On the Table

Junk snacks spoiling your diet

STAFF WRITERJuly 13, 2011 

Some of you are squeezing the nutrients out of your diet before you take the first bite of fruits and vegetables.

You're eating too much junk, including cookies, cakes, soft drinks, snack chips and highly processed fast foods and packaged foods made with refined ingredients. Junk foods - nutritionists call them "empty calorie foods" - contain relatively few vitamins, minerals and other health-supporting ingredients for the calories they add to your diet.

When you eat junky foods, you displace more nutritious foods from your diet.

For example, a jumbo chocolate chip cookie, nearly devoid of nutritional value, could run you 300 calories or more. That many calories could buy you the heap of nutrients you'd get in a peanut butter sandwich on whole wheat bread, a bean burrito and a large serving of steamed broccoli, or an entire cantaloupe.

Adults, beware

You may think that teenagers are the ultimate junk food eaters, but adults have a substantial junk food habit, too. And many older adults are at risk from a poor diet.

As you age, you may need fewer calories to maintain the same weight (that's especially true if your physical activity level drops). Your vitamin and mineral needs don't decrease, though, so it's important to make what you eat count.

How to cut back

Begin to recondition old eating habits and move toward a more nutrient-dense diet by taking steps such as these:

Shrink it. Buy miniature versions of foods you tend to overeat. For example, buy mini muffins instead of the supersized varieties.

Buy small, 100-calorie packs of chips or the smaller of the big-sized bags. Single-serving packaging or the smaller full-sized package of anything will help trigger you to stop eating sooner than you might if the supply were less limited.

Hide it. It's the old Weight Watchers tip: If it's out of sight, it's more likely to be out of mind and out of your mouth.

If you live in a home with lots of sweets and junky snack foods around, keep them put away in cupboards or the pantry.

Turn the tables. Keep on hand more nutrient-dense foods that are appealing and convenient to eat.

A common feature of junk food is that it's easy to grab and eat from a box or bag. Make it a practice to stock foods you'd be likely to pick up if they were available, such as pre-sliced chunks of pineapple, fresh cherries, a container of carrot and raisin salad from the deli - or whatever it is you particularly like that also happens to be quick and easy.

Create a safe zone. Avoid taking junky foods into your house. Shop from a list, and make sure the list includes some alternatives to less-nutritious options.

For example, buy seltzer water instead of soft drinks, and buy whole grain crackers instead of potato chips. Spring for the watermelon, honeydew or fresh apricots and leave the coffee cake out of your grocery cart.

When it comes to junk food, eat less of it less often. If you're consistent, your diet and health will benefit.

Suzanne Havala Hobbs is a licensed, registered dietitian. Send questions and comments to suzanne@onthetable.net.

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