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7 Ways to snack smarter

The key is taking a smart approach to snacking and making small shifts toward healthier choices. Consider these simple strategies to help you get started.

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Photo by @swell from Unsplash.com

Eating a balanced breakfast, lunch and dinner each day is an important part of maintaining a healthy diet, but what you eat between mealtimes can have just as much of an impact.

Eating a snack or two between traditional meals helps curb hunger and prevents overeating at mealtimes, provides an energy boost and can also help bridge nutrient gaps in your diet when you choose the right foods. On the other hand, consuming foods of little nutritional value out of boredom or habit can lead to eating too much and adding extra pounds to your waistline.

The key is taking a smart approach to snacking and making small shifts toward healthier choices. Consider these simple strategies to help you get started from the snacking experts at Fresh Cravings.

1. Snack Mindfully

It’s easy to overeat and overlook fullness cues when snacking in front of the TV or at a desk. Instead, treat snack time like you would a small meal and take a few minutes to eat in a designated area with limited distractions. Avoid eating out of boredom or stress and choose whole foods like fruits and vegetables or air-popped popcorn over processed chips, baked goods or candy.

2. Plan Ahead

Snacks can be a significant portion of many people’s daily caloric intake, so it’s important to include snacks when planning out your meals for the day or week. Include fruits, vegetables and proteins in your snack schedule and avoid refined starches and sugar, which are typically found in prepackaged and processed snacks. Planning and preparing snacks ahead of time can help you bypass those quick, unhealthy options and save money in the process, as well.

3. Make Healthy Snacking Easy

Keeping fruit, vegetables and other accessible nutritious ingredients in the refrigerator or pantry increases the chances you’ll reach for a better-for-you option when a snack craving strikes. Having staple ingredients on hand that can be paired with vegetables or whole-grain crackers like Fresh Cravings Hummus makes it easy to create healthy snacks. Made with high-quality ingredients like smooth Chilean extra-virgin olive oil, savory tahini, which is known to be a source of antioxidants, vitamins and minerals, and non-GMO chickpeas, the line is available in Classic Hummus, Roasted Red Pepper and Roasted Garlic varieties and can be found in 100% recyclable packaging in the produce aisle of your local grocery store.

“Look for options that are filling and nutrient-dense,” said Mia Syn, MS, RDN, a dietitian who has helped millions learn healthier, sustainable eating habits. “My preference is Fresh Cravings Hummus because it’s a great example with whole-food ingredients like tahini, Chilean extra-virgin olive oil and non-GMO chickpeas, offering a balanced mix of filling fiber, plant-based protein and good fats.”

4. Combine Nutrient Groups

Each time you reach for a snack, try to include two or more macronutrients (protein, fat, carbohydrates). For example, choosing foods containing protein like low-fat cheese or nuts and pairing them with carbohydrates (whole-grain crackers, grapes) can create balanced, filling snacks. Carbohydrates help provide both your body and mind with energy while protein-rich foods break down more slowly, helping you feel full longer. Other ideas include celery and peanut butter or fruit and Greek yogurt, which are easy ways to get more low-calorie, high-fiber produce into your diet.

5. Pay Attention to Portion Sizes

Snacks are meant to help ward off hunger between meals, not be substitutes for meals entirely. While measuring out snacks isn’t usually necessary, having an awareness of appropriate portion sizes can be helpful. If buying or cooking in bulk, divide snacks into smaller containers when meal planning to make it convenient to simply grab an appropriate size snack and continue your day.

6. Pack Snacks to Go

Having grab-and-go snacks packed while out running errands, working or completing everyday tasks can help keep you on track when hunger strikes. Packing items that don’t require refrigeration like trail mix, whole-grain crackers or granola bars can keep you from stopping at a convenience store or picking an unhealthy option from a vending machine. Preparing snacks at home also gives you more control over the ingredients you’re eating to ensure you’re sticking to an eating plan that’s better for your overall health.

