Microchips – Very Small Snack Foods

March 20, 2012 in Foodland, Health Claims, Weight Management by Joyce Bunderson

Doesn’t the word snack just sound small – a little larger than having a bite or nibble, but not a meal and certainly not a feast? I mean, just a little snack – right? Years ago, Sophia (Estelle Getty), one of The Golden Girls said, “A few more snacks like that and the only thing you’ll be able to fit into is a saddle.” It’s true, Sophia often made rude remarks, but sometimes comedy is a wake-up call to reality. Snacks are worth scrutinizing.

Paul Rudnick, playwright, screenwriter and novelist, said: “I believe in a benevolent God not because He created the Grand Canyon or Michelangelo, but because He gave us snacks.” While I’ve already written about Taming the Inner Cookie Monster and about snack attacks, I want you to know that I think that Paul Rudnick is on to something – snacks can be a great blessing to our health and wellbeing (or unfortunately, a curse).

Why am I on the subject of snacks again? The USDA has released new data (What We Eat In America) including snacks American’s eat; and it appears that our ever-growing taste for snacks is giving us a load of ‘empty’ calories; that is, calories from solid saturated fats (often trans fats) and added sugars (SOFAS-SOlid Fats And Sugars. As a matter of fact, we’re getting about one-third of all of our daily calories from empty calorie SOFAS.  The intake of SOFAS is associated with increased caloric intake and decreased nutrient intake.

Just keep in mind that we are experiencing (as a nation) an obesity epidemic and the resulting health challenges (e.g. diabetes epidemic, heart disease, etc.). So when we learn that snacking is providing such a large portion of ALL of our calories, not just the unhealthy ones, maybe understanding and working to improve our snack habits could be a real benefit to our health.

Snacks are very profitable to the food makers as well.  SOFAS are cheap and have a very long shelf life.  Thus they can be advertized widely, and can be placed in nooks and crannies that no one would ever have thought, before the snack explosion, to place tempting little packages. Can we go to the check out counter of a department store, grocery store, gas station, convenience store or business entrance desk without being offered something to ‘hold us over’ until the next eating opportunity? Technomic, a market research organization found recently that more Americans are snacking more often than ever before; 48 percent (almost half of consumers polled) say that they’re now snacking at least twice a day, compared to 24% in 2010. Technomics even describes the growth of snacking as a “becoming a consumer lifestyle.”

Note that Technomic is not a public health organization.  They are a marketing company doing research to help the food industry ‘effectively identify opportunities for growth and gain a competitive advantage’ in providing snacks. They are part of the “success story” for the snack food industry that is the opposite pole of the failure story of our inability as consumers, on the whole, to resist snacks and the damage they do to our lives.

We have chronicled the chain of causes that has led to the obesity epidemic.  The market research Technomics does is only a small part of it.  Food Hedonics Research is another part of it – making the snacks very palatable. This research results in finding the ingredients, mouth feel, texture, etc. which will lead people to overeat past the point of being full. Foods have been designed to promote craving. Foods are omnipresent, at practically every place we stop for any reason, gas, groceries, entertainment, sports, or in our own homes. This is the opposite of excellent research on the effect of environmental control on how much we eat.  To make more money, food companies, whether they have deliberately studied this research, or just figured it out – they make sure environmental control is as difficult as possible for consumers to attain.


Since food companies use so many different varieties of research to hook us into consuming their profitable, unhealthy offerings, we should study their research to plan our moves.  Consider some of Technomics’ findings and try to figure out how to counter their plans:

  • Major chains are targeting late-night hours to promote snack items and bar plates. (Note, resistance is lower then, so plan your late hours!).
  • About 37% of consumers have broadened their definition of snacks to include more types of foods… (Counter this by narrowing your definitions)
  • The mini sandwich, slider or wrap has evolved from a simple snack item to a downsized gourmet version of signature full-sized offerings.
  • Impulse purchases are up from two years ago. Sixty-two percent reported that most of the snacks they purchased for away-from-home consumption were impulse purchases.
  • More than 33% of consumers expect to eat more healthful snacks in the coming year. (Here is evidence we consumers see the problem, and see switching as part of the solution).

