Healthy Snacking

Many of the worst processed foods are snacks. People often snack during the day if they don’t have the time or knowledge to make satisfying meals for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Sometimes people snack because they’re trying to lose weight, and so they starve themselves during the times when they really should be eating. Then they get hungry and have to eat something right away. Unfortunately, snack foods are usually the highest in calories. So normally I do not recommend snacking. I think it’s best to eat filling, satisfying meals, even if that means including a good deal of fat. But nevertheless, snacking is often fun and satisfying, and there are plenty of foods that can serve as healthy snacks if you need them. Circumstances such as work, travel, or movie–watching often dictate the necessity for snacks, so here are some ideas that are both satisfying and healthy. I’m really enamored of tables this issue (much to the lament of my webmaster, aka my wife): here’s another one for you. Some of the suggestions here are adapted from a handout I give to my clients, which was written up by the Institute for Integrative Nutrition. Notice the fact that snacks are broken down according to whether they are sweet, salty, or crunchy, because when we snack it’s often one of those three things we’re looking for. You can combine suggestions from the different categories to satisfy multiple cravings.

Category Food Comment
Crunchy Snacks Apples (alone or w/ nut butters) Healthy and filling at the same time.
Rice cakes Not as healthy as real cooked brown rice, but better than constantly eating stuff made from whole wheat.
Popcorn One of the best snacks! Pop it in a pot with some olive oil and then sprinkle with salt and melted butter.
Carrots (with hummus) Satisfying crunchy/smooth combinations.
Celery (with peanut butter)
Nuts and seeds Also a nutritious snack.
Granola Much better than commercial cereals, though I still recommend cooked whole grains.
Sweet Snacks Fresh fruit Mangoes, berries, oranges, bananas, pears, etc.
Dried fruit Raisins, goji berries, papaya, whatever you like.
Frozen yogurt Be sure to use high–quality, organic ingredients when making snacks with dairy products, especially in the spring.
Homemade ice cream
Fruit juices Not to be used in place of water, but can satisfy a sweet craving.
Raw honey Good by itself or spread on something else. Excellent for pollen allergies.
Lemonade Best for the spring. See the “Master Cleanser” above.
Dark chocolate Perfectly all right in moderation.
Salty/Sour Snacks Olives A good source of both salt and fat.
Pickles or Sauerkraut The sour, refreshing kick from these foods will put an instant end to any sweet craving.
Cheese Good for staving off hunger; not a meal replacement though.
Hummus See recipe below.
Sardines or oysters Excellent source of protein if you’re going on a long trip.
Corn chips with guacamole See recipe in last year’s June issue.
Noodles with soy sauce If you’re hungry late at night but don’t want to eat something that will not digest well, quickly boil some soba or udon noodles (available in the Asian section of most grocery stores) and have them in a broth with some soy sauce. It should satisfy your hunger for the evening.


What is Processed Food?

I don’t think I rail against anything more than processed foods, in my gentle and non–authoritative way. There’s nothing “evil” about these foods; they are just not the healthiest and will in fact cause health problems in many people. But I need to explain what I mean by processed foods, because there are definitely some foods that undergo processing and are still very healthy. Processed foods are defined in opposition to whole foods, which are fresh fruits and vegetables, dried grains and beans, nuts and seeds, spices and herbs, meat and milk. Processed foods are made from these fresh, whole foods. So let me start by explaining some kinds of food processing that I think are helpful and necessary.

The Great Processed Foods. Some foods need to be processed so that they can be digested better or preserved longer. For example, the grinding of grains of wheat (called berries) into flour to make bread is a kind of processing. Wheat berries are so hard that it is counterproductive to cook them like you would brown rice or quinoa. All natural, whole wheat bread is not quite as nutritious as cooked whole grains, but is still a healthy food when eaten in moderation. Another food that needs to be processed to be digested is the soybean. Soybeans, like wheat berries, are very hard and take forever to cook. That’s why they are soaked and fermented to make tempeh, miso, and soy sauce.

