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Over the weekend I finally had the chance to watch a movie that's been on my to-watch list for several months. It's called Fed Up, it's a documentary about the American food industry, it's narrated by Katie Couric, and it's difficult to watch it and not get extremely frustrated and upset about the plethora of ways our government contributed to the obesity epidemic -- mainly by allowing for the production and marketing of reduced-fat "health foods" that contain enormous amounts of sugar and no health benefits whatsoever. The film compares the sugar industry to the tobacco industry, particularly noting the parallels between the aggressive marketing to children. (If you're of a certain age, do you remember when kids could watch ads for cigarettes? Now they can watch food ads instead. 98% of food-related ads viewed by children -- we're talking 3,920 ads a year -- are for products high in fat, sugar and sodium).
Children aren't the only ones being duped. Remember when low-fat diets became a craze? We were encouraged to purchase zero-calorie soft drinks, reduced-fat cookies, and low-fat dairy to experience the thrill and taste of higher-fat products without guilt. The problem: these low-fat foods were infused with massive amounts of sugar and additives to make up for the flavor void left by the missing fat. With the fat and fiber stripped away and the sugar and processed ingredients pumped up, we were introduced to a generation of chemical-enhanced foods that passed through our systems so quickly we could eat and eat and eat them without ever registering our fullness -- not to mention that we became addicted to sugar in the same way a cocaine user becomes addicted to cocaine (some studies have even found that sugar addiction is MORE powerful than cocaine). Because we were no longer getting real nutrients and were instead eating foods akin to a giant chemical shitstorm, we as a nation became largely depressed, dependent, and overweight. And the more reduced-fat cookies we ate, the more depressed, dependent, and overweight we became.
It's frustrating when you see people trying to do something good for themselves based on the information provided to them through ads, media and government. I myself used to be a giant proponent of reduced-fat snack foods, never making the connection that part of the reason why I was able to eat a bag of chips or box of cookies in one sitting was that I wasn't eating real food. It would be a very difficult feat to eat twelve apples in one sitting. The fiber and nutrients in one apple help you to register your fullness right away. If you put a plate of nachos in front of me, I will consume in its entirety and probably still want more. Ditto for candy or cereal. Give me clean food that's close to its natural state, though, and I'll eat it and be satisfied. And if I get hungry again later, I can fix myself another healthy snack and it's no big deal.
So here's what I look for when I make myself a snack.
1.) Is it real food?
I'll eat a Kind or Quest bar here or there, but in general I try to stay away from foods that come in a bag, box or package.
2.) Is one of the main ingredients a fruit or vegetable?
I like to make fruits and vegetables the star of snack time, and I find I'm generally less satisfied when I don't.
3.) Is there protein and healthy fat in my snack?
Cottage cheese, hummus, peanut butter, and other sources of protein and healthy fats help me feel satiated.
4.) Is it a wimpy snack?
I'm not interested in celery sticks (though I am interested in celery sticks with peanut butter, raisins and dark chocolate). I'm not interested in anything that I'll finish and then two minutes later want to eat again.
5.) Am I answering my craving?
I love sweet snacks. I love savory snacks. I love crunchy snacks. I love doughy snacks. The trick is to create a healthy version of something that satisfies my cravings. 90% dark chocolate is a good friend to my sweet tooth. Greek yogurt and cottage cheese really speak to the dairy-loving part of my brain. Nuts never fail to satisfy.
Here are some of my favorite snacks these days (many of these ideas came from Fit Girls Guide):