Some of these almost shout out – BE CAREFUL!! Some of the sliders that I’ve seen are about the size of an old fashioned burger. Let’s face it, the double burgers and king-sized burgers are bigger than most of us need at a regular meal. Do we really need the calories in a small burger as a snack?  The excuse can be made that different individuals have different calorie needs and distribution of intake during the day. “Maybe I’m one that can handle more;” you may argue. But before doing so you may want to discover how many calories you personally can consume and maintain health. The Technomics point about impulse purchases is worthy of careful examination. I think that having a little something both yummy and healthy in the brief case or purse, in case we get “stuck and hungry” may potentially protect us from the food processors lurking with their SOFAS snacks. Certainly, it’s twice as easy not to purchase a packaged snack at the car wash, if you have an apple in your bag.

When we read about all the calories that are being consumed as snacks; it’s easy to become negative with the idea of snacking. But I will share with you (and I think that I have told this before) something from my past (decades ago).  I made an arbitrary rule then for myself – no eating between meals. What I learned was that I did really well with that (early breakfast; 11:30 am lunch) until about 4:30 pm. By about 4:30 I was getting very hungry, but trying really hard not to eat. Then it was time to prepare dinner for the family – Oh dear! I would begin nibbling. Eventually, counting the calories that I ate during dinner prep drove me to change my idea about an afternoon snack. If I have a light lunch, I still need a little snack sometimes. For me a 100 to 150 calorie snack does the job. It translates into much better control of intake at the meal, too. If you pay careful attention to the number of calories and the quality of snack food, you may discover that you don’t need a big snack to get you to the next meal.

Snack Ideas

  • Add your own sweetener to a ¾ cup serving of non-fat Greek yogurt (100 calories) – loaded with protein and calcium. Steer clear of the ‘fruited’ yogurt with often as much as 30 or more grams of fructose, sucrose, and other sweeteners. The ‘fruit on the bottom’ and blended sweetened fruit varieties are notorious for a big load of sugar. A savory blend of herbs stirred into Greek yogurt, is a perfect dip for vegetables. Or try a sweetened blend for fruit slices.
  • Instead of a medium order of French Fries (440 calories or more; lots of fat, starch, and salt) maybe consider a different snack. Total calories taken for the day really is an important issue.
  • Sugary drinks, not only supply empty calories (calories with no nutrients), but the worse part is that they do not contribute to satiety. You’ll still want something else to eat; or you will, shortly after your blood sugar drops.
  • Tree nuts and peanuts are a super wonderful snack. At first glance they appear to be very high in calories; but you may be really surprised how few it takes to nip a ‘snack attack’ in the bud. Their high protein, fiber and nutrient content, makes them a great choice. If you’re worried about their high fat and calorie content, just think portion control. First, the fat in the nuts is a good type of fat; primarily monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, both lower bad cholesterol. Also, heart friendly omega-3 fatty acids are found in nuts. If you have only a tablespoon or two, you may be pleasantly surprised by how satisfied you feel. Another dip idea is nut butter, with fruit or vegetables, or both. Put your serving of nuts in a sandwich bag and carry it with you – now you’re armed against the food processor’s latest SOFAS snack temptation.
  • Fruit is one of the oldest, healthiest snack ideas. Why not adopt it as a new way to make you safe from an afternoon hunger attack?
  • A serving of whole grain crackers, consider taking them out of the package and putting the package back in the cupboard. Reaching into the box, mindlessly munching is a recipe for disaster.

Snacks (especially the SOFAS variety) may be adding to your waistline in a big way, but you can confidently use healthy snacks to make you feel comfortable and well nourished. It may take a little effort, but it’s worth it. You don’t need to keep your snack the size of a microchip, but you will want to pay attention to the nutritional quality and calories in your snacks. When you do, your chosen healthy snacks will contribute to your intake in a way that can become a blessing instead of a curse.