Savvy Snacking

Your daily food choices fuel your body, mind and mood. In order to stay energized all day and combat potential food cravings and temptations, it’s important to pay attention to when and what you eat.

Well-planned, healthful snack choices can help you avoid break room or vending machine temptations and can keep you from overeating when meals are delayed. Kids need snacks throughout the day to meet their increased energy needs for growth and activity. If you are trying to lose weight, snacks can help you stay on track without hunger.

What are healthy snacks? The best snacks include a good source of fiber and some protein. They often include food groups that you may not have been able to fit into your previous meal and can be anything from small portions of leftovers, to mini-breakfasts, fruit or vegetables combined with dairy foods, beans or other proteins.

Here are some unique snacks ideas to try.

  • Overnight Oatmeal in a Jar
  • Homemade Granola Bars
  • Bell Pepper Pizza
  • Cheese and Pretzel Dippers
  • Cucumber, Hummus and Turkey Roll-ups
  • Avocado, Tomato and Mozzarella Skewers
  • Fresh Fruits with PB2 Dip

For more ideas go to my Pinterest Page:

For kids and big kids alike, it is important to have the snacks ready to go for quick access and no thinking necessary. These are some recommendations for kids, from The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics as posted on:

Here’s the key to healthful food choices: very visible, convenient, effortless and great taste. Follow these seven how-tos for smart snacking.

  • Ask your kids what food group foods they’d like to have on hand. Buy them!
  • “Walk” your kids through the kitchen so they know where these foods are kept.
  • Keep fresh fruit on the counter where kids see it.
  • Wash and cut up veggies ahead, so they’re ready to eat.
  • Use see-through containers, clear plastic bags or containers covered with plastic wrap so kids can see what’s inside.
  • Put nutrient-rich food where kids can reach it, perhaps on lower shelves in your refrigerator, pantry or cabinet. Keep “sometimes” foods, such as cookies and chips, away in cabinets where they’re less convenient to reach, especially for impulse eaters.
  • Buy food in single-serve containers for grab-and-go eating ­— for example, milk, raisins, juice, fruit cups, pudding and baby carrots. 

 From American Dietetic Association Complete Food and Nutrition Guide, 3rd Ed.

Getting Those Zzzzzzs!

When it comes to our busy lives, we always look for ways to do things faster and more efficiently. We often find that there aren’t enough hours in the day to do everything we want to do. We try to give ourselves more time for work or play and unknowingly sacrifice one vital function of our lives. Can you guess which one? If you said SLEEP, you are absolutely right! Unfortunately, we only tend to think about sleep when we haven’t had enough of it. Giving yourself adequate time to sleep will do your body good and can actually have an effect on your nutrition.

The scientific explanation of this striking fact is that sleep is necessary for proper neuroendocrine function and glucose metabolism. Being awake for an extended period of time can trick the body into thinking we need more energy! Our body will compensate for the extra hours of wakefulness causing neuroendocrine, metabolic and behavioral changes leading to the increased consumption of food and increased energy retention. Altered neuroendocrine functions can cause an increased appetite and decreased satiety, making an individual feel hungry all the time. Metabolic changes can include a decreased resting metabolic rate or a decrease in the amount of energy an individual burns at rest. Lastly, behavioral changes, such as skipping the gym because all you want to do is sleep, can occur. Current epidemiologic and laboratory studies have found that altered metabolism can increase your risks of gaining weight and becoming obese, leading to the further development of chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease and Type 2 diabetes.

So just how does limited sleep alter our metabolism?

Our glucose tolerance decreases the less we sleep causing our body to have increased glucose levels. This increase of glucose can contribute to hyperglycemia or high blood sugar levels and increase an individual’s risk for cardiovascular disease. At the same time, our insulin sensitivity decreases. This means our fat cells are unable to effectively use insulin, although our pancreas produces plenty of it. Glucose levels will thus remain high, contributing even further to hyperglycemia. To make matters worse, this change is likely to cause Type 2 diabetes.

Our cortisol secretions are increased the less we sleep, and as we know, cortisol is the steroid hormone released by the body in response to stress. Increased levels of cortisol are associated with higher amounts of abdominal fat, which can lead to further health problems such as the development of metabolic syndrome.

Our ghrelin hormone secretions (the hormone that increases appetite) are also increased the less we sleep. Conversely, leptin hormone secretions (the hormone that decreases appetite) are decreased. As these two hormones work together, our appetite is increased and our satiety is decreased leaving us to feel the need to consume more food.

New research has emerged that suggests insufficient sleep related metabolic adaptations may also cause ill effects for those who are trying to lose weight. Although the individual is reaching their target level of physical activity and following a healthy diet, their sleep loss in the past can delay the success of their treatments. They may also tend to retain more fat if they have a history of excessive food consumption.

So before you hit the sack to clock in your hours of sleep, here are some tips to follow to get a better night’s sleep and wake up feeling healthy and refreshed!

