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Learning Healthy Snacking Habits

This unofficially goes with my series, if you will, on “How to Lose Weight While Obese and In Pain“. While I haven’t yet started writing about my “diet”, I have started to change the way I eat. This actually started a bit before I even  joined a gym.

I started working at my current job a little over a year ago. One thing about this place, they always have food. Once a week someone brings in goodies for the whole office, which usually consists of bagels or donuts from a nearby bakery. Occasionally someone gets either creative or lazy and stockpiles cookies, muffins, or other goodies from a grocery store. Once in a blue moon, someone brings fruit. (It’s usually the last thing to be eaten.)

Even on other days, people will bring bags of chips, $5 containers of some 50 or so cookies, candies, anything that they feel like bringing. Sometimes it’s someone being generous, other times it’s to share something that others haven’t likely tried, other times it’s…because it’s been sitting around their house too long. *Cringe*

Regardless of what or why, it eventually gets eaten.

Naturally, that also means that temptation is lurking around constantly when I am at work. It’s bad enough to walk into a store or restaurant and not grab something I know I shouldn’t, but when it’s around me 8 hours a day… Sheesh!

To make matters worse, I have a slight oral fixation where I always like having something to chew or crunch on (meaning having “a handful” of something doesn’t always work for me). If only ice wasn’t bad for your teeth!

Snack 1: Sunflower Seeds

One day, I bought a bag of sunflower seeds on a whim, for no other reason except that I like them. What I didn’t expect was to figure out just how well sunflower seeds worked as a snack for me.

I have this eating theory – basically if you had all your day’s food in front of you somehow (excluding temperature, storage and convenience issues), you could technically eat it however you wanted, at whatever times you wanted. Right? Using the calories in, calories out way of thinking, you could measure out 2,000 or so calories and you could spend the entire day eating if you so chose. At the end of the day, it would still be the same number of calories.

Well, I feel the same goes with a serving of sunflower seeds.

An approximate serving of sunflower seeds is a few tablespoons or, about 1/4 cup. In a 1/4 cup serving, there are around 170 calories (and lots of nutrients). Now, I could toss them all in my mouth in a few pinches and be done with it. But that’s not the way I eat! I play with my food! Wait, I mean… I… No, I guess I did mean that.

This may sound a little OCD but I loved to take a single (hulled) sunflower seed, bite off the pointy edge, pull the skin off of it with my teeth, separate the two halves, and then eat it like that.

Now, imagine doing that for almost every single seed in a quarter cup and you will understand why I sometimes couldn’t even finish 1 serving of sunflower seeds in a whole, 8 hour workday.

What’s that got to do with the office snacks, you may wonder? Simple. My mouth was so busy pulling apart individual sunflower seeds that I didn’t care so much about the cookies, chips or other things that might be available. Yes, I still gave in at times, but on the whole, I was much less susceptible.

Should I have just exercised more discipline, instead of creating a substitution? Sure. But it’s more important to me to not be so tempted than to pretend that I have more discipline than I really do.

So what’s another way to make the most of my snacks?

Making snacks out of things that typically aren’t!

Snack 2: Roasted Chickpeas

Beans, beans, the musical fruit… The more you eat, the more you… Have difficulty finding new and exciting ways to prepare them?

Outside of chili, I’m not a big fan of beans. OK, maybe chili and split pea with ham. Navy beans with ham. White beans with ham. I guess that means (insert bean here) and ham, eh? That, and mushed into a paste mixed with far too much sugar and rolled into a mochi. Anyway, I know they are super good for you, high in fiber and other nutrients, and everyone should eat more of them.

But they are just so mushy! I don’t like the texture of them at all, except as stated above.

Insert garbanzo beans (aka chickpeas). These are mushed into a paste and turned into hummus, which is delightful, but otherwise they too are still just a bean.

Or are they???

Roasted Chickpeas to the rescue!

I found a recipe (or several) for roasted chickpeas and got intrigued. It is one of the simplest recipes ever.

  • 1 can chickpeas/garbanzo beans (low sodium or no added salt is best)
  • A drizzle of olive oil
  • Salt & Pepper to Taste
  • Other seasonings to taste

Now for the complicated cooking methods!

  1. Open the can.
  2. Strain beans.
  3. Rinse beans to get rid of the starchy can water.
  4. Dry beans thoroughly (either by draining or with paper towel).
  5. Place beans in a single layer on a cookie sheet.
  6. Toss in olive oil and seasonings.
  7. Bake at 400F for 30-40 minutes (mine took about 35).
  8. Let cool and store at room temperature.

You can add more seasoning after they are done if you want. These can be made sweet, spicy, salty, herby, whatever you want them to be. They still taste a little like a garbanzo bean, and I suspect that beans not from a can would be even milder, but for the most part they no longer look or taste like a bean.

Actually, from a distance, they look to me like Reese’s Puffs cereal.

That said, this is a high fiber snack with a crunch similar to one of the generic Corn Nuts knockoffs.

Another amazing, high fiber snack with technically less preparation and no cook time?

Snack 3: Jicama

If you’ve never tried jicama (also called yambean or Mexican yam), it looks like a piece of raw potato, but it has a mild sweetness and a crisp bite similar to a water chestnut.

It’s also low in calories, high in fiber, and has a low glycemic load. It’s a great, crunchy and tasty vegetable to “mindlessly” snack on.

