Tag Archives: Snacks

The Best and Worst Snacks of Olympic Athletes

Michael Phelps is reported to eat 10,000 calories a day, including a breakfast of three fried egg sandwiches, three chocolate chip pancakes, one five-egg omelette, three slices of French toast, and one bowl of grits. Gymnast Jordyn Wieber, on the other hand, eats an extremely clean diet consisting of egg whites, chicken, nuts, seeds, hummus, sushi, and plenty of salad. But Olympic athletes have one thing in common: they snack regularly. Snacks give them a steady boost of energy that will get them through their grueling workouts. See what the healthy snacks they choose so you can eat like an Olympian too — and some of their favorite snacks to skip, as well!

The smart snacks:

Almonds: Paralympic swimmer Jessica Long, participating in her third Paralympic Games, and two-time Olympic soccer gold medalist Heather Mitts regularly snack on almonds. Because of their dose of healthy fats, protein, and fiber, they’ve been shown to increase satiety, thereby reducing overeating and helping to control weight, says a study presented at the 2006 Obesity Society Annual Scientific Meeting. They’re also rich in vitamin E (offering cardiovascular protection), magnesium (for muscle and nerve function) and antioxidants.

Larabars: Soccer player Heather Mitts also fuels up with Larabars, one of the healthier snack or energy bars on the market. Made with just two to eight ingredients and free from artificial ingredients, sweeteners, preservatives, flavorings, or fillers, they’re a great pre-workout snack. In 22 flavors, each bar contains around 6 grams of protein and 3 grams of fiber, as well as healthy fats from nuts, making them a good option for curbing hunger.

Chocolate Milk: Gold medal gymnast Aly Raisman, swimmers Missy Franklin and Nathan Adrian, US Women’s Soccer Team goalkeeper Hope Solo, and Team USA basketball player Carmelo Anthony all pick chocolate milk as their pre-workout snack. Physiologists report that the ratio of carbohydrates to protein is ideal for rebuilding muscles after a grueling workout. Says Raisman, “I definitely feel like it makes a big difference if I have chocolate milk after I work out.” Sip on the childhood favorite after a tough workout for the greatest gains.


Hummus: Jordyn Wieber, a member of the gold medal-winning US Olympic Women’s Gymnastics Team, lists hummus as her favorite snack. Its two primary ingredients, chickpeas and tahini (a sesame seed paste), provide complex carbohydrates for plenty of energy, as well as fiber, protein, and omega-3 fatty acids, which help satiate hunger.

Power Waffles: Two-time Olympic medalist Kerri Walsh likes to snack on “power waffles,” made with whole wheat waffles, sliced strawberries and bananas, almond butter, and a drizzle of agave nectar. With 7 grams of protein and 4 grams of fiber, plus 6 grams of monounsaturated fats (the healthy kind from nuts), it’s an energizing and hunger-curbing snack for under 250 calories. Plus, it’s portable: says Walsh, “I can walk out the door with it.” Nix the agave nectar to get rid of added sugars — the fruits add enough sweetness.

…and the not-so-smart snacks:

Banana chips: Three-time track and field medalist Sanya Richards-Rosslists banana chips as one of her favorite “healthy foods.” But banana chips are often fried in palm oil, resulting in 8.2 grams of saturated fat (fresh bananas have less than one gram of total fat). One ounce also supplies 150 calories — about the same amount as potato chips. For a similar crunch factor, snack on popcorn, pumpkin seeds, snap peas, or kale chips; for more banana flavor, opt for frozen banana slices.

Quaker Oats Chewy Granola Bars: Oftentimes, athletes need quick-digesting carbohydrates to sustain them through long workouts; Chewy Granola Bars, with just 1 gram of protein and fiber each and 7 grams of sugar, offer just that. For the rest of us, granola bars should provide protein, fiber and healthy fats to suppress hunger and tide us over to mealtime. Chewy Granola Bars are also extremely processed and contain six types of sugar, chemical additives, and artificial flavors.

YoCrunch Yogurt: Two-time gold medalist Gabby Douglas calls YoCrunch Yogurt Apple Pie Parfait with Cinna-Crunch “like apple pie in a cup!” And perhaps the breakfast yogurt is too good to be true: it contains just 3 grams of protein and 19 grams of sugar. An equal amount of Greek yogurt packs 13.5 grams of protein and just 4.6 grams of sugar, making it a far superior snack or breakfast. YoCrunch also contains ingredients that probably should be in yogurt, like food starch, artificial flavors, and caramel color.

