Even the health-conscious slip up on snacks

September 22, 1992|By Carolyn Poirot | Carolyn Poirot,Fort Worth Star-Telegram

When it comes to snacking, even those of us who consider ourselves fairly health-conscious have some pretty nasty gnawing habits.

Chips, cookies, crackers and cake are preferred over fresh fruit by a wide margin, according to a new study conducted by Columbia University's Institute of Human Nutrition and the Chiquita banana people.

Even those who rank nutrition as "very important" in choosing their snacks admit they munch on fruit less than one-third of the time when snacking in the afternoon and chose fruit only one-fifth of the time for snacking at night.

A crisp, juicy red apple or sweet ripe banana might be the perfect snack food from a nutritionist's point of view, but nibblers of all ages are more likely to reach for a chocolate chip cookie, except in the morning when the popularity of fruit as a snack is at an all-day high.

"We were surprised to find that people who say they are health conscious eat so much junk food," said Dr. Audrey Cross, who conducted the study and is a professor at the Institute of Human Nutrition. "From our survey, taste far outranked any other attribute in people's choice, but it makes me wonder 'Where are these people's taste buds?' To me a sweet succulent piece of fruit tastes far better than a candy bar."

Taste is the most important snack-food consideration with nutrition running second but mentioned only half as often. "Not messy," "single serving" and "short preparation time" are also important in choosing snack foods.

The study of 1,814 adults and children revealed that 35 percent of adults would rather crunch on chips, crackers or pretzels in the afternoon, 31 percent snack primarily on cookies, candy or other sweets, and only 19 percent reach for fruit.

The largest percentage of respondents said they snack two or three times a day.

Afternoon is the prime time for snacking among adults, children and students with only seniors reporting that they do more snacking in the evening.

Children snack the most -- 58.8 percent of those between kindergarten and sixth grade said they snack two or three times a day.

More importantly, perhaps they are not snacking on what their parents think they are. Parents of children in kindergarten through sixth grade believe their kids are nibbling more nutritiously. Forty percent of parents said their kids' morning snack was most often fruit compared to only 20 percent of kids who said they actually snack on fruit in the morning.

So how can you control your kids' snacking? It's very easy, according to Ms. Cross. You can't eat what's not readily available.

"According to our findings, 8 out of 10 snacking events occur in the home, so what's eaten as a snack is largely determined by what you put in the cup board or refrigerator," Ms. Cross said. "This presents a prime opportunity for parents to exercise a decisive veto over snack food choices."

Ms. Cross believes in giving children choices, but she says you should let them choose between two fruits or between carrot sticks and an apple -- not between a peach and a cookie.

Only seniors reported eating fruit most often as their evening snack. Children most often snacked on ice cream in the evening while adults preferred chips. Snacking on high-calorie foods in the evening presents more of a problem because metabolism slows down in the evening and calories linger longer, giving them more time to turn into fat.

While pollsters failed to find out why people seem to disregard the nutritional value of their snacks, Ms. Cross said that from her clinical

practice she knows that people simply are more conscious of what they eat at mealtimes.

"Snacks are thought of as small contributions to the overall diet -- not significant or important to the daily intake," she said. "But if you compare a bag of potato chips to a banana, there is a very significant difference in the nutritional value."

Industry figures reinforce the study's findings.

Americans bought a total of $25.9 billion worth of snacks and candy last year, according to Snack World magazine and the National Confectioner's Association. By contrast, the fruit industry sold $16.4 billion worth of fruit, Supermarket Business magazine reported.

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