by Patricia Chuey, MSc., RD, FDC
First, a quick review of what makes for the ideal, well-balanced, healthy snack: the presence of both quality protein and carbohydrate. Apple slices dipped in nut butter, veggies with hummus…good examples. No matter what you’re snacking on, it’s also a great opportunity to hydrate by accompanying the snack with a glass of water.
Second, a quick review of the 80-20 rule. We eat for many reasons beyond meeting nutrient needs. We eat for pleasure, flavour, celebration, budget, seasonality, reward, comfort at times and much more. Aiming to eat well at least 80% of the time is a practical and permanently possible strategy that leaves room for flexibility and frankly, allows for being human in a world full of endless food choices. An 80-20 eating style.
Going into the chip aisle looking for only nutritious snacks will make for a pretty quick trip with few options. Nuts and seeds are great choices, although some of them found in this aisle might be excessively salted or sugary – think praline almonds. Popcorn, especially the home-popped plain variety to which you might add a little butter and salt is a good option. Plain corn or whole grain tortilla chips served with a fresh cut salsa, also make a good quality option. Pretzels are fat-free but are high in salt while not being a good source of fibre, vitamins or minerals.
Depending on the store, you may find an expanding selection of ‘new and improved’ snacks like lentil crackers, puffed snap pea pods, brown rice crisps, sweet potato chips and various energy ‘bites’ to name a few. Although these are typically more costly than standard issue potato chips and come in stylish packages, it’s still worth reading the ingredient list. Also check the Nutrition Facts table to see where it lands for salt, sugar, fibre and nutrients. Higher fibre snacks with less salt are good choices. When choosing a snack that might be labelled gluten-free, vegan, paleo and sugar-free, still identify what it is in fact made of. It’s better to know what you’re actually about to eat rather than what you aren’t getting from the food. Things we want to see lower numbers for on packaged snacks: calories, salt, sugar and trans fat (often an indication of whether the food has been deep fried). Good things to look for in snacks: fibre, protein, vitamins and minerals.
Speaking of fibre, potato chips in the traditional sense, aren’t a particularly great source, unfortunately. They do offer a little fibre but in a calorically-expensive, high fat, high salt format. Cheezies and flavoured tortilla chips like nacho cheese can be even higher in calories and salt than potato chips. Because chips are quite possibly the most difficult food to apply portion control to, it’s often best to avoid having them in the pantry – an ‘out of sight out of mind’ system of sorts. Treating them as a ‘party food’ and only buying them for special occasions is another positive approach.
Potatoes themselves are a healthy food and new kitchen gadgets exist for thinly slicing potatoes to oven-bake or microwave your own lower fat, lower salt chips. Leaving the skin on the potato increases the fibre content. If you buy potato chips, eating a portion wise amount with a veggie and dip platter is one way to increase the fibre value of the overall snack – a way to have your chips and eat them too. Store bought traditional potato chips aren’t a replacement for home-cooked potatoes and don’t make a healthy side to fish or a homemade burger.
Snacks that help you get more of the healthy foods you may not get enough of in meals are wise choices. Fruit and yogurt, a fruit-protein smoothie, a handful of almonds and raw veggies, a boiled egg, vegetable-based dinner leftovers, a low sugar quality energy bar or good old cheese and whole grain crackers, for example.