Healthy Snacking: A Live Chat with Cleveland Clinic Dietitian Cindy Moore

Snacks needn't be your diet downfall -- learn how to snack in a healthy way

WebMD Weight Loss Clinic - Live Events Transcript

Snacks can be the downfall of good intentions or they can be a healthy part of a good eating plan. We talked with Cindy Moore, MS, RD, LD, FADA director of the nutrition therapy department at The Cleveland Clinic, about how to make smart snack choices.

The opinions expressed herein are the guest's alone and have not been reviewed by a WebMD physician. If you have questions about your health, you should consult your personal physician. This event is meant for informational purposes only.

Moderator: Our guest today is dietitian Cindy Moore, of The Cleveland Clinic. She will answer your questions about healthy snacking choices.

Member question: Is fruit bad to snack on at any time of the day? I know that some fruits have natural sugar in them but which ones? Which fruits are best?

Moore: Fruit is a great food choice any time of the day. The key is to eat a variety of fruits, and all fruits are going to contribute a variety of beneficial nutrients. Citrus fruits, such as oranges and grapefruits, are going to contribute vitamin C. Some fruits, such as berries and grapes, will be richer sources of fiber, but most fruits will contribute vitamins A, C, a variety of minerals, they will be low in calories, filling because of their water content, and just a terrific food to snack on.

Member question: Is it a good idea to snack if you're an emotional eater?

Moore: My advice for an emotional eater is to be careful. Snacking can be a healthy behavior for emotional eaters, as long as one doesn't overindulge or select foods that are very high in calories. However, I would recommend that an emotional eater get in touch with when and why and what they generally choose to snack on. Try to address the root issue and then from that point, determine the most appropriate foods to snack on.

In other words, recognizing that you're an emotional eater doesn't give you a license to snack with abandon, however, it does permit you to snack -- just on smaller amounts and selecting your food choices carefully.

Moderator: So knowing your emotional "triggers" can help?

Moore: Correct. I think that you first need to determine what is setting you off, then you need to evaluate what should be the next physical response. Should it be eating, should it be physical activity, or should it be something else?

Member question: In regard to eating fruits and vegetables, are there any nutrients that are lost through peeling the skins?

Moore: There certainly may be some nutrient loss when you're removing the skin from a fruit or vegetable, however, in doing so it may make for a more enjoyable eating experience. For example, I wouldn't enjoy eating a kiwi unless it was peeled because of the fuzzy outside. The same applies to an orange. Nevertheless, the nutrients found in the flesh of the fruit will be a wonderful source and I would recommend not worrying about the small loss from the nutrients in the skin.

There may be some fruits or vegetables where eating the skin is perfectly acceptable and in fact may contribute additional fiber, such as eating an apple or cooking potatoes with the skin on. In those cases, leaving the skin on does not detract from the pleasurable eating experience and gives you the benefit from all of the nutritional values of that food.

Member question: What are the healthiest snacks for someone who loves the chips and saltier snack foods?

Moore: Often when we enjoy chips and salty snack foods it's because we enjoy the crunch, the texture from eating that food, and in that case foods such as ready-to-eat dry cereal, bread sticks, rice cakes, or even nuts may be a very acceptable and healthier substitute.

If it is the salt or the saltiness that is craved, adding a small amount of table salt to the cereal, selecting nuts that are lightly salted, or even enjoying crackers may be a nice substitute to replace the saltiness.

Moderator: I know I just love the saltiness! Just how bad is salt? For a while there it seemed salt was considered a real culprit, but these days it's all about the fat.

Moore: When we look at the amount of salt or sodium in our diets, we need to really look at the whole array of foods that we eat. Much of the salt or sodium in our diets comes from highly processed foods. If you frequently eat frozen prepared entrees, luncheon meats, boxed dinner mixes, and similar foods, your sodium intake is likely to be high.

However, if you eat a variety of fruits and vegetables, lower-fat dairy products, protein sources, meats, poultry, and fish prepared from scratch, and a variety of whole grains, it's likely that you can afford to add a little table salt when desired and not get into problems with too much sodium.

Member question: Any suggestions for someone who works full time, goes to class part time, and works out at the gym? I'm trying to lose weight, but finding it difficult to eat the right foods.

Moore: I think it's important for me to define snacking, because snacking, to me, is to choose foods that are healthful that could even be eaten at mealtime, but are easily accessible and fairly convenient.

With such a busy schedule, as you described: working full time, going to school, and working out, convenience is going to be an important component to you. Often simple behavior changes can give you healthful foods but very quickly. For example, if once a week someone chops up some fresh fruit and puts it in a bowl that food now becomes a convenient snack. You can scoop out a portion and enjoy it.

The same applies to vegetables. Buying things that are all ready to eat, such as baby carrots or some other vegetable mixes such as broccoli pieces and slaw that may just need to have some dressing added, are convenient, healthful foods to snack on.

