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Supermarket snack foods

I recently had an "aha" moment immediately followed by a facepalm while I was doing my grocery shopping. I don't know how I have never ever noticed this before, but once I did, it made a lot of things very clear to me.

I was wandering through the supermarket looking for nuts. The trail mix, unsalted, snacking kind. It was the same supermarket I usually go to, but in a different suburb so I had to read all of the signs on the isles to find what I wanted. "Nuts", I thought to myself, "they will be in the isle labelled snacks". Ummmm.... no. This is what was in the isle labelled SNACKS:


Not one of these foods should be considered a "snack". 'Party supplies', maybe. Or just call the isle 'Chips'. But please do not call this isle 'Snacks' because they most definitely are not.

Imagine if the isle for snacks actually had shelf stable snack foods in it. I am deliberately differentiating them as shelf stable because I think we all know that a piece of fruit, a tub of yoghurt or some veggie sticks are all snacks. But what if this isle had the snacks that were actually snack foods so you could walk into the supermarket and find a selection of healthier options for lunchboxes, desk drawers at work or things to keep in your pantry?

I found the isle marked 'Health Foods' equally bamboozling, containing everything from sports supplements and protein powders through to food items for people with intolerances, and snacks that contained health claims that didn't actually stack up.

It all led me to wonder- do we really know the difference between a snack and a treat? Our food environment has such an alarming impact on the choices we make for our health, and when our food environment suggests that a snack is a food high in sugar, salt and saturated fats, then we are in big trouble.

Snacks v. treats

From a Nutritionist's point of view, a SNACK is:

  • a small meal, that satisfies hunger
  • tides us over between meals
  • an opportunity to provide our body with nourishment
  • nutrient dense

From a Nutritionist's point of view, a TREAT is:

  • a food we only have occasionally, but to be savoured and enjoyed without guilt
  • often less nutrient dense or contains nutrients we only want in moderation
  • higher in calories than a food we would eat anytime

The most recent Australian Health Survey revealed that over one-third (35%) of our total daily energy in 2011-12 came from foods and beverages classified as “discretionary”. ONE THIRD!! That's an opportunity missed to provide our body with fuel, vitamins and minerals, fibre for our gut bacteria, heart health and so much more.

So what actually makes a snack?

When I am looking for snack foods, this is my personal checklist:

  1. I am actually hungry? Or am I just bored, cold, tired?
  2. Is there a fresh option that is more readily available. Think a piece of fruit or serve of yoghurt.

If the answer to number 2 is "no", then I look for the following in packages:

  • Will I feel satisfied after eating this?
  • What is the serving size? And is that the amount I will actually eat?
  • How much energy is in this product?
  • How much sugar is in this product?
  • How much sodium (this is how we record salt on nutrition labels) is in this product?
  • What is the fat breakdown like?
  • And finally, depending on the time of day, my appetite and so on, I may also consider protein

 Do you know what to look for on a nutrition panel?

The sad reality is that more of us do not know how to read a nutrition panel than do. By the time we are adults we can tell the time, understand speed, distance, weight and a raft of other measurements. But at no point do we learn to read and make informed decisions about nutrition labels. I could easily spend hours on the topic. So if this is an area where you feel out of your comfort zone, its well worth considering an appointment to set yourself up for success.

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