When your kids are down for a nap, it can be tempting to grab a bag of chips or cookies and sit down to munch in quiet, alone, without tiny humans trying to steal your food.
Today I’m going to cover why most conventional snack foods are bad for you, healthier alternatives you can buy or make, and ways to reduce your desire to constantly snack.
Why are ultra-processed snacks bad?
Note that I say “ultra-processed” when it comes to snacks. Pretty much all foods are processed to some degree, whether it is to make them more digestible or to make them taste better.
This processing can either be done by someone else or by us in our own kitchens. Either can be fine, so long as we know what has been done to our foods before they reach our mouths.
While real foods that have been somewhat processed can be fine for our bodies (barring any allergies, etc.), ultra-processed foods wreak havoc on everyone’s bodies, whether they know if our not.
According to the Weston A Price Foundation, industrial food processed ingredients depends on “sugar, white flour, processed and hydrogenated oils, synthetic food additives and vitamins, heat treatment and the extrusion of grains.”
Allow me to go into some of these things to explain why they aren’t great for our bodies.
(Unless another article is linked, refer back to the Weston A Price Foundation article I just linked for more information on any of these topics.)
Sugar isn’t bad in moderation, right? Well, it depends on the type of sugar.
No, I don’t think that eating a cookie that was made with white sugar is going to harm you too much.
However, if you’re eating a lot of foods that contain sugar or “added sugars” (especially in non-sweet items you wouldn’t think contain sugar), it can have some drastic affects on your health, whether you realize it or not.
Sugar acts as a fuel to yeasts and bad bacteria in your stomachs. It can also help support the good bacteria in our systems, so it’s important that sweeteners are eaten in moderation and we’re also eating probiotic-rich foods.
According to Kitchen Stewardship, sugar also:
- “Depresses” the immune system
- Can lead to several chronic diseases
- Can mess with your hormones that affect fertility, aging, and more
Those don’t sound very fun, do they?
For more side affects of sugar, check out the article I linked to above.
High Fructose Corn Syrup
In addition to all corn syrups being ultra-processed, high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) also has the added drawback after having an unnaturally high concentration of fructose in it.
According to Healthline, High Fructose Corn Syrup can put you at risk for things like fatty liver disease, obesity, and diabetes, as well as other chronic diseases, because of the high levels of fructose and lack of any nutritional value.
Do you see a trend here? People wonder why Americans weigh so much more than they did in previous generations, but when you take a step back and look at the ingredients in our foods, it’s really no surprise.
Just like sugar, the problem with white flour isn’t that it’s a flour. The problem is that the process it goes through to go from whole wheat to white flour strips all the nutrients and fiber from the wheat and doesn’t leave much else.
After the refinement process, all that is left in the flour breaks down into sugars. Once it has been turned into sugars, your body treat it the same way as I talked about in the sugar section above.
Additionally, the lack of fiber in the flour means it’s basically a paste when mixed with water and/or eaten. This lack of fiber can lead to constipation since there isn’t much to help it move through your system (I know, I know, TMI, but it kind of explains the way white flour products can sometimes make you feel after eating them).
Processed and Hydrogenated Oils
During the hydrogenation process, oils lose most of their nutrients (or all depending on how processed they are. They also lose their antioxidants.
Since they lose most of their nutritious value when processed in this way, it’s no wonder we’ve been told that oils aren’t good for us.
However, when you can use healthy fats that have been minimally processed, such as coconut oil, extra virgin olive oil, and animal fats such as bacon grease, you can get the health benefits since they haven’t been stripped during processing.
Synthetic Food Additives and Vitamins
One of the most common synthetic food additives is Monosodium Glutamate (MSG). And it’s no wonder. MSG is what makes all your favorite snack foods taste SO GOOD.
That’s the idea. Our bodies react to MSG similarly to an addictive substance because we like how our taste buds feel when they taste an MSG-laden food. As a result, we keep coming back for more.
MSG has also been shown to be linked to obesity. Maybe some of this is also because it makes you want to eat more of the foods, but your body also has a hard time pro
Found in many “sugar free” foods, aspartame seemed like a good sugar alternative. However, in tricking our bodies to think they’ve been given sugar when they really haven’t it aspartame actually causes wait gain due to the imbalance of insulin this signal produces.
Aspartame is both an excitotoxin and a neurotoxin that blocks the production of serotonin, leaving us wired and unable to relax.
Weight gain and stress? Count me out. Also, I personally couldn’t eat or drink anything with aspartame in it, even before I learned more about it, because I think it has a bad taste.
Good thing there are more natural sweeteners such as honey and maple syrup!
While the thought behind heat treatment is that it can help kill some harmful bacteria, it mostly just destroys foods nutrients when they’re so processed.
