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Smart Snacks – Healthy Ways to Power Up for Mental Performance
Fueling Up the Healthy Way
Ready or not, fall is here! Anyone else notice the leaves starting to change? For many of us, this means dusting off the backpack, stocking up on school supplies, packing lunches, and organizing multiple schedules. Getting back in the groove can be a challenge after a leisurely summer season; however, fueling our bodies and our minds with the right nutrients will allow us to successfully tackle this challenge.
It is a well-known fact regular physical activity results in positive physical and mental benefits. Proper nutrition is no exception. In addition to positively impacting physical performance, nutrient rich foods provide the right “fuel” for the mind to absorb and retain new information. In other words, eating the right foods feeds the mind for academic success. As you prepare for a new academic year, take some time to plan a menu of healthy snacks to keep you energized and focused throughout the day.
Top Quality of Smart Snacks
- Prioritize quality: Choose foods that are “closest to the earth”. This means selecting foods that are in the most natural, unprocessed form. For example, selecting an apple over applesauce or 100% apple juice is thebest option. While natural, unsweetened apple sauce and juices are not necessarily “taboo” foods, they lose important nutrients through processing and lack the healthy fiber contained in the skin of the whole apple. The same rule applies to vegetables – choose raw veggies like carrots or sugar snap peas versus canned or pickled options.
- Eat a variety. Consuming a rainbow of foods provides the body with a spectrum of different vitamins and minerals; therefore, it is important to eat a combination of different fruits and vegetables throughout the week. A morning snack may look like this: half a cup of berries with plain Greek yogurt. If the berries aren’t sweet enough to cut the tartness of the yogurt, try adding a modest amount of raw honey. An afternoon snack might include apple slices and string cheese.
- Don’t be afraid of fats. Fat is a critical component to a balanced and healthy diet. Fat is often vilified as being the “devil” of macronutrients. Not the case! However, the type of fat does matter. Choosing foods high in monounsaturated (avocados, olive oil, canola oil) and polyunsaturated fats (corn oil, soybean oil, cold-water fish) are recommended. It is important to note the caloric content of fat is a little more than twice that of carbs and proteins. Fat has 9 calories per gram while carbs and protein are 4 calories per gram. Because fats are the most energy-dense, foods higher in this nutrient should be consumed in moderation if weight loss is the goal, but it does not mean we should avoid these all together! Consider packing an ounce of raw almonds as a quick, but highly effective energy producing snack.
- Whole grain goodness. The best way to ensure that a food is whole grain is to read the ingredients label. The first or second ingredient should say whole grain or whole wheat (versus “wheat”). Examples of whole grains include popcorn, rolled oats, quinoa, brown rice, and oatmeal. Limit foods that say “enriched” as this indicates refined (processed) grains and the food is not considered whole grain. Another important factor – check the fiber content of the food. Whole grains are much higher in fiber than processed or white bread products. Fiber has “staying power” and helps us feel full longer.
- Power-up with protein. Protein is critical to many biological and biochemical functions. The body is constantly breaking down and regenerating cells and protein (amino acids) provide the building blocks essential for repairing and restoring those cells. Protein, like fiber, is satiating and can stave off hunger longer than other low-protein foods. To power-up a snack, try pairing a protein rich food item with whole grains or fruits/veggies. For example, cottage cheese is considered a protein and is easy to pair with fruit. It is also possible to combine grains with legumes (ex. Rice and beans) or legumes and seeds.
Proper nutrition doesn’t have to be hard or expensive. Everyone’s needs are different and it is important to explore what will work best for you and your family. The bottom line: have fun with foods and enjoy the experience of snacking creatively and in a way that results in enhanced physical and mental performance.
For fun and healthy snack ideas, visit: http://www.foodnetwork.com/chefs/ellie-krieger.html
Happy and healthy snacking and remember it’s All About That Balance.