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5 Essentials for Healthy Snacking
Disease Fighters: Fruits and Veggies
Munch on blueberries, apples, peppers, and spinach, which are linked to a reduced risk of heart disease and certain cancers.
Plus, the potassium, magnesium, and calcium in most fresh produce may help lower blood pressure.
Quick Tip: Buy extra cartons of your favorite seasonal berries, gently wash, and pat dry. Freeze in a zip-top plastic bag. Let the fruit defrost on your counter overnight, and mangia!
Heart Helpers: Dark Chocolate
Both regular and sugar-free dark chocolate decrease blood pressure in overweight adults, according to new research.
Consuming just a small amount of flavanol-rich cocoa powder daily can increase blood flow to your skin, making it softer, smoother, and more resistant to sun damage. (This is not your excuse to skip the sunscreen!)
Quick Tip: Add cacao beans, the source of all chocolate, to your diet for an extra flavanol boost. Try Sweetriot Flavor 65 (pieces of the bean covered in dark chocolate) or Hershey's 65% Cacao Premium Dark Chocolate with Nibs (the center of the cacao bean).
Energy Boosters: Whole Grains
Good news for carb lovers: You need at least 130 grams a day to keep your memory and concentration sharp. Opt for the whole-grain kind — it's higher in fiber, giving you energy with staying power.
Bonus: Including five servings of whole grains daily in your low-calorie diet can help you lose belly flab and lower your levels of C-reactive protein, a predictor of heart disease, stroke, and diabetes. Add two more servings and you could lower your risk of diabetes by more than 20 percent.
Quick Tip: Tired of your usual whole wheat? Mix things up with Holly's Cranberry Almond Oatmeal (38 grams of whole grains per half cup) for breakfast, Arnold Grains & More Double Protein Hearty Multi-Grain Bread (19 grams per slice) for lunch, and World of Grains Cookies (15 grams and only 130 calories per pack) for dessert.
Bone Builders: Low-Fat Dairy
Just 1,000 milligrams of calcium a day can help you maintain bone mass when trying to lose weight.
Including dairy, such as skim milk, in a low-calorie diet can help you shed belly fat.
Quick Tip: Instead of sour cream, use low-fat cottage cheese in dips. It has less fat and more protein. Put it in the blender for a thick and creamy texture.
Belly Shrinkers: Nuts
Snacking on nuts may help you shed pounds. Researchers found that people who ate almonds as part of a low-calorie diet for six months lost 18 percent of their body weight — slimming their waistlines and reducing body fat to boot. (Scientists suspect that the fiber-plus-protein combo keeps hunger in check.)
Extra credit: Monounsaturated fats found in some nuts have been shown to lower bad LDL cholesterol levels while preserving the good kind that your body needs.
Quick Tip: Toast raw nuts for extra crunch. Put a handful of your favorites on a baking sheet and roast in a 350-degree oven for 10 to 15 minutes.
Originally published in FITNESS Magazine, January 2009.