If eating better tops your New Year's resolution list, consider adding a midday snack to your healthy eating plan. The right snack can increase your energy level, prevent hunger and food cravings, and deliver nutrients missing from meals. But if hunger strikes when you're on-the-go, it's easy to grab whatever is close by – often something with too many calories and/or too much sugar.
A typical coffee-shop muffin, for example, delivers roughly 400 calories and six teaspoons of sugar. Even a granola bar can pack in as many as three teaspoons of added sugar.
A healthy grab-and-go alternative: single-serve hummus snacks. Judging by the number of smaller-sized hummus products I've noticed in grocery stores, it seems companies are recognizing the need for healthy snacks people can grab on-the-run. They're convenient, portable and portion-controlled, and they deliver on the nutrition front.
Hummus, a dip made from mashed chickpeas, tahini (sesame seed paste), vegetable oil (unsaturated fat) and lemon juice, provides low-glycemic carbohydrates that give a sustained energy release, rather than a quick burst. It's also a decent source of protein, B vitamins and iron. Each company's hummus snacks have little if any cholesterol-raising saturated fat, are trans-fat free, and are void of artificial preservatives.
Eager to try a new product I could recommend to my private practice clients, I decided to try three brands of mini hummus snacks. The Mediterranean Snack Food Co.'s tapaz2go, sold mainly in natural and gourmet food stores, pairs hummus (classic, red pepper or roasted garlic) with lentil crackers (made with lentil and corn flours). This gluten-free snack provides 250 calories, seven grams of protein and 400 (red pepper + crackers) to 485 milligrams (classic, roasted garlic + crackers) of sodium. While the hummus tastes darn close to my homemade version, with 485 mg of sodium, this snack provides one-third of your daily requirements. More than I like for a snack. To keep your daily sodium in check, stick to lower-sodium, unprocessed foods at meals.
Summer Fresh's Snack'n Go hummus products are available in original, roasted garlic and roasted red pepper flavours, and comes with three flatbread crackers (made from white flour) for 190 calories, six grams of protein and 300 mg of sodium. Pretty respectable for a snack.
Sabra teams up its hummus (classic, roasted garlic or roasted red pepper) with pretzels (again, made from white flour). If you're watching your waistline, however, I suggest you share this 380-calorie snack (no double dipping). This snack provides more hummus (3.5 ounces) than the Summer Fresh (two ounces) and the Mediterranean Snack Food Co. (2.8 ounces) products. As part of a weight-loss plan, snacks should contain 150 to 200 calories for women and 200 to 250 calories for men.
One nutritional downside: Sabra's hummus and pretzel snack provides nearly two-thirds of a day's sodium (860 mg). That's partly due to the larger hummus portion, but excess sodium also comes from the pretzels. To cut the salt, consider trying Sabra's Classic two-ounce hummus serving (150 calories, 260 mg sodium) with your own raw veggies, whole-grain crackers or pita bread. (Summer Fresh also offers four packs of hummus minis.)
When buying hummus – single-serve or otherwise – choose a product that's made with a healthy oil (e.g. olive oil, sunflower oil), contains no artificial ingredients and has no more than 150 milligrams of sodium per 30-gram serving (two tablespoons' worth).
Ready-to-eat hummus and cracker packs are convenient for busy people in need of a snack, but they shouldn't squeeze other nutrient-rich, portable snacks from your diet, such as fruit, nuts and yogurt. Be sure to include a variety of healthy snacks in your diet.
Leslie Beck, a Registered Dietitian, is based at the Medisys clinic in Toronto. She can be seen every Thursday at noon on CTV News Channel's Direct www.lesliebeck.com