7. Set a Good Example

Parents can influence children’s snack habits by consuming healthy snacks themselves. An option like sliced veggies paired with the rich flavors of chickpeas and creaminess of tahini found in hummus can be a perfect match to both satisfy hunger in a delicious way and build better-for-you habits. Snack time is also an opportunity to let kids learn about healthy eating by participating in choosing and preparing snacks. Cutting fruits and vegetables or turning foods into crafts are easy ways to get little ones involved in the process.

“For families challenged with integrating more veggies into their diets, hummus is also a kid-friendly flavor enhancer that packs beneficial nutrition instead of the saturated fats and sugar often found in many traditional dressings and condiments,” Syn said.

Find more ideas to satisfy snack cravings at freshcravings.com.

Photo by Lloyd Dirks from Unsplash.com

Smart Snack Ideas

Between work, school, extracurricular activities and family functions, it may seem like there’s no time to eat healthy when your family is seemingly always on the go. However, finding the proper fuel is even more important when you’re trying to balance a hectic schedule, which is where snacks can play an important role between meals.

Consider these nutritious snack options that can help satisfy a variety of cravings without taking up too much of that valuable time.

Crunchy Munchies

  • Apples or pears
  • Carrot and celery sticks
  • Cucumber or bell pepper slices
  • Air-popped popcorn
  • Brown rice cakes
  • Nuts and seeds

Low-Sugar Sips

  • Plain or sparkling water (add fruit or herbs for extra flavor)
  • Unsweetened tea or coffee
  • 100% vegetable or fruit juices with no added sugars

Satisfying Noshes

  • Sliced vegetables with Fresh Cravings Classic, Roasted Red Pepper or Roasted Garlic Hummus
  • Fruit and vegetable smoothies

NewsMakers

For people with migraine, feelings of stigma may impact disability, quality of life

For people with migraine, these feelings of stigma were linked to more disability, increased disease burden and reduced quality of life.

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Migraine can impact many aspects of a person’s life, but less is known about how feelings of stigma about the disease affect quality of life. For people with migraine, these feelings of stigma were linked to more disability, increased disease burden and reduced quality of life, according to new research published in the online issue of Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.

“Stigma is common where the disease is not readily apparent to others, and there is indication that it could be especially relevant for those living with migraine,” said study author Robert Evan Shapiro, MD, PhD, of the University of Vermont and Fellow of the American Academy of Neurology. “This stigma may arise when a person with migraine recognizes negative stereotypes about the disease and experiences shame for having the disease, fear of experiencing stigma from others, or other negative emotions.”

For the study, researchers looked at 59,001 people with migraine with an average age of 41. Among all participants, 41% reported experiencing four or more headache days per month on average.

Participants answered 12 questions to assess two types of stigma: whether they felt others viewed migraine being used for secondary gain and whether they felt others were minimizing the burden of migraine. Questions included “How often have you felt that others viewed your migraine as a way to get attention?” “… as something that made things difficult for your co-workers or supervisor?” and “…with a lack of understanding of the pain and other symptoms?”

Researchers found that 32% of the participants experienced migraine-related stigma often or very often.

To assess migraine-related disability, participants reported the number of days they missed or had reduced productivity at work, home or social events over the previous three months. High scores on migraine-related stigma were linked with moderate to severe disability. Three-quarters of those who experienced stigma often or very often had moderate to severe disability, compared to 19% of those who never experienced stigma.

They also took a test assessing migraine-specific quality of life, which looked at the impact of migraine on social and work-related activities over the previous four weeks. Scores ranged from zero to 100 with higher scores meaning higher quality of life. Researchers found that those who experienced the highest rates of migraine-related stigma scored far lower in these tests, with an average score of 35 compared to those who did not experience stigma with an average score of 69.

The results remained the same after researchers adjusted for other factors that could affect disability and quality of life, such as age, employment status, other medical conditions and frequency of migraines.

They also found that the amount of stigma experienced increased with migraine severity. Those with 8-14 headache days or more than 15 monthly headache days were far more likely to report at least one form of stigma with 42% and 48%, respectively, compared to those with less than four monthly headache days with 26%.