Just as convenient are foods such as:

  • Whole grain bagels that you can easily add some low-fat cream cheese or peanut butter to
  • Sliced cucumbers (cut them in the morning and have them ready to grab later in the day)
  • Lightly salted or unsalted pretzels, particularly whole grain pretzels
  • Ready-to-eat cereals, particularly those that are whole grain
  • Almost any dried fruit is a great snack, and it can be combined with some nuts and some ready to eat cereal for a trail mix

If refrigeration is available, these dairy foods are also a healthful snack and provide calcium, protein, and little or no fat:

  • Yogurt
  • Puddings
  • Smoothies
  • Skim milk-based cheese
  • Cheese sticks

Member question: I'd like to use whey protein as meal replacement when I don't have time during the week. Is that practical for weight loss?

Moore: From your question I gather that you are trying to consume a diet higher in protein. I'm not sure if you're also restricting carbohydrates. As a registered dietician my philosophy is "food first." There are many nutrients naturally founds in foods that are not going to be present in a manufactured supplement. Meat, poultry, fish, eggs, cheese, and a variety of plant-based protein sources, such as legumes, soy products, nuts, and seeds are going to be rich sources of protein. But they will also contribute valuable vitamins and minerals. Iron, for example, a variety of B vitamins, and zinc, are just a few nutrients that are naturally found in these wonderful foods that may or may not be present in a protein supplement.

Time may be a concern, but I would also say that there's no comparison in the taste value between a protein supplement and a food that's a rich source of protein. So if time is limited, consider a peanut butter sandwich or a container of yogurt the next time you want that protein supplement.

Member question: I need some ideas other than soy yogurt for quick soy snacks.

Moore: There are a variety of snacks that contribute soy, but may taste better:

  • Soy nuts are a great snack for those who like a little crunch, and they come in a variety of flavor enhancers, such as hickory smoked. They can be mixed with dried fruits and they're a great source of soy protein and fiber.
  • Smoothies made with tofu can also be a great soy snack. Since tofu is relatively tasteless, the flavor will come from the fruits or sweetening that's added to the smoothie.
  • With a little extra time, one can make a soy cheese from tofu or just go and buy soy-based cheese.
  • There are a variety of manufactured foods that are made with soy flour, but another excellent choice is soy milk or soy beverage. It comes in a variety of flavors made by a variety of manufacturers. My advice, if you have tried a soy milk brand and didn't care for the flavor, is to try another brand, because each manufacturer creates a singularly unique flavor for their soy milk. So try an array of soy milk products and I think you'll find one that you enjoy.
  • Another soy source is a soy nut butter, which has a similarity to peanut butter and can be eaten with a whole grain bread or cracker.
  • A very popular item, if you do cook at all, is textured vegetable protein, which, when cooked, resembles ground meat. It can be used in chili, it can be seasoned to taste like sausage, and of course, there are a variety of hamburger- and chicken-type patties made with textured vegetable or soy protein, as well.

"[One study found] people who ate six meals a day had lower cholesterol levels by 5% than those who ate only one or two meals a day."

Member question: I'm not restricting carbs, but I need a good way of getting enough protein for my workouts and I don't have time to plan.

Moore: If you don't have time to plan, any road is going to take you there. In other words, a small investment in time, even five minutes over the course of a week, can help you to make better food choices. Spending a few minutes in the grocery store thinking about the foods that you want to have available to snack on at home, or to take with you to work or school during the week, or to throw in your gym bag, will make a tremendous difference in achieving your overall goals.

If you don't take a few minutes to think about those choices when you're shopping or before you go shopping you're likely to come up short during the week and not have the right choices when you are hungry, and then making some unhealthful decisions as the week progresses. So reconsider what a small investment in planning might make and the overall benefits that it wields.

Member question: So just what is the difference between a snack and a meal? That might sound like a dumb question, but I like to eat a number of times during the day instead of three bigger meals. As long as my "snacks" are healthy, can they be considered "mini-meals?"

Moore: Absolutely. The food choices for snacks can be the same as your food choices for meals. In fact, you're likely to eat more healthfully if you have that mindset. Unfortunately, some people equate snacking with license to eat chips, cookies, cakes and pies, and candy. Snacking can be a very healthful behavior when you choose your foods wisely.

In fact, one study reported in the British Medical Journal this past year found that people who ate six meals a day had lower cholesterol levels by 5% than those who ate only one or two meals a day. The reduction was in the harmful LDL cholesterol or the bad cholesterol.

So snacking generally implies a smaller volume of food but still including foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy, plant and animal protein sources, nuts, seeds, and oils. By eating smaller but more frequent meals you're likely to better manage hunger and your energy levels, and studies have found you're more likely to maintain a healthier weight.

Member question: I'm type 2 diabetic, injecting long-lasting insulin at night, and quick-acting insulin with each of three meals per day. The doctor said no snacks -- but then agreed to sugarless candy, and diet pop, but insists no food for snacks. My meals are now twice the size they used to be -- my mind insists I need to eat enough to get to the next meal! Are there any nonfood snacks you can think of that I can use to convince myself I really will survive to the next meal? I've gained 30 pounds since going on insulin in May, and my doctor just isn't listening to me, since my blood sugar has dropped from 8 to 6.4 doing it his way.