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Avoid these summer diet disasters

Usually, we tend to eat healthier in the summer: our cravings naturally lean toward light, fresh, minimally processed foods (salads, skewers, fruit). But some summer staples that seem light and fresh — and others that are just summer favorites — can actually derail your New Year’s resolution-imposed summer diet and be the cause of a few unwanted pounds. Learn about these surprising and not-so-surprising summer diet derailers, and try replacing them with healthier options.

Too Much Fro-Yo

Most frozen yogurts have about ⅓ to ½ of the calories and a fraction (if any) of the fat of regular ice cream, so it would make sense to automatically assume it’s a far healthier pick than ice cream. But the calories from fro-yo can add up fast: calorie counts are typically wrong, since aeration — the amount of air pumped into the fro-yo — differs between batches, and because your fro-yo server might overfill your cup. The serving size for a small cup might amount to only 120 calories, but add to that the decorative, towering swirl that topples over your cup, and you might be eating another 100. Further compounding this matter is the fact that frozen yogurt has a “health halo” — people believe it’s a healthy and nutritious snack, so instead of treating it like the dessert it is (like ice cream), we eat it in mammoth servings. Many fro-yo shops offer 16-ounce cups, which can amount to 380 calories and 76 grams of sugar.

Even with a reasonable serving size, frozen yogurt is still a sugar bomb: a ½ cup serving has 20 grams of sugar (fro-yo essentially replaces all of ice cream’s fat with sugar). And toppings like gummy bears, brownies, cookie dough, and Oreos add many more calories and sugar. Finally, replacing an ice cream craving with fro-yo may backfire: full-fat ice cream takes longer to digest and is more satisfying than fro-yo. Instead of handling a craving with a small portion of ice cream, you might end up hitting the fro-yo counter every night of the week to try to satisfy your craving. If you have a true ice cream craving, have a small bowl of the real, full-fat kind.

Road Trips

Unless you’re going on a Whole Foods tour of the United States, road trips are usually food disasters. Half of the problem lies in the lack of nutritious restaurants along the highway; the other half is long stretches of highway with no food at all (except maybe a gas station). When you’re stopping for lunch or dinner, look out for chains that offer customizable meals, like Subway, Chipotle, and Noodles & Company – you can add as many vegetables as you want and add lean, not-fried protein. Normally, local restaurants are the way to go, but on road trips — especially in less populous areas — stick to chains, where you can look up nutritional information.

Packing the right snacks will save you money, time, and calories. For lasting satiety, make sure your snacks have a little bit of protein and fat: whenever you ingest either, a hormone called cholecystokinin is released from your intestines. From there, it signals to your nervous system that you’re full; in the stomach, it slows the rate of digestion. Pack a cooler with cut up vegetables and fruit, and pair them with a handful of nuts or hummus.

If you turn to food when you’re bored, pack popcorn instead of chips and crackers. Popcorn is a whole grain, so it contains filling fiber; it’s a high-volume, low-density food, which decreases hunger; and it has antioxidants, including polyphenols and ferulic acid, which has been shown to fight cancer, diabetes, and neurodegenerative disorders. For more healthy snacks, see Rania Batayneh’s, MPH, recommendations for healthy summer road trip snacks.

Tropical Drinks and Smoothies

Bright, fruity cocktails scream summer. But just one can take up a third of your day’s calories, without adding any nutrients as other whole foods do, or satiating hunger. Summer favorites, like Long Island Ice Teas, Margaritas and Piña Coladas, all contain more than 600 calories. A lot of these calories come from alcohol; instead of the 1.5 ounce shot glass serving, they usually have at least three shots of alcohol. But the rest come from sugary mixers like soda, juice, cordials, and sweet and sour mixes — all of which are nutritionally void.

If cocktails are a must, seek out “culinary cocktails” (one of 2012’s top food trends): cocktails made with fresh herbs, fruits, vegetables, and spices — and a welcome dose of nutrients and antioxidants. Noticeably absent are the sugary, syrupy mixers that add only calories. The Kitchen Upstairs, in Boulder, as well as other restaurants in foodie towns, takes the trend further by incorporating local ingredients: the Whiskey in the Meadow is made of Stranahan’s Rocky Mountain whiskey, muddled 2r’s farm cucumbers, and honey lavender syrup. As a bonus, research has found that the alcohol in liquor enhances the antioxidant activity of fruits — so ask for a few more slices of orange or lemon. Otherwise, pick a portion-controlled beer or glass of wine (make sure it’s the appropriate 5-ounce serving!)