“The social context of migraine may have a greater impact on quality of life than the number of monthly headache days,” said Shapiro. “However, it is possible that connecting with others with migraine may help decrease migraine-related stigma and stereotypes. More studies are needed to explore the mechanisms that link stigma to health outcomes.”

A limitation of the study was that participants self-reported their migraines, based on a questionnaire or a diagnosis from a health care provider, and they may not have remembered all the information accurately.

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Alcohol raises heart disease risk, particularly among women

Young to middle-aged women who reported drinking eight or more alcoholic beverages per week—more than one per day, on average—were significantly more likely to develop coronary heart disease compared with those who drank less.

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Young to middle-aged women who reported drinking eight or more alcoholic beverages per week—more than one per day, on average—were significantly more likely to develop coronary heart disease compared with those who drank less, finds a study presented at the American College of Cardiology’s Annual Scientific Session. The risk was highest among both men and women who reported heavy episodic drinking, or “binge” drinking, and the link between alcohol and heart disease appears to be especially strong among women, according to the findings.

The study focused on 18- to 65-year-old adults and is among the largest and most diverse studies to date examining the links between alcohol and heart disease. Heart attacks and other forms of heart disease are on the rise in younger populations in the U.S., fueling concern about worsening health outcomes. At the same time, alcohol use and binge drinking have become more common among women than in previous decades.

“When it comes to binge drinking, both men and women with excess alcohol consumption had a higher risk of heart disease,” said Jamal Rana, MD, PhD, FACC, a cardiologist with The Permanente Medical Group, adjunct investigator in the Division of Research at Kaiser Permanente Northern California and the study’s lead author. “For women, we find consistently higher risk even without binge drinking. I wasn’t expecting these results among women in this lower age group because we usually see increased risk for heart disease among older women. It was definitely surprising.”

The researchers used data from more than 430,000 people who received care in the Kaiser Permanente Northern California integrated health organization, including nearly 243,000 men and 189,000 women. Participants on average were 44 years old and did not have heart disease at the start of the study. Information on participants’ alcohol intake was collected during primary care visits using the health organization’s standard “Alcohol as a Vital Sign” screening initiative, which includes visual reference posters to help patients estimate alcohol quantities according to standard measurements.

Researchers analyzed the relationship between the level of alcohol intake participants reported in routine assessments from 2014-2015 and coronary heart disease diagnoses during the four-year period that followed. Coronary heart disease occurs when the arteries that supply blood to the heart become narrowed, limiting blood flow. This condition can cause chest pain and acute events, such as a heart attack.

Based on self-report assessments, researchers categorized participants’ overall alcohol intake as low (one to two drinks per week for both men and women), moderate (three to 14 drinks per week for men and three to seven drinks per week for women), or high (15 or more drinks per week for men and eight or more drinks per week for women). They separately categorized each participant as either engaging in binge drinking or not. Binge drinking was defined as more than four drinks for men or more than three drinks for women in a single day in the past three months. People who reported no alcohol use were not included in the study. The researchers adjusted the data to account for age, physical activity, smoking and other known cardiovascular risk factors.

Overall, 3,108 study participants were diagnosed with coronary heart disease during the four-year follow-up period, and the incidence of coronary heart disease increased with higher levels of alcohol consumption. Among women, those who reported high alcohol intake had a 45% higher risk of heart disease compared with those reporting low intake and had a 29% higher risk compared with those reporting moderate intake. The difference was greatest among individuals in the binge drinking category; women in this category were 68% more likely to develop heart disease compared with women reporting moderate intake. Men with high overall intake were 33% more likely to develop heart disease compared with men who had moderate intake.

“Women feel they’re protected against heart disease until they’re older, but this study shows that even when you’re young or middle aged, if you are a heavy alcohol user or binge drink, you are at risk for coronary heart disease,” Rana said.

The results showed no significant difference in risk between people who reported moderate versus low alcohol intake, regardless of whether they also were categorized as binge drinking.