No preparation is needed other than to slice off the outer skin. Only the white inside is to be eaten. Apparently the skin is toxic.

So there you have it – 3 of my current favorite snacks that don’t require any dips to be great and only one requires refrigeration. Obviously carrot sticks or baby carrots and celery sticks are also great, sugar snap peas, etc. But these are the crunchy, simple snacks that I can just grab a bag of and start munching.

What about you? What sort of simple and healthy snacks do you munch on? What helps you steer clear of temptation? I’d love to hear about it in the comments!

How Much Sugar Is REALLY In Your Food?

Frosted Mini Wheats, Cinnamon Toast Crunch, Raisin Bran, Lucky Charms. Which of these has the most grams of sugar per serving? Which of these has the least? I wouldn’t recommend guessing unless you pay close attention to nutrition labels. The answer might surprise you.

The other day I was at Wal-Mart, kind of hungry and trying to pick up something to eat. Passing by the cereal aisle, my boyfriend suggested, “Why don’t you get some cereal?” I had been having a craving for cereal, so I thought “Why not?” and started browsing the aisle.

Wal-Mart seems to be the only physical store that offers Rice Krispies Treats Cereal these days, and I’d always loved it as a kid. I stared at it for a moment, and then forced myself to walk past it. I have a sweet tooth, but sometimes the extra sugar isn’t worth it, right?

I kept glancing up and down the aisle, eyeballing prices, cereals, brands… Truthfully, against my better judgment I would eat Rice Krispies Treats Cereal almost any day. There’s just something about it, and reminiscing about Rice Krispies Treats as a kid is something you can’t do with say, Raisin Bran. But I still kept trying to avoid it for the “sugary kids’ cereal” reason.

That’s when my boyfriend noticed something…

“There’s actually not a lot of sugar in here, you don’t have to feel bad about it,” he remarked.  

Not a lot of sugar?! Yeah, right. What’s your idea of “not a lot”? I kept thinking.

So just as I approached the “healthiest” cereals, I walked back to the purple Rice Krispies Treats Cereal box. Sure enough, a quick check of the label confirmed – there’s only 9g of sugar per serving (3/4 cup).

Surely, if a cereal that mimics the sugary treats it was named after has 9g of sugar per serving, other cereals must have a much lower amount of sugar per serving, right?

Nope. You’d be surprised.

If you don’t religiously pay attention to nutrition labels, you may be overlooking the same thing I did. You may wind up demonizing cereals that are actually healthier (in a sense) than the “healthy” cereals.

Keep in mind, this doesn’t take into account vitamin enrichment, whole grains, fiber, protein, natural food sources versus additives and preservatives, etc, etc, etc.

I’m not going to make some bogus claim that Rice Krispies Treats Cereal will lower your cholesterol the way Honey Nut Cheerios claims to do. Vitamin enrichment and carbs aside, Rice Krispies Treats Cereal still isn’t really anything nutritious. But when it comes to the sugar levels, it is definitely something to take note of.

Here’s how some “sugary” and “healthy” cereals stack up (sugar is listed in grams per serving):

That is just a small sampling of some popular cereals and how their sugar quantity compares to each other.

You’d expect the gap in sugar content to be pretty wide between the “healthy” cereals and the “sugary” cereals, yet in some cases it is surprisingly narrow. I really like Kashi GoLean and GoLean Crunch, but I could actually enjoy a bowl of marshmallow-flavored Rice Krispies Treats Cereal for a tad less sugar (taking into account the difference in serving size – it’d be about 9.75g for a 3/4 cup serving).

Honey Nut Cheerios is the same both in serving size and sugar content, yet Honey Nut Cheerios reminds you of lowering your cholesterol – Rice Krispies Treats Cereal makes you think of splurging on dessert.

It’s an interesting discovery that I’m sure goes unnoticed very frequently. It’s the same thing as salad dressing being loaded with sugar. You don’t notice it because it doesn’t taste sweet, but somewhere in there they’ve hidden high-fructose corn syrup.

Salty products have a similar dilemma. Especially with frozen meals, they may not taste the least bit salty, bland even, yet they are brimming with sodium. The sodium content is through the roof but since you can’t taste it, you’re sprinkling on just a little more.

So, from now on, I think I’ll sit back, relax, and enjoy my marshmallow-y childhood goodness in a bowl with some milk. I can get the fiber in next time.

Food Pyramid – Low Carb vs Low Fat

Through the past so many years, the Food Guide Pyramid (which I’ll refer to as “FGP” from here on) has been a go-to dieting and nutrition staple highly promoted by the USDA and US government.

The Original Food Guide Pyramid

The Original Food Guide Pyramid

It is on virtually every box of cereal as well as many other foods, and has been used as a reference over and over.

The focus on determining needs in basic food groups started around the 1950s-1960s with the creation of the USDA’s original FGP in 1992.

The original FGP stated that we should eat 6-11 servings of “bread, rice, cereal and pasta” (the “grain” group), followed by fruits and vegetables, then meat & dairy, then fats, oils, and sweets. Although this diet plan does emphasize lower-sugar, it is common knowledge that carbs turn into glucose (sugar) in the blood.

The original FGP made no mention of whole-grains or fiber.

Under the original FGP you could enjoy plenty of white bread, white rice, and pasta and not think twice. Since the original (and even today’s) FGP promoted low-fat, you were limited on all different types of fats.

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