Moore: Clearly your doctor knows your medical history and is having some success with managing your blood sugar levels. There really are not any nonfoods that are options. Consuming no-calorie beverages will make you feel a little more full and water and beverages that are sweetened with artificial sweeteners are choices. But other than that, if this is a plan that is really not acceptable to you then I would talk to your doctor further about that plan.

Member question: Is hydrogenated food bad for health?

Moore: That's an excellent question. Many foods that we as Americans have come to enjoy as snack foods, unfortunately, have hydrogenated fats in them. With the recent legislation that will require food manufacturers to identify trans fatty acids in their foods, consumers will be better equipped to make wise snacking choices. Unfortunately, that legislation does not require manufacturers to list this information until January of 2006. Many food manufacturers have already begun to add this valuable information to their food labels, but not all.

Foods, such as crackers, chips, cookies, and other baked foods, as well as many highly processed foods contain hydrogenated fats and oils. My recommendation for you to lower your trans fatty acid intake now is to change your snacking habits to include fruits -- both fresh and dried-- as well as nuts and seeds, and more whole grain foods -- such as bread and bagels.

The good news is that it will become easier for us to identify foods containing hydrogenated fats as more manufacturers include this on their labels, and this legislation will also prompt more food manufacturers to change the ingredients they use in their foods so that there is less hydrogenated fat added to foods in our food supply.

Member question: Hi Cindy, I am a borderline diabetic. I just recently put myself on this "no sugar" diet. I have been following it for two weeks now and I seem to have lost some weight. But there is one problem I still get the urges and am tempted by other family members to snack on junk food. Do you think that this is a good idea for me to go on this diet?

Moore: Whether someone has diabetes or not, reducing the amount of sugar in our diets is certainly fine. There is no danger to your health and because so many sweet foods are rich sources of calories, cutting back on them should help you lose weight and better control your blood sugar levels.

To make it easier on yourself, you may want to consider more healthful snacking options so that you're reducing sugar in your diet, but still allowing yourself the opportunity to snack if you want to. Consider snacking on fresh fruit or vegetables as a way to include a variety of vitamins and minerals in your diet without a lot of extra calories. Because these foods have quite a bit of water in them they will keep you feeling full for a longer amount of time so that you have the resolve to walk away from your previous snacking habits.

Member question: What types of foods help increase your energy level? I have noticed that I have an afternoon energy slump, but I'm also frequently sluggish when I wake up even when I have had enough sleep. I do get up really early (5 a.m.) but I thought my body would have adjusted to this schedule.

Moore: Foods that contain carbohydrates are going to be a great fuel source when we need to wake up in the morning as well as when we need a pick-me-up midday. However, the wisest choices for carbohydrates foods include whole grains, not concentrated sweets. Having a granola bar that has whole oats, nuts, fruits in it will sustain you, will give you energy, but will keep you energized for a longer amount of time than having a candy bar that's packed with sugar, which will give you a quick energy boost but won't stay with you very long.

Oftentimes meals or snacks will stay with you longer if you have a combination of foods that contribute protein as well as carbohydrates. For example, having a half a sandwich and a glass of milk or having a granola bar and a piece of fruit and a yogurt, combining foods so that you have complex carbohydrates, protein, and fiber sources, will be a great energizer that will stay with you for a long amount of time.

Member question: About a month ago, I started a program to get back into shape after many years of inactivity. This involves at least 30 minutes a day of vigorous exercise and a change in diet. Nuts -- particularly almonds, pecans, and walnuts -- are used as munchie food. I've read that consuming nuts helps to decrease the risk of heart disease; however they also have a relatively high fat content. Is eating nuts at cross-purposes to a healthy diet?

Moore: Nuts are a great food choice, but must be eaten in moderation.

Nuts have a wonderful nutrition profile. They contribute protein, fiber, and wonderful monounsaturated fatty acids, which help to reduce our risk for heart disease and cancers. The down side is that nuts are a concentrated energy source; in other words they have a lot of calories for a small amount.

It's perfectly fine, in fact it's wonderful to include nuts in your diet, even daily, but you need to limit the portions to one or two small handfuls each day so that you don't consume too many calories and gain weight.

Moderator: We are almost out of time. Before we wrap up for today, do you have any final comments for us, Cindy?

Moore: Snacking is great; skipping meals is to be avoided. If you have to pick between the two, snack, making wise food choices, but being mindful of the amount of calories your body needs to maintain a healthy weight. Don't try to skip meals, because it will just create more hunger and it will lessen your resolve to eating healthfully.

Moderator: Our thanks to Cindy Moore for joining us today! Be sure to check out all of the WebMD Weight Loss Clinic's nutrition, exercise, and heart health information.

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