Alcohol has been shown to raise blood pressure and lead to metabolic changes that are associated with inflammation and obesity. Women also process alcohol differently than men. Researchers said the study calls attention to the health risks of alcohol consumption and underscores the importance of considering alcohol use in heart disease risk assessment and prevention efforts. 

“When it comes to heart disease, the number one thing that comes to mind is smoking, and we do not think about alcohol as one of the vital signs,” Rana said. “I think a lot more awareness is needed, and alcohol should be part of routine health assessments moving forward.”

One limitation of the study is that people tend to under-report their alcohol intake when asked by a health care provider. As a result, the study likely provides conservative estimates of the heart disease risk associated with alcohol consumption. The researchers also said the manner in which alcohol screening is performed in a health clinic can influence how patients and clinicians discuss the risks of alcohol consumption, and that further research could help determine optimal strategies.

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Aerobic exercise can help fight liver diseases

he Mfn-2 protein would regulate the curve of the mitochondrial membrane in promoting the oxidation of fat in a specific population of mitochondria, through its interaction and ability to form specific domains with membrane phospholipids.

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Aerobic exercise could help fight the non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, the most common liver disease worldwide: it affects nearly 24% of the global population and it usually causes a certain stigma among the affected people.

This is according to a study – “Mitofusin-2 induced by exercise modifies lipid droplet-mitochondria communication, promoting fatty acid oxidation in male mice with NAFLD” that appeared in the journal Metabolism. The study was led by Professor María Isabel Heràndez-Alvarez, in collaboration with Rodrigo Troncoso, and Víctor Cortés.  

When the liver accumulates large amounts of fat

One of the features of the fatty liver disease or non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NAFLD) is the large concentration of lipid droplets (LD) that accumulate in the liver cells. “Our findings reveal that aerobic exercise, that is, moderate physical activity over time, helps metabolize the fats because it reduces the size of lipid droplets, and therefore, the severity of the disease”, notes the author. 

“Therefore, the energy demands induced by the exercise determine regulated changes in physical and functional relationships between fat droplets and mitochondria, the cell organelles that provide energy for the metabolism.”

This interaction may take place in a specific population of mitochondria known as peridroplet mitochondria (PDM). “As a result, there is a higher oxidation of lipids in this specific population of mitochondria, a process that helps prevent the progress of the disease”.

Discovering a previously unknown connection

“The interaction between the lipid droplets (LD) and the mitochondria is functionally important for the homeostasis of the fat metabolism. Exercise improves fatty liver disease, but to date, it was unknown whether the disease had a direct impact on the interactions between hepatic LDs and mitochondria,” noted María Isabel Hernàndez-Alvarez, Ramón y Cajal postdoctoral researcher at the UB’s Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biomedicine.

The study also stresses that mitofusin 2 (Mfn-2) — a protein located in the external membrane of mitochondria — plays a decisive role in this process, since it modifies the communication between lipid droplets and the specific population of mitochondria.

“We found a decrease in the content related to saturated fatty acids in the hepatic mitochondrial membranes of animals that had done physical activity. This suggests that membrane fluidity increases in the mitochondria,” noted the researcher. “In the case of the mice without the Mfn-2 gene, exposed to physical activity, we did not observe changes in the saturation and the metabolism of fatty acids. These results show that the Mfn-2 protein takes part in the regulation of the composition of fatty acids of the mitochondrial membranes in response to exercise”.

According to the authors, the Mfn-2 protein would regulate the curve of the mitochondrial membrane in promoting the oxidation of fat in a specific population of mitochondria, through its interaction and ability to form specific domains with membrane phospholipids.

The study is a step forward to boosting research on mediators and molecular mechanisms that could promote new strategies to prevent the progression of NAFLD. “Considering the Mfn-2 functions in mitochondrial morphology and in the liver, the therapeutic manipulations of the levels and the activity of Mfn-2 could contribute to the improvement of the NAFLD-related inflammation and the fibrosis”, concluded the researcher.

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