Trends Point Toward Smaller Meals, Healthy Ingredients

With trends toward more but smaller meals and health-imparting ingredients, don't let dinner spoil your snacks!

By Mark Anthony, Ph.D.

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Most baby boomers can recall when snacks were foods that spoiled a healthy appetite for dinner; at least that's what our parents tried to drill into us.

According to the dictionary, a snack is "a small portion of food or drink, or a light meal, especially one eaten between regular meals." That old definition grossly underestimates the impact snacks have on the modern diet, a diet that has all but abandoned the family meal. To a great degree, snacks define the modern nutritional environment as hostile or friendly. How we handle this "small" portion of our food makes a "big" statement about our health.

Bear Naked projects an image of healthy snacks for active individuals and professional athletes.
Bear Naked projects an image of healthy snacks for active individuals and professional athletes.

When the fast-food coup overthrew the family meal and we no longer had to budge to change the channel, snacks became just part of the onslaught of "empty calories" that pervaded the American diet. But now, consumer concern about rising fatness and slumping fitness is making it smart, even chic, to "spoil" calorie-laden, nutrient-poor fast food meals with snacks that promote a healthy anti-couch-potato image.

Lizanne Falsetto lived a life that many young women dream about: that of an internationally famous, high-fashion model. It's a life filled with travel, excitement, long hours and intense pressure to look perfect and perfectly thin, pressure so great that it can drive many models to sacrifice their health.

But Lizanne was not willing to succumb to the "typical model diet of little food and lots of cigarettes washed down with a bit of coffee," she says. She strutted to a different drummer, a philosophy that beauty emanates from the inside out, and it drove her to create a $20 million-a-year independent natural foods company called Think Products (www.thinkproducts.com), Ventura, Calif.

"What I saw missing was pure food with natural ingredients that helps sustain energy and prolong life," she says. "I saw a niche in the market that the 'natural' shoppers needed: easy convenient snack items that tasted great without preservatives."

Drawing ideas from her own health regimen, Lizanne created a line of nutrition bars with appropriate names like, Think Organic, Think Green and Think Thin. Filled with fruits, nuts, soy protein and a variety of green food powders, the bars provide healthy doses of nutrients and natural antioxidants.

And just to drive home the point that beauty is more than skin deep, Lizanne's "Think of a Cure" campaign donates the proceeds from "Think Pink" bars to breast cancer research. The campaign and bars were introduced at the March 10 Vitality Fashion Show, a venture among Think Products, L.A. Models and Whole Foods Market to benefit breast cancer research.

"This is a cause very near to me, as a family member and close friend have been diagnosed," say Falsetto. "Through education, organic nutrition and early diagnosis, we could be very close to finding a cure. I am committed to natural product develop and research linking nutrition as a key to eliminating this death threat to women and men everywhere."

Health-conscious consumers shun snacks that offer little but white flour, sugar and hydrogenated fats. The "in" ingredients are whole grains, protein -- especially soy protein -- healthy fats, natural sweeteners, fiber and phytochemical-rich fruits. Also, many dieters spread calories throughout the day in several small meals in an attempt to prevent hunger and reduce the risk of bingeing. Both trends fit the modern hectic lifestyle and blur the distinction between meals and snacks.

Brendan Synnot and Kelly Flatley co-founded Bear Naked (www.eat-granola.com), Norwalk, Conn., a company that projects an image of healthy snacks for active individuals and professional athletes. "Our products have been and always will be made from all-natural, wholesome ingredients you can actually pronounce, including whole grains, oats, and a variety of real dried fruit and nuts," says Rachel Sanzari, director of communications and nutrition.

Healthy ingredients aside, consumers still want taste and convenience. "Bear Naked market research shows that our core customers are eating granola primarily as a snack and, as a result, we offer a variety of packaging options," continues Sanzari.

Getting the whole message

Numerous studies have linked whole grains with protection from heart disease, diabetes, cancer and obesity. In the 2005 USDA Food Guide Pyramid, whole grains are the preferred choices for the bread and cereals group. ConAgra Mills (www.conagrafoods.com), Omaha, Neb., offers an extensive line of whole grains to match the now mainstream hunger for healthy snacks.

"Proprietary products like Ultragrain whole wheat flour and Sustagrain barley can give [manufacturers'] products a healthier nutritional profile while maintaining consumer appeal," says Elizabeth Arndt, manager of product development for ConAgra Mills.

While a number of grain suppliers are pursuing whole-grain white flour, ConAgra Mills is among a smaller group developing a market for barley. "In late 2005, the FDA approved a heart-health claim for barley based on evidence that the soluble fiber from barley can help lower serum cholesterol," continues Arndt. Sustagrain barley, available in flour, quick-cooking flakes, steel-cut and whole kernels, provides 12g of fiber per 40g serving (1/2 cup uncooked) -- nearly half of the recommended daily value.

Since 1984, Kashi has been focused on healthy snacking. Its TLC line features all natural, whole-grain granola bars, crackers and cookies.
Since 1984, Kashi has been focused on healthy snacking. Its TLC line features all natural, whole-grain granola bars, crackers and cookies.

Kashi Co. (www.kashi.com), La Jolla, Calif., was founded in 1984 to spread the gospel of whole grains. While its initial product was rice pilaf and the company became better known for its cereals, it now has turned its attention to snacking, especially since being bought in 2000 by Kellogg Co.

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