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We have reviewed a lot of snack bars on the Dr. Gourmet website. This is because I realize that folks do eat snack foods. Like my reviews of frozen dinners and fast food recommendations, I talk with my patients about trying to eat the freshest food possible, but I also want you to know what the best alternative is.
I was giving a talk the other day at the medical school and one of the questions I had was about snacking. It was similar to many Ask Dr. Gourmet questions I have received lately such as this one:
I find the hardest time to stick to healthy eating is when I get home from work. I'm tired, hungry, and I won't have dinner ready for at least 30-40 minutes. What are your recommendations for healthy snacks at that time of the day? It's too easy to fill up on chips and salsa!
When I was asked the question at the lecture I didn't hesitate in my reply: "Nuts." The fellow asked what type and I again replied, "Nuts." I think that he may have been a bit taken aback by the quickness of my reply and how emphatic I was. There is, however, a ton of evidence about how good nuts are for you, and if you are going to snack on anything, they are your best choice - hands down.
There is some evidence that having a snack before you eat will minimize how much you eat and increase how satisfied you are after dining. At the same time, we have research that shows that eating almonds with a meal appears to minimize the type of cell damage that leads to heart disease, eating more walnuts may reduce cholesterol, and that pistachios can improve your cholesterol profile.
In one of my favorite studies, researchers compared a lower fat diet with a Mediterranean style diet supplemented with nuts or olive oil. Those consuming the higher fat diet made up of what we now know are the healthy fats found in nuts and seeds didn't gain any weight. There are a lot of similar studies and while many are funded by the nut growers, I think that the best evidence says that nuts are your best snack choice.
One question that I get when asked about eating nuts is what kind are best. There may be some research that says almonds are better than walnuts and walnuts are better than cashews or peanuts, but I don't believe that we have that detailed information about this. Eat what you like. Raw may be better than roasted and certainly eating your nuts unsalted is likely to be better for you.
But... if you prefer dry roasted salted peanuts, I am OK with that. You will still be better off eating salted nuts than eating salted Doritos or Wheat Thins before your dinner. The nuts have a few more calories in an ounce (170 for the nuts and 140 for the Doritos). The almonds have about half the sodium, however (85 mg for the nuts and 180 mg for the Doritos).
Best of all, the nuts are fresher, better for you, and more satisfying.
Eat well, eat healthy, enjoy life!
Timothy S. Harlan, M.D.