Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Smart Snacking

Today I left Phillip Island for Melbourne airport en route back to my adopted home of Boulder, CO.

But not before one last sweet with a frothy cappuccino at a local cafe.

Over the last couple of weeks I've been indulging in sweet snacks by way of coping with the emotional challenges inherent in this trip to a quiet, rural Australian island.

I wouldn't recommend using food as an emotional coping strategy, it's one of the primary contributors to weight gain and the slew of subsequent health issues that accompany carrying extra pounds.

Yet I've been doing it; even on tiny Phillip Island there is an active cafe culture where desserts and cookies like those above and left are beautifully displayed, and for a self-professed sweet tooth, they're oh so hard to resist.

So I didn't resist!

I book-ended my light lunches and nutritionally balanced dinners with one or two daily treats along lines of baklava, chocolate Tim Tams, plain croissant with jam, chocolate croissant, banana bread, apricot slice with cream cheese frosting, and cookies.

The fact is, sometimes we do seek comfort in food, especially sweet and salt snacks. With that reality check, here's another: I think there's a way to be smart about snacking.

In Boulder, I keep a mix of raw nuts, sunflower seeds, dried cranberries, raisins and coconut date rolls in my cupboard. I buy them in the bulk aisle at Whole Foods, and once home, I mix them together to create my own trail mix.

I also tend to reach for salty snacks like plain corn chips, potato chips or rice crackers dipping them in tapenade or thick pesto or homemade guacamole or salsa.

Yet what I know about my salty snacks (versus the sweets I've been eating) is that I'm swapping out sugar for sodium, and butter for vegetable oils which we tend to over consume, because if you read the labels of processed foods, you'll find that they usually contain one or two.

Vegetable oils like sunflower and safflower are rich in Omega 6 fatty acids and today, snack and processed foods tend to be our main source. Whereas Omega 3 and 9 are found in whole, unprocessed foods like deep-sea fish, flax seeds, walnuts, avocado, seaweeds and green algae.

Healthy smart snacking begins with cutting down on our over-consumption of Omega 6 oils, and it feels as though I've done that while in Australia, after all I haven't eaten chips and crackers, though chances are the store and cafe bought sweets were made with vegetable oils!

A more nutritious alternative to the rapidly digested carbs and empty calories in cake, pastries, cookies, and chips is a combination of slowly digested carbohydrates as well as protein. For example:
  • whole grain crackers with nut butter, avocado, soft white cheese or boiled egg
  • oatmeal or whole grain nut and seed bars (read labels carefully if store bought)
  • homemade trail mix (pre-packaged varieties often contain fried & salted nuts and extra sugar)
  • yogurt (the dessert in the middle of the pic at top is, believe it or not, is low fat yogurt and fruit)
  • some protein drinks (read labels for added sugar and sodium and acronyms masquerading as food)
Controlled portions of smart snacks such as those just listed contain Omega 3 unsaturated fats, protein, minimal simple sugars and thus slowly digested carbohydrates, plus vitamins and minerals.

Upon my return to Boulder, it'll be back to controlled snacking of the healthy variety, but I confess, I'm having afternoon tea with an Australian couple next weekend and I'll be making YoYos to go with the tea--they're the shortbread cookies sandwiched with butter cream in the pic above. Here's the recipe!

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