Our foraging ancestors—heck, even our great grandparents—would never have imagined the predicament we’re in: trying to decrease our caloric intake while we wade through a sea of quick, cheap, delicious snack foods!
Technological and agricultural revolutions have brought on the previously unimaginable. Our taste buds and are the winners, but our waistlines, hearts, and pancreases are the losers. Potato chips, cookies, Pop Tarts…they’re all immediately accessible but damaging in the long run. Americans love their snack foods, but many of them are highly processed and lacking in nutritional value.
Let’s take a look at how we can get through the day and satisfy our natural cravings in ways that won’t hurt our hearts.
We love crunch. I don’t know why, but we do. Here are a few ideas to get the crunch back when you’ve thrown the potato chips away.
- Veggies. I know you know this, but it’s always worth repeating: you need veggies. Raw carrots, celery, radishes, cauliflower… it’s all good. It may take a while to learn to enjoy these extremely heart-healthy bits, but it’s worth it. Also, flavor-enhancing strategies exist that are also heart-healthy:
- Peanut Butter. Avoid the Ranch dip, but try your celery with unsalted peanut butter.
- Pickling. Pickling isn’t just for cucumbers anymore. Pickling is everywhere and for good reason! Pickling adds a ton of flavor, acts as a natural preservative, and retains a lot of the good stuff within veggies. Fiber, Vitamins A, D, E, and K are all preserved. All that’s really lost in the pickling process is Vitamin C and riboflavin. A tip: Kimchi, cabbage pickled in a Korean style, is delicious and full of Vitamin B.
- Hummus. Hummus has surged in the US in recent years. Hummus is a creamy Mediterranean dip whose main ingredients are chickpeas, garlic, sesame paste, and olive oil. The savvy reader will recognize that list as a veritable cornucopia of super foods, making hummus one of the best flavor enhancers known to man. Two other great things about hummus: it’s easy and inexpensive to make at home and it is easily modifiable for particular tastes: try it with hot sauce, black beans, sun-dried tomatoes…you can’t go wrong and your heart will thank you.1
- Wasabi Peas. Wasabi, from the plant family that includes horseradish and mustard, is hot, pungent, and delicious. It’s best known as the creamy green stuff that comes with sushi, but baked onto peas, it’s a great crunchy snack that’s full of protein, iron, and fiber. The downside: it is high in sodium. So for those watching, salt, avoid wasabi peas. For the rest of you, it’s a great crunchy go-to.2
3:15 pm. Lunch has long been over, dinner is hours away, and there’s still a pile of papers to get through. It’s time for a sweet, delicious little break. Rather than reaching for the M&Ms, how about trying one of these?
- Frozen Grapes. Buy a bunch of grapes, stick ‘em in the freezer. They’ll keep a long, long time and be perfectly ready for you he you need your sweet fixes. if you take ‘em out of the freezer and let ‘em thaw for a few minutes, you’ll basically have healthy popsicles in finger food form.
- Carob. Chocoholics, please give carob a try! Carob, like chocolate, is smooth, creamy, rich, and sweet. It comes from a Mediterranean tree pod and is dried and roasted, like coffee. Unlike coffee, though, it has no caffeine, and unlike processed milk chocolate, it is low in fat and high in fiber and calcium. It is available as a pre-made organic bar or in chip form - as in chocolate chips. Like chocolate chips, it’s great over yogurt or by the handful.
- Sweet and Spicy Snack Mix. The good and very heart-conscious folks over at the Mayo Clinic have come up with a wonderful alternative to the much-loved “Chex Snack Mix.” It’s easy to prepare, easy to throw in a bag, and very tasty. You’ve got to see the recipe, but here’s a hint: real Chex cereal and Worcestershire sauce. See the recipe here: http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-living/recipes/sweet-and-spicy-snack-mix/rcp-2004972
3:30 pm. Your sweet snack is over but the pile of work is still there and you want a little kick of energy. Do not reach for the sugar bomb that is the Red Bull or the Coke. Try these:
- Coffee. Yes, good old coffee, preferably black. Coffee has been associated with lots of great benefits, including heart health.
- Cocoa. Dark chocolate without added milk and sugar is slightly bitter and some consider it an acquired taste. But once acquired, it can be a great way to get a little caffeine kick. It is naturally caffeinated and has some of the same heart-healthy and antioxidant-rich elements as coffee.
- Chia Seed Bars. “Chia” means “strength” in the Mayan language, and it seems the Mayan people used Chia the way too many of us use a can of Red Bull. Chia seed bars are available at health food stores and most fine grocery stores and typically include the seeds as well as coconut oil, which is great! Also, they are full of omega-3s, antioxidants, and calcium. They are also naturally gluten free and free of nuts, grain (including gluten), and dairy. They will get you through that last stack of papers and make your foraging ancestors proud. They may confuse your great grandma, though.3
- Manning J. Hummus: the healthy dip. WebMD. http://www.webmd.com/diet/hummus-recipe-and-benefits
- livestrong.com. “Wasabi Peas Nutritional Information.” http://www.livestrong.com/article/146117-wasabi-peas-nutritional-information/
- Mind Body Green. “The amazing health benefits of chia seeds.” http://www.mindbodygreen.com/0-7928/the-amazing-health-benefits-of-chia-seeds.html