Low-Fat Eating On The Go

Why snack foods needn't be fat foods


Posted: 5 June 2002

While snacking can actually result in us eating fewer calories overall in a day, the flip side of the coin is that selecting the wrong type and amount of snack meals can result in us piling on the pounds. A recent nationwide survey revealed that 18 per cent of young adults leave home without eating breakfast and snack throughout the day on foods high in fat, calories, sugar and salt. Meanwhile, a Gallup survey conducted recently showed that we are getting heavier as a result of our poor snacking habits. Part of the problem stems from the fact that some of the foods we think are doing us good are actually higher in fat than traditional confectionery.

Researchers at Manchester University recently unearthed some disturbing facts about cereal bars on sale in health food shops. The researchers showed that many contain more fat than a Mars Bar and more sugar than chocolate digestive biscuits. A healthy-looking flapjack, for instance, was found to contain 430 calories and 20.3 grams of fat; a crunchy cereal bar sweetened with honey provided 465 calories and 22.5 grams of fat; whereas a King-Size Mars Bar had 452 calories and 17.5 grams of fat. Similarly, studies by the Food Commission found that one ‘low calorie’ chocolate bar had more calories by weight than a bar of fruit and nut chocolate.

So how do you tell a healthy snack from a fat-laden treat? Here are some tips:

Breakfast cereals
If you choose the right cereal you will have a nutrient-filled snack with calcium, carbohydrate and plenty of vitamins. However, some breakfast cereals contain as much as 50 per cent sugar and many are high in fat. Not all cereals are high in fibre either, so it is worth checking the ingredient label for details. Avoid the crunchy oat-style cereals which get their crunch from being roasted in oil and rolled in sugar. Cereals labelled ‘no added sugar’ may still be sweetened with honey, concentrated apple juice or coconut.

Yoghurts
In their purest form, yoghurts and fromage frais are a healthy, natural snack. But the manufacturing process sometimes turns the flavoured and novelty varieties into a dessert little better for you than a trifle. Many also have unnecessary additives like guar gum and gelatin and are sometimes sweetened with either sugar or artificial sweeteners. The result is that some small tubs of yoghurt contain as much as four lumps of sugar, with the Greek-style containing four times the calories and eight times the fat of very low fat yoghurts.

Bananas
A favourite of top athletes looking for a long-lasting energy boost. They are filling, healthy and full of nutrients – an average-sized banana will provide around 90 calories and is low in fat, high in fibre and an excellent source of potassium. Make sure the banana is fully ripe before you eat it – green-skinned bananas can be difficult to digest in the small intestine because they contain a lot of resistant starch, but when ripe this turns to sugar and is quickly released into the bloodstream as a source of energy.

Popcorn
Popcorn’s image was given a boost when Madonna claimed that it is her favourite snack. Popcorn’s biggest advantage is that it is low in fat, comprising mainly carbohydrate. There are only 55 calories in a cup of plain popcorn – just make sure you avoid the buttered and toffee-coated varieties.

Kiwi fruit
The bright-green flesh of one kiwi fruit provides more vitamin C than the average adult needs in a day, helping to fight off infections, colds and flu. Kiwi fruit contain some potassium, too, which can help to lower blood cholesterol levels, and the really good news is that they contain only 29 calories each.

Soy
In addition to its breast cancer-fighting properties, soy is now being hailed as a food that may help to protect against heart disease. A study of middle-aged women published in the journal Menopause showed that regular consumption of soy-rich products culminating in an average of 10-gram doses every day can help to reduce levels of unhealthy LDL cholesterol. The researchers provided the women with soy protein powder which they stirred into milk, fruit juice or yoghurt.

Sugary snacks
New research suggests that we do not need to alter the proportions of sugar and starchy foods in our diet when we are trying to lose weight. Professor Michael Gibney of the Department of Clinical Medicine at Trinity College, Dublin says that the previously-held notion that starchy carbohydrates are better for us than sugary foods is unfounded. “There seems to be little justification for providing any advice to specifically alter the present sugar/starch balance in the diet,” he said while speaking to the Nutrition Society.


Weight-Loss Friends and Foes

Stomach growling? Here’s how foods rate when it comes to satisfying hunger pangs. Choosing a food from the top of the list (high satiety-index scores) will let you fill up with the fewest calories.

Food Index* Satiety-Score
Potato, baked 323
Fish 225
Porridge 209
Oranges 202
Apples 197
Pasta, wholewheat 188
Beef steak 176
Grapes 162
Popcorn 154
Bran cereal 151
Cheese 146
Crackers 127
Biscuits 120
Bananas 118
Chips 116
Bread, white 100
Muesli 100
Ice cream 96
Potato crisps 91
Peanuts 84
Chocolate 70
Doughnut 68
Cake 65
Croissant 47
*Approx. 240-calorie portion

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