Many of the snack foods that line our grocery store shelves today seem to be healthy choices. Most of us try our best to eat healthy, so it’s great that we have so many options! The flip side of having so many choices is that not all snacks are as healthy as they seem. Food companies pay big bucks to educate themselves about consumer habits; they know that people want to eat healthy so they market their products as “health food” even when that is a bit of a stretch.
A snack can be sold to us as a healthy option based on a single nutritional claim: being high in protein or certain vitamins, organic, gluten free, low fat… the list is endless. It’s easy to get hooked by one of these claims (they’re usually big and loud on the front of the package) and assume that everything about the product is good, but this often isn’t the case.
It is important that we judge the health benefits of our food from a holistic perspective. Some of our favorite “health foods” actually contain high amounts of added sugar, sodium, preservatives, synthetic flavors and dyes. These are all things that we generally do not consider to be part of a healthy diet, and they all have one thing in common: they are telltale signs of highly processed foods. When the typical American consumer shops for snacks, the top things we look for are convenient packaging, long shelf life and low prices. The easiest way for companies to make products that meet those criteria are to process them with preservatives and other added ingredients. To truly make healthy choices, it’s important to be choosy about our snacks and select ones that are still “snacky” but are also good for us. There are certainly more processed than unprocessed options, but natural healthy foods that have long shelf lives and are affordable and delicious are out there.
One of the most foolproof ways to be confident that a snack is actually a delicious and nutritious treat and not junk food masquerading as health food is to choose a minimally processed or unprocessed item. Nature is great at making healthy snacks, so choosing whole foods is usually the best way to go. Most fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds in their natural states are high in fiber, essential vitamins and minerals, protein and omega 3 fatty acids. They are also naturally low in sugar, sodium and saturated fats. This combination of all the things we want in our diets (and none of the things we don’t) makes fruits and nuts arguably the best choice for a healthy and delicious snack. Fruits and nuts also don’t require any artificial processing or preservatives, so you can keep them in your frig or pantry for a while and not worry about them going bad.
In today’s day and age, where there are seemingly endless options for snacks, it is so important to be a savvy snack buyer. Companies are constantly bombarding us with ads and packaging designed to make us pick up their product on our trip down the snack aisle. It is up to us to know what to look for when choosing foods, and to pick ones that will nourish our bodies and promote health and wellness. Our bodies do so much everyday and they deserve nothing but the best.