolate syrup
To meet the criteria for being a heart healthy snack, options should generally be both low in saturated fat, cholesterol-free, and preferably high in fiber. Choices need not necessarily be low fat, since the healthy cooking oils contain healthy omega-3 fats, like those found in walnut oil, have been shown to reduce cholesterol and improve heart function. There are even exceptions to saturated fats, as evidenced by these tips on cooking with coconut oil.
- One serving of a mix of Walnuts/Dark Chocolate Chip Mix/Dried Cranberries (1/4 cup)
- One cup of Old Fashioned Oatmeal sprinkled with ground flax seed
- Hard-boiled egg whites
- Raw Broccoli or Cauliflower dipped in Hummus
- Low calories apple slices dipped in organic almond butter
- Black or Red grapes with a side of fat-free yogurt
- Two California Rolls (make your own and wrap with tapioca paper to cut calories)
- Fat-free vanilla yogurt topped with wheat germ
- Canned sardines
- Whole wheat toast topped with a plant sterol spread instead of butter
Making the move to healthy low calorie snacks necessitates choices that are low in both fat and absent simple carbohydrates. Best selections include items that are high in protein and fiber, while enforcing portion control. Be careful to avoid the trap of believing that just because it’s a low calorie snack, you can have larger serving sizes.
- 100-calorie popcorn package (my wife’s perennial favorite)
- Caramel corn rice cakes
- Egg white omelet with low fat cheese and spinach
- Frozen fruit smoothie (no sugar added, make with fat free milk)
- One tomato, sprinkled with a little salt
- Marinate a mixture of diced tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini, and yellow squash in a minimal amount of fat-free Italian dressing. Serve chilled
- One Kiwi fruit makes an excellent alternative to oranges or strawberries
- Lox on a whole grain english muffin, no cream cheese
While I’m not, generally speaking, a fan of the low carb movement, there are times when low carb snacks make a lot of sense. These are great treats for low carb dieters, and also make wonderful post-workout snacks. The trick here is avoiding grain-based foods while still incorporating fruits and vegetables. Healthy fats are, of course, allowed.
- Single serving vacuum-sealed package of salmon
- Portabello mushroom caps, topped with marinara and sprinkled with low fat mozzarella cheese, microwave until warm
- One banana, peeled and topped with hard-shell chocolate. Serve frozen.
- Low fat beef or venison jerky
- Pre-cooked diced chicken, topped with shredded cheddar cheese. Serve warm.
- Baked pumpkin seeds
- Full fat cottage cheese with diced peaches
- Half an english muffin topped with Nutella hazelnut spread
This is, by no means, an exhaustive list of good snack options. But it’s a start, and it shows that there are a wide variety of ways to meet the needs for healthy snacks while still actually enjoying the food you eat. Having healthy snacks at hand requires planning, and thoughtful selection of those snacks can play an important role is helping meet your long-term weight loss and fitness goals.
- J. Nutr. 2010 February; 140(2): 325–332. doi: 10.3945/jn.109.112763. Accessed November 2011.
- USDA Fact Book 2001-2002, Chapter 2. Accessed August 2011.
- CDC – Overweight And Obesity. Accessed September 2011.
- Center for Science in the Public Interest – Special Report, titled: Dispensing Junk. Accessed August 2011.