Information Unlimited: No.10 snack foods

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Snack foods - a guide

Eating patterns have changed dramatically. In the 1930s, the average person ate four full meals each day with one snack in between. A recent survey has revealed that 6 per cent of eight to 16-year-olds children and 18 per cent of 15 to 16-year-old teenage girls leave home without eating breakfast. This may be one reason why children snack throughout the day on chocolate and crisps, which are high in sugar, fat and salt - an unhealthy combination.

Food basics

A healthy diet should be approximately 1/3 starchy foods such as bread, pasta, rice and potatoes (carbohydrate and fibre ) and 1/3 fruits and vegetables (vitamins and minerals). The rest of your nutrition should come from moderate amounts of fish, meat, tofu, eggs, milk, cheese, yoghurt and small amounts of unsaturated oils or fats (calcium, protein, iron).

Food and drink containing fat and sugar should make up the smallest part of your diet. Adults should always choose low-fat foods but young children need a certain amount of fat in their daily diet. Most people need to double the amount of fruit and vegetables that they eat to reach the required five portions a day. Where possible, choose unprocessed foods such as wholemeal bread, porridge oats and natural yoghurt. A balanced diet helps prevent health problems such as constipation and tooth decay. It boosts immunity and reduces the risk of developing some cancers and heart problems.

Unhealthy eating is also thought to contribute to depression and chronic fatigue.

Hidden ingredients and food labels

n Energy (calories) and nutrients should be voluntarily listed on packaging. Additives, artificial sweeteners and preservatives are legally required to be listed.

n Fat is often listed in ingredients as vegetable oil, shortening or butter. If you can't find information about fat on a product label, look in a cookbook to get a rough idea of how much is needed to cook it at home.

n Foods relatively high in fat are cakes, biscuits, crisps, sausages, burgers, chocolate, sausages and fried foods.

n Savoury snacks such as crisps contain as much as 35% fat. Because they have a wide surface area, they absorb more fat. Thicker crisps or chips contain less fat.

n Many foods and drinks contain hidden sugars. If sugar is high up on the ingredients list, it is usually one of the main ingredients. Beware of words ending in "-ose" - i.e. glucose or fructose as it is usually just another word for sugar. Soft and alcoholic drinks can contain enormous amounts of sugar. A can of cola contains eight teaspoons of sugar.

n 70 per cent of your salt intake is hidden in food e.g.: a bag of crisps contains 2.5 grams of salt. The advised maximum intake of salt is six grams but most of us consume about nine grams daily.

Too much salt (sodium), may lead to high blood pressure, heart disease, osteoporosis, kidney disease or stroke. ASDA's supermarkets have introduced a campaign to cut salt in 4,000 of their own branded products.

n Some packs give calorie content and grams of fat per portion. When choosing a sandwich, compare the percentage of fat rather than looking at the calorie content. A sandwich may have more calories but contain less fat and sugar making it a healthier option.

Healthy snacks

n Eating regular balanced meals can help keep weight down because people are less likely to snack if they eat properly.

n If you are tired and hungry during the day an ideal snack would be a scone with a piece of fruit. This food combination (carbohydrate, natural sugars, fibre ) releases energy more slowly without dramatic blood sugar level fluctuation. Chocolate or sweets raise blood sugar levels more rapidly giving an instant energy rush followed by a dip which leaves you feeling even more hungry and tired.

n More than 3 million sandwiches are eaten daily. Choose fillings such as lean meat, skinless chicken, half-fat cheese, tuna, prawn, hard-boiled eggs, chopped raw vegetables, bean and nut spreads.

n Spreads and mayonnaise can be the fattiest part of a sandwich or burger.

n Pasta or rice salads with peppers, kidney beans, chicken, tuna.

n Soup.

n Jacket potatoes and lower fat fillings, cottage cheese, baked beans.

n Currant buns without icing, scones and low sugar jams.

n Low-fat yogurt, fromage frais with fresh fruit.

n Pizza using vegetarian toppings.

n Plain popcorn.

n Breadsticks, rice cakes, crackers, oatcakes, unsalted nuts.

n Vegetable sticks with dips like salsa, low-fat yogurt or humus.

n Rice pudding.

Nutrition advice and tips

The Health Education Authority produces free healthy eating recipe cards if you send a 45p A5 envelope SAE to EHE Recipe cards, PO Box 365 Milton Park, Abingdon, OXON OX14 4US

The Women's Nutritional Advisory Service - clinics and telephone consultations for women - 01273 487366 - premium rate telephone adviceline directory 0839 556615.

British Nutrition Foundation - 0171-404 6504.

Institute for Optimum Nutrition - 0181-877 9993 for lists of nutritional consultants in your area.

Society for the Promotion of Nutritional Therapy - 01825 872914 - A campaigning organisation concerned with health issues.

British Dietetic Association for contacting state registered dieticians 0121-6435483.

`Women Unlimited - The Directory for Life', Penguin pounds 9.99