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Snacking – it’s not all bad for you

Laura Dean Bennett
Staff Writer

With everyone spending so much time at home due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve instituted a new term – “the SD 30,” or the “Social Distancing 30.”

Like the “Freshman 20,” the SD 30 is a symptom of living in a new environment and adopting bad eating habits.

While we’re at home, we may be tempted to eat more than the usual amount of junk food.

The good news is that not all of our favorite snacks are all that bad for us.

If we let science lead the way and take time to make wise choices, we can still indulge a few cravings.

Mixed nuts – although high in fat, can be very filling. And the vitamins and minerals in nuts are linked to a reduced risk of cancer, depression and heart disease.

So you can feel pretty good about having a handful – just a handful – of nuts instead of a handful of cookies or a slice of cake.

If you don’t eat too much of it, ice cream can be good for you. It’s got calcium and a fair amount of protein.

Look for brands that contain probiotics and B-vitamins.

But choose wisely.

Go for sugar-free and/or low-fat, non-fat or light ice cream (what we used to call ice milk), sugar-free ice popsicles and fudge bars or Greek Yogurt bars.

If you’re in a mood to reach for chocolate, you’ll want to stick with dark chocolate.

You’d have to have been living under a rock not to know that studies have shown that dark chocolate is better for you than milk chocolate.

It’s usually got a decent amount of fiber and protein and way less sugar than milk chocolate.

Look for dark chocolate bars which contain 70 percent or more cacao.

And if you want to really go for it – have dark chocolate covered almonds – both are high in one of our mineral friends – magnesium.

You might think that old standby Cheese Whiz would be terrible for us.

It’s got calories, but it’s not that bad. It actually contains conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) which is a cancer fighting compound. And some studies indicate that Cheese Whiz may actually have more cancer-fighting properties than regular cheese.

You can have some beef jerky and beef sticks.

They are high in protein and they don’t raise insulin levels.

But be careful to choose the low-sodium type with all natural ingredients.

Potato chips are tricky. They are full of fat and salt.

The same goes for pretzels which have fewer calories than potato chips, but still way too many.

Instead of chips or pretzels, switch to pork rinds.

Pork rinds are a real surprise.

They’re high in protein, they contain no carbs and the fats in them are the healthy kind – the same fat that’s in olive oil. And they contain stearic acid, which won’t raise your cholesterol.

But, again, watch out for the salt.

One of Americans’ favorite snack foods, popcorn, probably has the most to recommend it as a healthy “junk food” snack.

It’s full of fiber and contains the highest levels of polyphenols of any snack food. Ployphenols are antioxidants which protect against heart disease and cancer.

But, the kind of popcorn that’s in so many of our pantries these days is the kind that comes in a microwave bag. And that’s not the healthy kind, because it contains so many extraneous chemicals and a high fat content.

But if you make popcorn from scratch, it can be one of the healthiest and most versatile snacks ever.

There’s no limit to the ways you can change up the flavor of homemade popcorn.

Butter – our usual go-to topping for popcorn – isn’t the villain that some used to think it was.

Used sparingly, it’s not too bad.

It helps the body absorb vitamins A, D, E and K.

And if you choose whipped butter, you’ll save on calories.

So, if you love the taste of butter on popcorn, make your own popcorn and toss it with a little butter and enjoy it, almost guilt free.

There are two basic ways to make your own popcorn.

There’s the traditional way – on the stove top, and then there’s the brown bag microwave method.

There are tons of fun popcorn toppings to consider – grated parmesan cheese, cayenne pepper, lemon-pepper or Italian herb seasoning, curry powder or jerk seasoning, cumin or Spanish smoked paprika.

Stove Top Popcorn

3 Tbsp. coconut oil or extra virgin olive oil
1/3 cup of high quality popcorn kernels
1 Tbsp. or more (to taste) of whipped butter (optional)
Salt to taste
Heat the oil in a 3-qt. thick-bottomed saucepan on medium high heat.
If you are using coconut oil, allow all of the solid oil to melt.
Put 3 or 4 popcorn kernels into the oil.
Wait for the popcorn kernels to pop.
When the kernels pop, add the rest of the 1/3 cup of popcorn kernels in an even layer.
Cover the pot, remove from heat and count 30 seconds to get the oil to the right temperature.
Return the pan to the heat.
The popcorn should begin popping soon, and all at once.
Once popping starts in earnest, gently shake the pan by moving it back and forth over the burner. As the popcorn pops, try to keep the lid slightly ajar to let steam release – the popcorn will be drier and crisper.
When the popping slows to several seconds between pops, remove the pan from the heat.
Remove lid and dump the popcorn into a wide bowl.
If you are adding butter, melt butter in the empty hot pan. If you let it get just a little bit brown, it will have a more intense buttery flavor. Drizzle butter over popcorn, toss to distribute and add a little salt.

Homemade Microwave Popcorn in a Paper Bag

In a small cup or bowl, mix 1/2 cup popcorn kernels and a tsp. of oil.
Pour into a brown paper lunch sack and sprinkle in 1/2 tsp. of salt (or to taste).
Fold over the top of the bag to seal in the ingredients.
Cook in microwave at full power for 2 1/2 to 3 minutes, or until you hear pauses of about 2 seconds between pops.
Carefully open the bag (there will be very hot steam) and pour into a serving bowl.
While we’re suffering through the anxiety, social distancing and financial worry of this coronavirus shut-down, a little extra snacking is probably inevitable.
Just remember, the essence of healthy snacking, and healthy eating in general, is simply portion size.
Sorry about that.

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