Saturday, May 23, 2009

Incredible Shrinking Snacks? Really? Not so sure...

Women's health magazine online just published a short article entitled: "Incredible Shrinking Snacks: Satisfy a hankering for less than 100 calories."

Although the thought behind this article may be what most women THINK is right to help support their weight loss efforts, there are some major flaws that I just can't keep my mouth shut over.

First: As you peruse through their slide show, you'll see that some of the "snacks" mentioned are synthetic and completely unnatural. For example, to snack on something sweet less that 100 calories, they recommend the following items (I'm leaving out brand names...):
  • Sugar-free chocolate pudding
  • Low-fat (low-sugar) mini fudge pop
The first two items there are man-made sweets created with the help of sucralose, asulfame K, or aspartame. The more and more I learn about these artificial sweeteners, the more and more I tend to stay away. There's just something not right about them with respect to their health effects, and in fact, when it comes to satisfying a sugar-craving, they actually entice you to want more, rather than just helping the craving go away. The reason they make you want more is because in the case of a sugar-craving, your body is really just calling out for calories mostly because you're not feeding it what it needs during the rest of the day (i.e., undereating in an attempt to lose weight). It also can happen because you need more calories during certain times of the month (can we say PMS?), and the first thing your body screams for in these cases is quick, delicious, sugar.

So, when this happens, why not just listen to your body and eat more good calories rather than deprive yourself of what your body probably needs to help it grow, repair, and/or just function normally? Or, if you really need that sugar, eat natural sugars from fruit and then get the benefits of antioxidants and filling-fiber goodness? If that just won't do it, allow yourself some real dark chocolate; and I'm not talking about that 60% dark chocolate our there, that's plumped up with more sugar, I'm talking about the 75%+ dark chocolate that has much less sugar, but still gives your body those endorphin-stimulating properties from its chocolately goodness (not the sugar, it's from the actual cocoa).

Or, the article does give three other more appropriate (natural, no crazy synthetics) sugar-craving options:
  • Ciao Bella Ecuadorian Passion Fruit Sorbet - which is made with all-natural ingredients (including sugar). You just have to be careful, because the product is sold in pint-sized quantities, which is a LOT more than the 1/2 cup serving that WH mag recommends. Also, you have to not eat directly from the pint...
  • Pepperidge Farm Gingerman Homestyle Cookies - these yummy cookies are just like home-made ones you get at Christmas. However, to get less than 100 calories, you can only eat 3... so becareful and hide the bag once you've had those few.

  • Thomas' Hearty Grains Double Fiber Honey Wheat muffin with 2 tsp Smucker's Sweet Orange Marmalade - Although this is a real-food item (I think the marmalade is the real stuff at least), who really can use only 2tsp of marmalade? Try measuring that out and see if you can do it. Honestly, in this case, just use a whole damn tablespoon and realize you might get more than 100 calories. Just use those calories to work out harder later that day or tomorrow and you won't be set back on your goals.

Second: Sure, I get it that we all sometimes just need to reach for something sweet, salty, savory, crunchy, etc, even if "it's not on our diet plan", but think about this: Why can't it be on your diet plan? Sure, some foods should really be avoided due to their high synthetic chemical content, and sure, I understand caloric balance (or caloric deficit to lost weight) but why the heck can't a girl have a piece of chocolate and just know that some days your caloric needs are higher than you THINK they are, or that you will need to work it off later?

Almost all foods should be able to fit into your diet plan. And, remember, a diet is not DIE with a "T" at the end, but it's a way of eating to meet your body's needs for energy and, in a sense, life.

There is no need to starve yourself to get the body you want, and when it comes to eating something you really want, just factor it into your diet plan, and know how to balance the calories in other places either with other food choices or with more exercise. Or, just chalk it up to a higher calorie day that we all need about once a week to help prevent metabolic derrangements that come with ultra-low calorie dieting?