This the case with foods that include any type of pasteurized dairy as well as fruits and vegetables that have been processed beyond recognition to make them into a cute shape or color.
Extrusion of Grains
When grains are heated and put through the extrusion process, they are denatured and the vitamins in them are destroyed.
This is why many bread and other grain products are labeled as “enriched” since they added some of the vitamins (albeit synthetic versions of them) into the product. However, depending on how much the foods are processed following this enrichment, many of the vitamins may not reach you.
Find less processed alternatives
When you’re used to ultra-processed snacks, it can be hard to think of healthier snack alternatives, especially ones that your kids will eat.
While healthy snacks are a great way to incorporate more real foods into your diet, they don’t just have to be vegetables. Although vegetables (especially with dip) do make pretty good snacks…
Here are some of my snack swaps that are also kid-friendly:
Dehydrated veggies vs. extruded potato chips
Fruit leather made with just fruit juice vs. Fruit by the Foot
Beef Jerky (that looks like meat) vs. jerky that’s been shaped
Salted nuts vs. Reese’s peanut butter cups
Homemade popcorn with butter and salt vs. microwave popcorn
Homemade smoothies vs. ice cream
Homemade bagel pizzas vs. totino’s pizza rolls
These aren’t swaps for specific snacks foods, but I just had to include some of my other favorite snacks.
Apples with peanut butter
Veggies with dip
Thrive Market is also a wonderful place if you want to order healthier snacks with good ingredients online. I haven’t ordered from them yet, but lots of people love them and they have so many choices! They also have a lot of whole food options for breakfast, lunch, and supper as well.
Find a food that satisfies your craving
Often, when our bodies are craving something, it probably means that we’re deficient in some nutrient that food contains. If you’re craving something healthy, go for it!
If you’re craving something that’s going to leave you feeling icky the rest of the day, try to find another way to satisfy that craving.
Check out my of snack swaps above if you’re craving one of those types of foods and need a substitute. For other cravings, here is what your body is missing and some ideas on how to satisfy the craving in a healthy way.
Craving chocolate? You need magnesium. The good news is, chocolate can actually be good for you, especially if it’s more toward the dark chocolate end of the spectrum. Just make sure you avoid the chocolate bars that are loaded with sugar.
Craving red meat? You need iron. Since meat is good for you and is an excellent source of protein and iron your body can absorb, you don’t necessarily have to find a substitute for this one. You can also find iron in meat, fish, nuts, and dried fruits.
Craving salty foods? You need calcium, magnesium, and/or zinc. Check out my list above. It contains some salty snacks that may contain these nutrients you can use to satisfy your craving.
Craving cheese? You need healthy fats. These can be found in olive oil, nuts, avocados, or real cheese (avoid cheeses that have been ultra-processed).
Craving bread or toast? You need nitrogen. You can find this in high protein foods such as nuts, fish, meat, and beans.
Craving soda/carbonated drinks? You need calcium. You can find this in broccoli, kale, legumes, and cheese.
Try to make some of your favorite snacks yourself
Cooking from scratch helps you know what’s going in your food and how much processing it’s gone through to get to your plate.
The good news is that making some of your own snack foods doesn’t have to be complicated. There are a few appliances, such as a dehydrator and a popcorn popper, that can make your life easier, but you can still make just about anything with your stove and oven.
Here are a few of my favorite things to make for snacks.
According to a study by the New York Hospital-Cornell Medical Center, 75 percent of Americans are “chronically dehydrated”. This can lead to many problems related to eating, sleeping, and more.
If you think you’re hungry, you might just be thirsty. Or you could be bored, but if you’re just bored, at least drinking a glass of water will give you something to do.
So if you find yourself feeling constantly hungry, try drinking a tall glass of water. This might help make your hunger go away (or it might not if you really do need to eat), but it will definitely help you be more hydrated, which can lead to a healthier, happier you.
Eat a full meal at mealtimes
If you eat enough food during your regular mealtimes, you’ll be less likely to be hungry and want a snack in between.
Now, I’m not saying that you should avoid snacks (I mean, I did just write a whole post on healthy snack alternatives), but lots of times we eat because we’re either bored or hungry.
Especially if you have kids or you’re pregnant, snacks are going to be an integral part of your day. In both cases, your (or your kids’) bodies burn through fuel faster. If you try to last from lunch until supper without a snack, everyone is probably going to end up grumpy.
However, if you focus on fueling your bodies during mealtimes, you hopefully won’t have quite so many complaints of “I’m hungry!”
After reading this article, which kind of snacks do you want to keep around? If you gradually switch over your favorite snack foods to healthier alternatives, you be able to have delicious snacks you can grab almost as quickly as prepackaged ones.
Once you’ve made the switch, you’re another step farther in feeding your family healthy foods!