The theme of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND) National Nutrition Month (R) this March is 'Enjoy the Taste of Eating Right.' As spring approaches and fitness routines move outdoors, AND reminds you that healthy snacks can fuel a workout, get you through the day and taste delicious.
'It's easy to get stuck in a rut with snacks,' notes Becci Twombley, director of sports nutrition at the University of Southern California and ambassador for the American Pistachio Growers. 'Spring is a time for renewal - cleaning out closets, setting new goals and making a fresh commitment to health and nutrition. Just as it's important to switch up your exercise routine every few weeks, you want to experiment with different snack combinations and have fun with your food. You'll be more likely to stick with a healthy routine if you keep it interesting.'
Twombley's 'snacks from scratch' involves some creativity. Try one of her snacking experiments below if you need a snack makeover this spring.
1. Pick one protein-based ingredient and think about different ways to eat it as a snack. Twombley often recommends pistachios as a performance snack for exercise because, calorie-for-calorie, pistachios pack more protein than most common snacks. Additionally, a serving size of pistachios is 49 nuts (more than any other tree nut), which provides 6 grams of filling protein and 3 grams of fiber for only 160 calories.
Research at the University of Toronto and Pennsylvania State University suggests that eating about 1.5-2 ounces of pistachios (about 20 percent of calories) per day helps curb the rise in blood glucose after a meal and lowers blood pressure, blood triglycerides and LDL-cholesterol, all of which, in turn, lower the risk for metabolic syndrome and heart disease. Researchers at Loma Linda University found that high tree nut consumption was associated with a lower occurrence of obesity and metabolic syndrome, increasing a person's risk for cardiovascular disease, diabetes and stroke.
As a snack ingredient, pistachios can be baked into homemade energy bars, sprinkled on yogurt or combined with dried fruit in a make-your-own trail mix.
2. Work backwards. Think about your favorite snacks, and then experiment with different ways to add new proteins to that snack. For instance, Twombley loves the portability of sport bars, but not the lengthy ingredient list that can accompany some store-bought brands. Instead, Twombley encourages her athletes to make their own sport bars. The Pistachio Sport Bars recipe below combines the protein power of pistachios with energizing carbohydrates and allows you to control the ingredients in your own kitchen.
3. Get creative with the ultimate snack duo: protein and fiber. Rather than buying a traditional trail mix, make your own mix of pistachios and your favorite dried fruit. Mix pistachios with air popped popcorn for a satisfying and filling post-workout snack. Or make your own easy and portable American Pistachio Fruit Chews, which combine a mixture of fresh and dried fruit and pistachios.
Pistachio Sport Bars
Serving: 24 pieces
1 3/4 cups pistachios
1 cup dried banana chips
1 1/2 cups cornflakes
1/3 cup dried pears
1/3 cup dried apricots
1/3 cup honey
1/3 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup crisp oat flakes
Chop the pistachios coarsely and banana chips finely. Partly crush the cornflakes. Cut the pears and apricots into small cubes.
Heat the honey and sugar over a double boiler until the honey and sugar are well combined. Mix in the pistachios, banana chips, cornflakes, pears, apricots and oat flakes. Spread the mixture in a square dish lined with baking paper (9 1/2 x 9 1/2 inches), approximately 1/2 inch deep, and press well into dish. The bars can also be formed individually and then be put on a baking tray lined with baking paper.
Bake the mix in a pre-heated oven at 350 F for about 10-15 minutes. Cut into bars of approximately 1 1/2 x 2 inches and leave to cool on a tray.
For more information about the health benefits of pistachios and recipes developed by renowned chefs, visit www.AmericanPistachios.org.