The idea that you can't stop after eating just one of something may be linked with snacks flush with salt and crunch. But it could just as well apply to peach slices or carrot sticks. Ever eaten just one of those?
But there's more in store. Reaching for healthier snacks like fruits and vegetables can be a small way to make a big difference in living a better life.
Foods filled with added sugar, salt or fats pack on the calories, without curbing hunger. As a result, mindless and unhealthy snacking poses significant health risks associated with obesity, including increased risk for diabetes, stroke, high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease.
Medical experts agree that limiting consumption of saturated and trans fats is essential to lowering blood cholesterol levels and reducing the chances of developing heart disease.
Consuming too much sugar can also lead to high blood pressure as well as obesity – an independent risk factor for heart disease and diabetes.
But added fats and sugars are not the only culprits. High dietary salt is a major cause of cardiovascular disease. A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine in February 2010 estimates that if Americans were to cut their salt intake by just a half- teaspoon each day, incidents of heart disease would drop dramatically.
Fruits and vegetables make great munchies
There are a slew of healthy and convenient food options capable of keeping blood cholesterol and sugar levels in check while satisfying hankerings for something crunchy, sweet – or simply delicious.
Fruits and vegetables are naturally low in saturated fats, trans fats, cholesterol, salt and added sugars. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that filling up on a wide variety of produce may help prevent chronic diseases, such as cancer, while contributing little to daily fat and calorie intake – unlike most salty snacks and sweets.
The American Heart Association recommends that adults consume at least 4.5 cups of fruits and vegetables each day. Though not everyone has the time to wash, peel or chop fresh fruits and vegetables, reaching that goal can be made faster and easier by the availability and accessibility of prepared and canned produce.
Sliced pineapple or pears can satisfy a sweet tooth, without added sugars. Canned peas tossed into a salad can provide an extra serving of vegetables and a powerful source of vitamins.
Research has shown that canned foods can be substituted for fresh fruits and vegetables without sacrificing flavor or nutritional value. A study conducted by the University of Illinois Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition, and released in 1997, showed that many canned fruits and vegetables are just as nutritious as their fresh and frozen counterparts, containing similar levels of vitamins A and C, carotenes, potassium and folate. In some cases, the research showed, the canning process actually boosts the effectiveness of lycopene and dietary fiber.
Unlike the seasonal availability of locally grown fresh produce, canned fruits and vegetables are available year-round at the peak of quality. They are also one of the safest forms of food. Canned products are heated and vacuum-sealed, destroying microorganisms that cause foodborne illnesses, the University of Illinois study noted.
Cut calories, not satisfaction
Replacing snacks that are high in salt, sugar and fat with readily available fruits and vegetables will reduce the number of calories, without sacrificing taste. Aside from vitamins and minerals, produce contains fiber and water that add volume to snacks and meals, increasing a sense of fullness. For instance, opting for a bottle of water and a fruit cup between meals rather than a snack-size bag of chips and a soft drink should be more satisfying and would cut more than 300 calories and about 10 grams of fat.
Fruits and vegetables are an important part of a healthy diet, but variety is just as important as quantity. The Harvard School of Public Health notes that no one food offers all essential nutrients. Rather, consuming a wide assortment of fruits and vegetables is key to feeling better, having more energy and living a healthier life.