It Takes Guts to Fight Obesity
The office vending machine, full of colorful packaging and shiny plastic wrappers, can be a diet minefield -- but it doesn't have to be. Sandwiched between the candy bars and giant bottles of soda, there are some healthy alternatives. As a nutritionist, I know it can be difficult to make the best snack choices when faced with so many sugary options, but my list of healthy alternatives will help you navigate the treacherous saturated fat-laden terrain that is the vending machine.
Sweet snacks like cookies and candy can provide a quick sugar fix but will leave you hungry, tired and jonesing for more. With a hefty dose of protein and heart-healthy fats, trail mix is a great substitute. Unlike sugary treats, a small serving of trail mix will keep your energy level up and your metabolism humming all morning long. Just be sure to watch portion size (even the small bags are meant for two) and choose unsalted varieties when possible. Good choices: Mr. Nature's Unsalted Energy Mix (approximately 265 calories, 14 grams fat, 8 grams protein) and Unsalted Trail Mix (approximately 244 calories, 12 grams fat, 8 grams protein).
Nuts are also a winner. Look for unsalted, raw varieties. In addition to protein and healthy fat, nuts contain fiber, which will keep you satisfied until you can sit down to a proper meal. If you're watching your waistline, limit yourself to just a few. A two-ounce bag of Planter's peanuts has 332 calories and 4 grams of saturated fat. A better choice: a one-ounce bag of cashews (157 calories, 5 grams protein, and 10 grams heart-healthy fat).
Granola or Cereal Bars
For a midday snack, choose a granola or cereal bar with less than 150 calories and 5 grams of fat. With 7 grams of protein and 4 grams of fiber, Kashi TLC bars are the clear favorite (140 calories, 5 grams fat), but Nature Valley and Quaker both make healthy options too. For a chocolate fix, I love Nature Valley's Chewy Trail Mix Dark Chocolate & Nut bar. (Nature Valley chewy granola bars: 140 calories, 4 grams fat, 3 grams protein; Quaker chewy granola bars: 90 calories, 1.5 grams fat, 1 gram protein.) Nutrigrain bars are another smart choice (130 calories, 2 grams of fiber).
If you rushed out the door without eating breakfast, choose a granola bar with slightly more heft. Nature Valley Oats 'N Honey is made with whole grains and has less than 1 gram of saturated fat. Add a piece of fruit and a skim latte for a nutritious on-the-go meal.
If you're hankering for candy and a granola bar just won't cut it, go for Raisinets. The chocolate-covered raisins provide a small amount of calcium and potassium and are relatively low in calories and fat. While a snack-size bag is a better choice than a candy bar, try not to make indulging a regular habit: Raisinets are still high in saturated fat (3.3 grams).
Animal Crackers Over 100-Calorie Packs
One-hundred-calorie packs of Chips Ahoy with -- you guessed it -- 100 calories (and 3 grams of fat) are a good alternative to regular cookies, but since they have little protein and fiber, chances are you'll be back at the vending machine before the hour is up. Next time, go for animal or graham crackers instead. Made with whole grains, these crunchy snacks have both fiber and protein.
Be wary of bold claims: A bag of Chex Mix advertises 50 percent less fat than potato chips but is high in calories (210 calories), sodium (368 mg) and saturated fat (2 grams). Baked Lays, with only 125 calories and no saturated fat, are a far better choice (bonus points for 2 grams each of protein and fiber). Pretzels are okay in a pinch, but watch the portion size. A pack of minis or two large sourdough pretzels may be fat free, but it has the same number of calories (250) and more sodium (563 mg) than potato chips.
When it comes to drinks, stick to water, low-fat milk, or unsweetened iced tea. A 15-ounce bottle of 100 percent fruit juice contains 220 calories and 48 grams of sugar, the same amount as a bottle of Coke. While the juice is high in vitamins A and C, the 12 heaping spoonfuls of sugar will give you pep -- and make you crash.
By Victoria Stein