Third: I'm sick, sick, sick of people thinking that fat-free ultimately means you can eat it without getting fat. What year are we living in, really? 1970? Remember: fat is something your body NEEDS to help it use more fat as a fuel. Also, fat keeps you more satisfied for a longer period of time than any other food (protein is right after it). Finally, some fat is essential, meaning that your body can NOT make it, and must get it from food you eat.

So, when Women's Health recommended fat-free microwave popcorn, I almost wanted to scream (OK, I did...). They recommend this to help combat salt cravings, but I much prefer their other option of the Kalamata Olives. At least with the olives you're getting healthy monounsaturated fat and some protein, where with the popcorn, you're getting nothing but carbs and salt. Plus, whatever chemicals they use to make that popcorn pop for you in the microwave, might really not be so good for you. (Then, there's my whole opinion on microwaves in general.... but I won't go there).

Sure, popcorn has fiber and you can eat three cups and only get 94 calories, but why can't you just have 2 cups that you pop naturally in an air-popper and then add your own satisfying fat (butter or olive oil perhaps) plus some nutritious sea salt? Why? Probably because it takes too long to make (really, it doesn't) and we've become a society of "Feed me Now, Feed me Quick, I don't care if it's healthy for me or not". Or, because we've starved ourselves at work and now we're pulling out the bag of fat-free microwave popcorn to make it through the rest of the day. Better idea: eat more good food during the day and you won't have to slam a bag of popcorn down your throat just to feel better.


Well, those are just lovely thoughts on an early Saturday morning. I've got to get some breakfast in my belly before I head to the gym, and you can bet your bottom that I'll be eating healthy, natural, fat, protein and carbs and nothing artifical or synthetic. And, I won't be starving either.

PS. My weight-loss goals are moving along excellently. Already I'm fitting into pants I couldn't wear just 3 weeks ago (literally, couldn't even button them up). Eating and exercing are good things :)


Anonymous said...

Can you give us your thoughts on microwaves? I'm intrigued now..

Kat Argonza said...

I remember once upon a time that people were obsessed about "negative calorie" foods, like certain fruits that take more calories to digest than they contain. Apparently, the assumption was that if you ate enough of thsoe, you could literally eat whatever you want because you were creating a calorie defecit! Isn't that just crazy?

Too good to be true, definitely.

Barbara C. said...

Hi Cassandra. I just bought The New Rules of Lifting for Women. I am 47 years old and am new to strength-training. I am also very interested in nutrition. I have just skimmed the book so far, but in reading your blog post, I'm confused why Lou Schuler indicates on page 79 that "we [presumably including you] have no problems with that [artificial sweeteners]" and "If there were any serious health risks from artificial sweeteners we'd know about them by now." Your blog post clearly indicates that you feel otherwise. I'm really torn as it's nice to avoid the empty sugar calories when drinking tea and coffee, but I worry that these sweeteners can't be good. What's the real story?? Thanks.

Trixie said...

Hey Cass,
This post was great!
So as long as I meet my daily protein requirements,does it really matter what "treat" I choose if it fits into my calorie goals??
For example is it better to choose a 1/2 cup of sugar free ice-cream vs. 1/2 cup (same calorie) low fat ice-cream????
It's the calories in the end correct?

Cassandra Forsythe said...

Hi Trixie,
In my opinion, real sugar (minimally...) might be better in the long run than artificial sweeteners.

Cassandra Forsythe said...

Barbara C:

For me personally, I'm just not sure our unregulated use of artificial sweeteners is such a good idea. So many people become constipated, develop chronic headaches/migranes, allergic reactions, and who knows what else. Also, I've seen in our lab that artificial sweeteners function just like sugar in the body, ie. the body responds to it just like sugar. Visit this link here too for more information:

Cassandra Forsythe said...

Here are a few things to read regarding microwaves:

I haven't used a microwave to cook my food in over a year and don't miss it at all.

Bernee said...

Some people actually believe that air popped popcorn is too dry. Now that's some messed up taste buds!