  1. If you exercise in the evening, do it at least 3 hours before bedtime. This will allow your body to cool off and relax before bedtime. Cooler body temperatures will hasten sleep onset.
  2. Limit stimulants such as caffeine, nicotine or alcohol right before bed because it can make it harder to fall asleep. Less sleep will ultimately affect you the next day making your body cry out for more caffeine, eventually leading to a cycle of caffeine dependence.
  3. Aim for a regular bedtime and wake time, including the weekends. This will strengthen your circadian rhythm and will help put you to sleep faster.
  4. Begin a calming routine before bed, such as reading a good book or soaking in a hot bubble bath. Relaxation before bed can prepare your body for deep sleep.
  5. Avoid bright lights, such as your phone or computer. This often can signal increased activity of neurons which can delay your sleep onset.
  6. Eat at least 2-3 hours before bedtime to increase your sleeping comfort. Eating and drinking too closely to bedtime can stimulate your body due to the digestive process, leave you feeling full and may cause you to run to the restroom in the middle of the night.
  7. Regular exercise can help you fall into a deeper sleep.

When it comes to sleep, it’s best we don’t take it for granted! Our body is depending on us to get an adequate amount of sleep so it can function properly and keep us energized throughout our day. So, long story short, getting the sleep we require will help us work faster and more efficiently. And sacrificing sleep for more time will only harm our effectiveness. Following these simple steps, will lead us to live stronger, happier and healthier lives.

Thank you to E. C.–WIC Dietetic Intern, for writing this posting.


Penev, P.D. (2013). Sleep deprivation and human energy metabolism. In Handbook of nutrition, diet and sleep (pp.194-208). Wageningen Academic Publishers.  Accessed June 11, 2013.

Leproult, R., & Van Cauter, E. (2009). Role of sleep and sleep loss in hormonal release and metabolism.  Accessed June 12, 2013.

The National Sleep Foundation. Healthy Sleep Tips .Accessed June 12, 2013.

Energy and Caffeine

You see the commercials every day: energy shots, drinks, and supplements are touted on the airwaves as the cure-all solution for low energy and poor concentration. They claim to enhance everything from mental alertness to increased performance and boosted metabolism. But what do they put in these products and do they really work?

It turns out that the jolt of energy promised is based on two main ingredients: sugar and caffeine. Energy drink companies are quick to highlight the added B-vitamins and other nutrients that are thrown into the mix – but these vitamins and nutrients will only affect your energy and metabolism if you have a nutrient deficiency; which, thanks in part to the fortification of foods in the United States, most Americans do not. On the other hand, the main ingredient of caffeine is a known central nervous system stimulant, and can therefore increase feelings of alertness and decrease the perception of effort. This effect can be traced to a compound that prepares the body for sleep, called adenosine. Adenosine is shut out of the brain in the presence of caffeine, as caffeine “hogs” the brain’s receptors that usually pick up adenosine. When caffeine is picked up by the brain, adrenaline is released, which ultimately increases the body’s perception of having more energy. Numerous studies suggest that caffeine can also improve athletic performance and endurance with as little as 2 cups of coffee one hour prior to exercise. However, every individual exhibits a different response to caffeine and may experience varying degrees of stimulation, or lack thereof.

Due to these physiological effects on the body, caffeine is considered a drug – albeit a naturally occurring one – and has been classified as a controlled substance by the National Collegiate Association of Athletics (NCAA). Until 2004, caffeine was even banned by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and World Anti-Doping Agency. There is little evidence to support that caffeine use results in the physical and social consequences associated with serious drugs of abuse, but if caffeine intake is abruptly stopped or altered, sensitive individuals may experience headaches, drowsiness, irritability, and/or restlessness. These symptoms typically last for a short time-period of 2-3 days and can be avoided by gradually reducing caffeine consumption over several days.

In moderation, most people will not experience detrimental effects to the body from consuming the amount of caffeine in the average energy drink or energy shot. However, too much caffeine, which can stem from consuming just a few of these drinks, can produce unwelcome side effects such as anxiety, jitteriness, rapid heartbeat, gastrointestinal distress, insomnia, dehydration, and even decreased energy. Excess caffeine from energy drinks can be potentially dangerous in sports, especially in combination with alcohol and other stimulants. Side effects can also occur from the overconsumption of coffee, therefore, moderate caffeine consumption is recommended at 200-300 milligrams, or the equivalent of 2-3 cups of coffee and 3-4 cups of black tea.

If you have low energy and/or reduced concentration, consuming caffeine is not the ideal way to compensate. Rather, it is a temporary solution to lack of sleep and an imbalanced diet. Instead, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends limiting screen time, setting and enforcing a regular bedtime, engaging in calming activities before bedtime, and following a well-balanced nutrition plan that includes plenty of water. You can also exercise or eat several smaller meals throughout the day rather than three larger ones. Finally, if you feel you are getting too much caffeine in your diet, the Academy recommends mixing half decaf and half regular coffee together, or substituting coffee with decaffeinated and herbal teas.

Thank you M.M., UTHSCSA Dietetic Intern


Position of the American Dietetic Association, Dietitians of Canada, and the American College of Sports Medicine: Nutrition and Athletic Performance. J Am Diet Assoc. 2009;109:509-527.

Ellen Coleman, RD, Back to the Grind: The Return of Caffeine as an Ergogenic Aid
Today’s Dietitian. Vol. 11 No. 3 P. 8

Elizabeth Lee and Kathleen Zelman, RD: Energy Shots Review: Do They Work? Are They Safe?

Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: Running Low on Energy? Catch Those Zzz’s

Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: How Much Caffeine is Too Much?

How Do Energy Drinks Work?

Caffeine Fuels Most Energy Drinks

International Food Information Council Foundation: Everything You Need to Know About Caffeine

Sports dietitian Nancy Clark, M.S., R.D: The facts about caffeine and athletic performance