Even drinks sans alcohol can do some waistline damage. If you haven’t checked the nutritional stats at Jamba Juice and other smoothie chains yet, it’s time. Smoothies with sorbet, sherbet, and frozen yogurt contain about 350-400 calories per 16-ounce serving, which isn’t bad; it’s the carbs and sugar, and lack of protein or fiber, that turn them into a nutritional disaster. The popular Aloha Pineapple, for example has 97 g carbs and 91 g sugar, and only 6 g protein and 4 g fiber! Add to that the fact that most people treat smoothies like a drink, instead of a meal, and you’re adding 400 empty calories to your lunch (or indulging in a pretty heavy, but not satiating, snack!). Even smoothies containing just fruit, or just veggies and fruit, are still high in sugar and low in fiber and protein. Your best bet is to ask for an 8-ounce smoothie, which is actually the appropriate serving size — and get it with a fiber or protein boost.

Eat Healthfully While Traveling Abroad

Eating healthfully can be hard enough when you’re in the comfort of your own kitchen, with Whole Foods, farmer’s markets, and recipe books at your disposal. But traveling abroad adds a new set of nutritional diversions: bad airport and plane food, the excitement of sampling new cuisines, a different language, bouncing from hotel to hostel to bed and breakfast…

I recently spent two weeks in Argentina and Chile visiting my sister, who lives in Bariloche. As the always-hungry person I am, I had to prepare for a brand new food culture as well as long days traveling (it took us 30 hours to get home). With these tips and a bit of research, you can maintain a healthy diet half way around the world.

Plan for the airport and the plane.

When you’re travelling abroad, you may spend a whole day – or more – in airports, on planes, and in cars. Take these steps to ensure you have healthy, nutritious food for your long traveling day!

Pack a whole meal – or more. Airport food can be both ridiculously expensive and limited in healthy choices (McDonald’s, Cinnabon, and Dunkin’ Donuts are the most common). And plane food – unless you’re flying first class – is generally horrible. On your way to the airport, pick up your favorite healthy sandwich. Once you’re sitting on the plane, you’ll be happy to have a healthy meal while your fellow passengers eat Big Macs and fries.

Pack fruits and vegetables. Planes are pretty skimpy with food these days, so you’ll need healthy snacks to tide you over. Instead of resorting to convenience store treats and candy, pack fruits, vegetables, and nuts in your carry-on. Before you leave, make a stop at the grocery store to pick up apples and bananas. Bite-size produce – like blueberries, baby carrots, and snap peas – are ideal because they travel well, and their similar-to-candy size helps keep M&M and Skittles cravings at bay. Pick up some nuts at the grocery store, too; unlike airport trail mixes, they won’t be mixed with heavy ingredients like yogurt-covered pretzels and banana chips. Filling yourself up with fresh fruits, vegetables, and nuts will help you maintain your already healthy diet and keep you energized through your long day.

Order a special meal. When you book your tickets, most airlines allow you to choose a “special meal.” Many have broad choices these days that cater to a wide range of diets: diabetic meal, gluten intolerant meal, Hindu meal, and low-calorie meal are just a few of the options. Opt for a low-fat or low-calorie meal – not because fat and calories are inherently bad, but because those meals are simply healthier. Their virtue lies in the fact that the meal comes with lean protein and vegetables and most importantly, without the heavy, creamy sauces that usually ruin (in taste and nutrition) the regular meals. On our plane down to Chile, my parents looked on with jealousy as I ate my fruit plate and high-fiber cereal; their regular breakfast was pancakes covered in a sugary fruit compote.

Travel with nutrition boosting “condiments”.
Foods like chia seeds, ground flaxseed, and hempseed are tiny packets of big nutrition. Such “condiments” can add a considerable amount of protein, fiber, monounsaturated fats, vitamins, or antioxidants to a meal that might need a nutrition bump. A tablespoon of chia seeds, for example, has 68 calories, 2 grams of protein, 5.5 grams of fiber, and 4.5 grams of fat. I always carry a mix of chia seeds, ground flaxseed, and cinnamon to add to oatmeal and cereal, as well as Justin’s Nut Butter Squeeze Packets, which add protein and fiber to toast or apple and banana slices. Research shows that adding fat or protein to high-carbohydrate meals lessens the impact on blood sugar, making these foods a great pairing for the white toast and refined cereal your hotel might serve.

