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A Nutritionist Helps Us Make Over Our Snacking Habits for the Holidays

Nutritionist Kate Geagan helped us makeover our snacking habits—and told us why soy is an ingredient to love. (Photo: fitnessmagazine.com)

Much though we love our sweet treats, we know that too much chocolate truffle and pecan pie love can negatively affect your health. Since we’re headed into the holiday season (a.k.a. cookie, candy and cake overload) we decided to ask nutritionist Kate Geagan for her best tips on healthy snacking. She not only helped point out ingredients to avoid, like high fructose corn syrup, but also gave us the lowdown on why we should be reaching for soy-based snacks. (Did you know it’s been shown to help reduce the risk of heart disease?) We’ll be using her tips to make good choices all winter long.

1. What are the nutritional components of a great snack? Should you have different types of snacks at different points of the day?

A great snack includes what I call the “trifecta for fullness”: fat, protein and fiber. These nutrients help give your snack staying power, and because they take longer to digest they also help your blood sugar stay stable longer. Also, snacks should be between 100-200 calories—if the calorie intake is too little you’ll be hungry again, too much and it can lead to changes in body weight. 

2. I eat a lot of snack bars because they’re great on the go and when I’m at work. What ingredients should I look out for? 

Snack bars can be incredibly convenient, but it’s important to read the ingredient list so you know you’re getting real nutrition and not the equivalent of a candy bar. Look for bars made with whole, minimally processed ingredients, that sound like they come from your kitchen, such as whole fruit, whole soy (not soy protein isolate) and nuts. These help provide a high nutrient snack that will also give you lasting energy. Also, avoid high fructose corn syrup or artificial sweeteners. One of my top recommendations for good nutrition on-the-go are SOYJOY bars, which are all-natural and gluten free, made with real fruit and ground whole soybeans. Plus, each bar is between 130-140 calories, which gives it real staying power.

3. Soy can sometimes get a bad rap. What are the different types of soy? Which are ok for you and which are bad for you?

You’re right; many people have questions about soy. Soybeans are a legume, similar to beans or lentils. However, whole soy is the only legume that contains all nine essential amino acids, and thus is a complete protein similar to what you find in meat or poultry.  Additionally, soy has been extensively studied—and has been safely consumed in Asian countries for roughly 5,000 years. The evidence is strong that whole soy foods can be included as a healthy part of a person’s diet. In fact, the FDA has approved a heart health claim stating that 25 grams of soy protein a day has been shown to help reduce the risk of heart disease. And the American Cancer Society’s stance is that soy and soy-based foods are an excellent source of high quality protein and have some antioxidants which may have anticancer activities.  I always recommend choosing whole soy products, such as whole soy beans, and whole soy products like tofu, that are less processed.

4. Can you tell me about the idea of a low carbon footprint diet? What small changes can everyone make to have an impact?

Yes! I wrote a book in 2009 called Go Green, Get Lean, which is all about the intersection of a healthy diet, and a smaller carbon footprint. I like to say the American diet is the “SUV” of eating styles, and eating in a way that is more eco-friendly also can lead to weight loss, a reduced risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure. The single biggest thing you can do is to go vegetarian one or two days a week—it can be more powerful in shrinking your carbon footprint than switching to an all-local diet. So include plant foods, including high quality plant proteins such as soy, as well as nuts, legumes, fruits, vegetables and whole grains at meals and snacks during the week. Also, minimize liquid calories—choose purified tap water, tea or coffee instead of all those liquid calories in sodas, energy drinks and juice drinks!

Need even more snacking help? Check out these tips from goop favorite Dr. Frank Lipman.

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