It's mid-afternoon and you have the munchies, so you reach for a power bar and other healthy snacks -- only, some of these snacks aren't as healthy as they appear. They're loaded with sugar and calories. Samantha Heller is a contributor for Health Magazine. She's also a senior clinical nutritionist at New York University Medical Center.
1) Energy bars
Energy, in food terms, means calories. The energy bars we have become so fond of in recent years could easily be called “Super Duper Calorie Bars”. But who would buy those? With as many as 110-250 calories or more, these small bars will add more pounds to your day, not vigor.
Energy/nutrition bars, originally made for elite athletes, are a good bet to take on a long trip, while hiking or for an emergency snack (I have one in my purse). They are easy to carry but not inexpensive. Look for bars made with whole grains and that have no more than 2 grams of saturated (artery clogging) fat and 3 or more grams of fiber. Of course real food snacks like yogurt and a banana, nuts or ½ bagel with peanut butter are easily packed and supply more nutrients with fewer calories.
Using energy bars as a meal replacement will probably make you hungry sooner than later. A meal that includes healthy foods like poultry, fish or soy, whole grains, legumes, non-fat dairy and lots of vegetables, will furnish your body with the vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals, protein, carbs and fat it needs to be healthy and energetic.
2) Energy drinks
Between the caffeine and sugar you are sure to get a buzz from many of these ‘energy’ drinks. Most of these products contain about 80 milligrams of caffeine, which is what you will get in one cup of coffee. Other ingredients may include taurine (an amino acid), guarana (a source of caffeine), herbs, vitamins and minerals. Consider this, consuming several different ‘functional’ foods or beverages daily, including vitamin waters, supplemented with herbs, vitamins or minerals may push you past the recommended or safe dose for these substances.
Do not mix energy drinks with alcohol. This has the potential to result in dangerous cardiac conditions. To get the energy you need, get plenty of sleep and yes, eat a healthy diet!
Other packaged drinks or smoothies may not have caffeine, but can be surprisingly high in calories. Clinical studies have shown that we tend to eat whatever portion is put in front of us. So, if a protein drink smoothie is in a 16oz bottle, at 190 calories per 8 oz serving, there is a good chance we will drink the whole thing for a whopping 380 calories. Choose water, flavored seltzers, teas, fat free milk or other lower calorie options.
3) Granola/trail mixes
Granola is made with whole oats, nuts, sunflower seeds, raisins, honey and sometimes unsaturated oils. A healthy mélange but not a low fat one. granola can have up to 20 grams of fat and 300-400 calories per cup. Since it is tasty and good for you, try mixing granola with your favorite whole grain cereal to save some calories and fat. Avoid store bought versions of granola that have coconut, palm or hydrogenated oils.
Trail mix, usually a mix of nuts and dried fruit, is an simple snack that travels well. Nuts are an excellent source of healthy fats, protein, vitamins and minerals. They are also an excellent source of calories. One handful is about 100 calories. Watch your portions and choose trail mix without the chocolate bits or coconut (which has saturated fat).
4) Dressed-up junk food
Healthy junk food? Not really. It is true that there are healthier versions of junk, but many have more calories, fat or sodium than we would think. If you compare labels you will find that the organic, smart, or healthy chips, puffs and other snacks have similar values per serving as our old favorites. One ounce of the regular cheese puffs has only 20 calories and 3 grams of fat more per ounce than some ‘healthier’ options. Still, improved ‘fun foods’ as some prefer to call them, with whole grains, no trans fats, and fewer additives are a better choice if you can limit how much you eat (not the whole big bag!).