When hunger strikes, snack smart, usually


A chocolate treat arrived in the mail, just in time for the post-holiday body fat meltdown.

In celebration of a new weight control year, the Quaker Oats Co. has developed yet another rice cake flavor. This time it's "chocolate crunch." For 50 fat-free calories, you get your choice of one standard-sized rice cake or five minis.

The cakes are made from whole grain brown rice, a touch of sugar, low-fat cocoa, high fructose corn syrup, salt and both natural and artificial flavors.

Technically, because the first ingredient is a whole grain, chocolate crunch rice cakes (as well as all the other flavors) appear to be a high-nutrition snack food. Because they're wrapped in chocolate, women's No. 1 crave food, they could well serve as a diet-saving miracle food for many.

But before you curl up with a whole bag of them, read the Nutrition Facts label to get the rest of the story.

Besides energy (calories), we need to get fiber and body building parts (nutrients like vitamins, minerals and protein) from food. If you eat the entire bagful in one sitting, say as a substitute for lunch, you'll end up eating 400 calories worth of carbohydrates (an appropriate calorie level for lunch) but you'll get little in the way of additional nutrients.

Not every food you eat has to be nutrient-dense, of course. And eating a whole bag of rice cakes for lunch once in a while would not deliver a death blow to good health. But, developing a one-food diet could. Too often, I hear women say they "live" on rice cakes, pasta or pretzels. Those are all good foods, but they can't stand alone.

Create a more substantial snack with a high-nutrition profile by combining a 100-calorie grain food like rice cakes with a piece of fruit, a carton of low-fat yogurt, or even a little peanut butter. At another meal, include some whole grain foods that offer fiber, iron, calcium and B vitamins for more variety and better balance.

Quaker also offers these tips for healthy snacking:

* Substitute, but don't sacrifice. Find low-fat or fat-free alternatives for your favorite high-fat snacks, but remember, taste is important, too.

* Minimize splurging. It's OK to buy high-fat snacks occasionally, but buy them in individual serving sizes to avoid over-indulging.

* Time your treats. Evaluate your day and decide what type of foods you crave and what time of day hunger strikes. That way you can be smart about the snacks you buy.

* Remember portion control. Even with low-fat snacks, buy foods individually wrapped or repackage into single servings.

Colleen Pierre, a registered dietitian, is the nutrition consultant at the Union Memorial Sports Medicine Center and Vanderhorst & Associates in Baltimore.

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