Travel with mini-meals.
When you’re abroad, you often don’t have a kitchen – let alone a refrigerator – to hold the snacks that would normally tide you over between meals. Instant oatmeal and snack bars are whole grain options that only require hot water to prepare. Look for bars with at least 3 grams of fiber, 5 grams of protein, and no more than 18 grams of sugar – Larabars, KIND bars, Pure bars, and Bumble Bars are good choices. They’ll give you the energy you need to trek around town (or up a mountain) and to your next meal.

Check out the grocery store.
Just because you’re on vacation doesn’t mean you have to avoid the grocery store. Stock up on grab-and-go fruits and vegetables like apples, bananas, carrots, and snap peas. Having produce on hand for snacks is especially important, since you’re most likely dining out more than normal and forgoing tedious salads for local specialties. In most countries, you’ll also be able to find yogurt – a convenient, fast breakfast or snack. Look for varieties without added sugar; luckily, most other cultures actually prefer plain yogurt to the sickeningly sweet American varieties. Bonus: the probiotics found in yogurt will help improve digestion, which can get out of whack when traveling.

Embrace the local food culture.

Savor the local delicacies, but don’t go overboard. When you travel abroad, you’re sure to find that each country has a few culinary specialties. Some are healthy, and some are far from it – but that doesn’t mean you should completely avoid them in the name of nutrition. Argentina, for example, is famous for its huge offerings of meat. Asados, the Argentinian barbecue, consists of course after course of meats: ribs, steaks, lamb, pork, chorizo, and blood sausages are common in just one meal. And Bariloche, specifically, is known for milanesa – breaded, fried meat piled high with melted cheese – and fondue (there’s a large Swiss and German influence). But next to these cheesy, fried, fatty cuts of meat, there’s also a healthy choice: Bariloche is a mountain town based around a lake, so fresh and smoked trout make an appearance on most menus. Most other cuisines have specialties that end up on both sides of the spectrum: Japan has sashimi and tempura, France has moules mariniere and croque monsieur. The key is in enjoying the local delicacies in moderation – you don’t need to eat them every day! Find a restaurant that specializes in what you really want (or better yet, if you have friends in the area, get an invitation to a home-cooked meal!) and savor each bite. Sandwich your indulgent day with healthy, vegetable-packed meals.

Pick up some new recipes and eating habits.
With more than two-thirds of the population obese or overweight, America is the fattest nation among those with advanced economies. With a culture based around fast food and little exercise, we could stand to take a couple of pointers from our healthier-eating counterparts. When you’re abroad, take note of the healthy recipes and eating habits that you encounter. In Chile and Argentina, instead of caffeinating with whipped cream and caramel-covered frappuccinos, the locals prefer to start their day with yerba mate, a tea-like infusion made from leaves of the holly tree. The drink is filled with vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants and provides the same boost of coffee without the crash. From South America to Europe to Asia, there are plenty of other eating habits to emulate: eat your sandwiches open-faced to cut out refined sugars like the Swedes, eat small dishes like the Chinese’ dim sum or Greeks’ mezze, and use a heavy hand with spices as in Thailand and India.

Learn a few phrases in the local language.
If your Spanish/French/Thai/Arabic language skills are poor, ordering meals in restaurants can be difficult. Of course, having a sister who is fluent in Spanish is your best bet for ensuring a delicious and healthy dinner; arming yourself with a dictionary with culinary terms is also helpful. Memorize a few phrases that will always improve the nutrition of any meal. Because many restaurants (all over the world) rely on heavy amounts of butter and oil for flavor, ask for your fish, meat, and vegetables to be prepared sin aceite (without oil) or sin mantequilla (without butter). It’s also helpful to learn adjectives that describe the preparation of a food; the difference between vegetales al vapor (steamed vegetables) and vegetales salteadas (sauteed vegetables) is huge.

Maintaining your healthy diet while traveling abroad will give you the energy to explore and enjoy a new country. And while it is tempting to completely indulge – you’re on vacation, after all – stuffing your body with excess fats, sweets, and alcohol will only weigh you down. As long as your keep your daily calories in check, remember that at the end of the year, your body won’t remember a two-week stretch where you barely ate a single vegetable. Upon returning to your beloved kitchen and local grocery store, load up on fresh produce, whole grains, lean protein, and nuts to continue your healthy eating plan.