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Healthy snack alternatives to empty calorie treats

Oatmeal with fresh berries is a hearty, sweet and delicious alternative to baked goods such as blueberry muffins
Oatmeal with fresh berries is a hearty, sweet and delicious alternative to baked goods such as blueberry muffinsBlogcritics

Snacks are vital to keeping our metabolism boosted, preventing us from overeating during meals and, let's face it, satifying cravings and keeping us sane. But what kind of snack you reach for does matter. Many of the snacks Americans, especially Alabamians, reach for these days are packed full of preservatives and artificial ingredients, which our bodies struggle to break down. Often, the snack you're grabbing to fuel your body could actually be hurting it. The best snacks, on the other hand, have the fewest ingredients; typically just one.

If you typically reach for:

A 100 calorie pack, like the ones offered by Nabisco, you're consuming a snack that consists of 16 manufactured ingredients, including fake flavoring and processed sugar. None of the ingredients are nutritionally beneficial to your body and these seemingly healthy 100 calorie packs are just a waste of calories. For 100 calories you get a measly 1 gram of protein, 1 gram of fiber and only one vitamin - Iron, at 6%. They also carry simple carbohydrates, which are low in nutrients and less satisfying than their healthy counterpart, complex carbohydrates.

Instead reach for:

A banana. A banana also includes 100 calories but only has 1 ingredient. A banana! And it comes packed with 3 grams of fiber, and vitamins and minerals such as Potassium, Calcium, Vitamin A, C and Folate. They are also rich with complex carbohydrates (the good kind!), giving the body much needed energy.

If you typically reach for:

Baked goods, such as a pastry, cookie, doughnut, banana bread or muffins, you are slamming your body full of sugar and simple carbohydrates. These types of food will cause a spike in your blood sugar, followed by a drop, making you hungrier than you were before. There are healthy variations to baked goods, so it's a good idea to research recipes that switch out sugar for raw sugar or natural sweeteners and flour alternatives to white flour and baking your own from scratch. The next best choice is baked goods from a bakery. The absolute worst baked good is a prepackaged one. Not only do these carry all the unhealthy aspects of a baked good, they also carry high fructose corn syrup, preservatives, fake flavoring, chemicals and loads of other harmful ingredients...And an average of 45 damaging ingredients. You can also plan to put away anywhere from 300-1000 calories per baked good. And the scary thing is, when someone else prepares it, you can only guess the damage...And you'll likely be wrong.

Instead reach for:

Oatmeal. And not instant oatmeal either, which while still a healthier option than a baked good, it still has unnatural ingredients. Opt for old fashioned oats or steel-cut oats, which contain only 1 ingredient: Oats. Mix your oats with fresh berries, raw sugar or natural sweeteners and you have a hearty, healthy satisfying meal for at or under 200 calories. You also have 5 grams of protein and 3 grams of fiber.

If you typically reach for:

Chips, such as potato chips, nacho chips, cheese puffs or curls, processed tortilla chips and even certain baked chips, you're filling up on empty calories, artificial ingredients and manfucatured flavors. For example, Doritos Nacho Cheese chips have almost 40 ingredients, some of which are artificial colorings, thought to cause harmful side effects and even cancer, and a load of other chemicals you can't pronounce. The same goes for any flavored chip. Your best bet in this arena are Lay's Potato Chips (original, no flavoring) or Tostitos, which both have only 3 ingredients: Potatoes, oil and salt.

Instead reach for:

There are so many healthy alternatives to potato chips on the market these days. Pop Chips are all natural and not fried in oil. They are popped, eliminating the need for oil in the cooking process. They are slightly oiled in the seasoning process with sunflower oil. They contain no fake colors, flavors or preservatives. A healthy alternative to tortilla chips are blue corn organic chips such as Guiltless Gourmet. They offer up even more flavor than a traditional tortilla chip, without the fat added through the frying process. While these are healthier options, consume them in moderation, because on their own, they are almost void of any real nutritional benefit. Your best option is to use these to dip in healthy, nutrient rich dips such as salsa, hummus and guacamole.

If you typically reach for:

Ice cream is an all american favorite. The problem with ice cream today is the fast food and packaged food industries have taken something that was once so pure and delicious and turned it into a lab experiment. And we tend to load up on toppings galore. Milk, cream, and pure sugar used to make up this delicious treat. Now the average store bought ice cream carries over 50 ingredients, including various types of corn syrup, artificial flavor and chemicals. Choose a fruity flavor and instead of fruit, you're getting those nasty dyes again. The fast food industry has taken frozen treats to a whole new level, serving up ice cream dishes with not only a wide variety of ingredients, but some with upwards of 1,000 calories per serving. For example, Dairy Queen's Medium Cookie Dough Blizzard has 1020 calories, half the entire daily allowance for the average person. If you're buying store bought, find an all natural brand that takes the ingredients back to simple. Breyer's all natural ice cream does this well, but be sure to look at the flavor, because some of their new flavor variations are no better than any other brand. Stick to vanilla and chocolate. Remember that it still offers little nutritional benefit and should be counted as empty calories.

Instead reach for:

Plain Greek yogurt. Greek yogurt is a dairy superfood. It's loaded with protein (try upwards of 25 grams per serving), but is still low calorie (around 120 per serving). Buy a nonfat, plain version and dress it up yourself. Mix it with natural sweetener, honey, fruit, even chocolate chips to have a creamy, satisfying snack that is going to keep you full, fuel your body and satisfy your sweet and creamy cravings.Plain greek yogurt contains just milk and active cultures. You can also use greek yogurt in cooking to create creamy sauces, in place of high fat, low nutrition options such as mayonnaise, butter, heavy cream, shortening or oil.

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