Navigating the Snack Jungle

Its 3 o’clock and you are sitting at your desk working on a project for work. You are in the zone, busting out this project and all of a sudden, grrrrrrrrrowlll, your stomach rumbles and your concentration is lost. All you can think about from this point on in how hungry you are. What you need is a snack, the problem is, what should you choose?

According to Mintel, two thirds of people say they snack in between meals. In fact, many doctors recognize that snacking in-between meals can help to control hunger cravings, boost metabolism and help maintain a healthy weight. However, for many snackers, the problem is not deciding whether to snack, but what exactly to snack on, whether to avoid the temptation of the readily available, not-so-healthy snacks in favor of those that are good but not-so-available snacks.

This dilemma is often compounded by the fact that within the “healthy snack” category there is a wide range of products, from healthy to not-so-healthy munchies. For example, Mintel found that “37% of consumers consider snack/energy bars a healthy snack, yet these types of snack can range from healthy to purely indulgent”. Mintel lists Archer Farms Banana Split Indulgent Granola Bites, Price Chopper’s Market Classics Gourmet Butter Toasted Virginia Peanuts and Safeway’s Select Green Bean Crips as some of the worst offenders in the “healthy” snack category. While granola bars, peanuts and string beans are often associated as healthy foods, the second you smother them in chocolate, roast them in butter… and lets not even get started on deep-frying them, these traditionally healthy foods loose their intrinsic nutritional value. While there are several lists out there that will help you weight the merit of individual products (womensday.com and womenshealthmag.com), it is mostly up to the consumer to use their common sense when navigating the snack jungle.

The key to successful navigation is to seek out information, which only 39% of snackers actively do. According to webmd.com, healthy snacks usually comprise of enough calories to be satisfying (roughly 100), lower levels of saturated fats and sugars then similar snacks, vitamins and a healthy serving of other important nutrients such as whole grains, fiber (roughly 7g), and protein (roughly 9g) that have staying power.

However, not everyone wants a healthy snack when they get hungry. According to Mintel, 43% of snackers like to treat themselves to an occasional indulgent snack (I know I certainly do!) Not surprisingly, one of the most popular types of indulgent snacks are salty snacks, such as chips, which account for 86% of salty snack usage. Interestingly enough, Mintel found that “only a small percentage of respondents said that healthier attributes (e.g., whole-grain, organic, low cholesterol/salt, etc) are very important to them when selecting a salty snack”, meaning that “consumers are quite comfortable with their belief that salty snacks are indulgences to be enjoyed at its fullest without concern over any possible health implications”.

Conversely, the second most popular type of snack, brownies, are often packaged in small or single-sized portions. For ready-to-eat baked goods, quality and moderate sizes tend to be more important then calorie counting. However, it is important to be aware that, although they look to be individual portions, many of these sweet snacks contain several servings.

When looking for a snack to satisfy your food cravings, it is important to choose the correct snack, especially when it comes to choosing a healthy snack. While there are a plethora of options on the supermarket shelves, not all of them are healthy ones. By looking at nutritional panels, you will be better able to determine if the snack you are holding will help or hurt your ability to maintain your healthy and weight management goals.

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