We also process food to make it last longer. The modern processing methods that have this purpose in mind can be very destructive, but traditional ways of preserving food also preserve its nutrients. These traditions include pickling and fermenting, smoking, drying, salting and curdling. Eating foods that have been processed according to these methods (in other words, pickles, cheese, yogurt, butter, smoked and salted meats and fish, beef jerky, dried fruit) is just fine.

The Good Processed Foods. A second tier of processed food that’s still okay is that of whole foods that have been frozen, canned or combined to make another food. For example, take ice cream. It’s great if you can make your own ice cream using the best quality milk and cream, but there are also ice cream brands available at the store that use pretty high quality ingredients. The same thing is true of many other foods available at the store: sauces, dressings, fruit juices, chocolate, pasta, condiments, etc. These are foods that you could make yourself but might not have the time. In that case it’s okay to get something that’s not whole. The key, again, is to read the ingredients. Look for things that don’t belong. Peanut butter should just have peanuts and salt, not sugar and hydrogenated oil. Tomato sauce doesn’t need sugar either. If you’re eating mostly whole foods, you don’t need bread that has added niacin, lecithin or other vitamins and minerals (whether you even absorb them in this form is questionable). We don’t know why manufacturers put in all this extra fat, sugar and artificial chemicals, but these are the exact things that accumulate in your body and are dying to get cleansed out in the spring. Look at the ingredients and make sure the ingredients used to make what you’re buying were whole foods.

Regarding frozen and canned foods, neither, unfortunately, are nearly as good as fresh vegetables. They’re definitely better than eating no vegetables. Some people develop a dislike for vegetables because they eat them frozen or canned too often instead of fresh. Frozen vegetables are better because they preserve more nutrients. Canned vegetables and canned beans often have high amounts of sodium, so keep that in mind if you choose to get them.

The Okay Processed Foods. These are foods that are largely made from other processed foods, like cookies or crackers or cereal made from flour and sugar. I would also put in here foods like potato chips cooked in a high amount of oil. These foods really don’t have much nutrition in them, though they provide some energy (usually in the form of a blood–sugar spike). The tipping point here when you go from the okay to the bad is whether they use artificial ingredients or hydrogenated oils (trans fats). Stores like Whole Foods and other health food stores sell loads and loads of these processed foods, but the ingredients are at least all natural. Up to this point, all the processing, though it has decreased the nutritional value of the food (whether because you’re not eating fresh, the ingredients are refined, etc.), there are no ingredients that have been manufactured in a laboratory.

The Worst Processed Foods. These are foods that contain either artificial chemicals such as artificial flavors, artificial sweeteners (aspartame, sucralose, sorbitol, saccharin), chemical preservatives like sodium nitrite and potassium sorbate, flavor enhancers like MSG, fat replacements like olestra, “modified food starch” and polydextrose, or they contain natural ingredients that have been modified in some way, like hydrogenated vegetable oils and high fructose corn syrup, or, finally, they contain natural compounds extracted from foods and other sources that are not nutritious on their own, such as glucose, fructose, and soybean oil, hydrolyzed soy protein, ammonium hydroxide, sodium carbonate, and other chemical compounds. Almost all conventional snacks contain these preservatives, sweeteners, fat substitutes, thickeners, colorings, leaveners, firmers, stabilizers, emulsifiers and flavor enhancers. Fast food, junk food, candy, soda, pastries that can sit on the shelf at a highway rest stop until they’re covered with dust, etc., all contain these ingredients in abundance. There are many more such ingredients, but you can recognize them by the fact that they are hard to pronounce. These ingredients are often used to cover up the fact that the main ingredients are past their prime or of poor quality. Some of them are also used for their addictive properties. These are the ingredients that are closely linked to weight gain, digestive problems, headaches, colds, stomachaches, and serious illnesses such as cancer, heart disease, and diabetes, and many other concerns for which we take medication.
In summary, some processed foods can be healthy, while others will lead to health problems. That doesn’t mean you can never have them, but try to make sure you balance the unhealthier ones with whole and cleansing foods, like those mentioned in the Spring Diet. Also, avoiding the worst processed foods doesn’t make you healthy automatically, thought it will make you feel a lot better on a day to day basis. Even if you eat all whole foods, it’s still necessary to have a balanced diet (for example, just eating a ton of salads all year is not a great idea for most people). If you run out of time for food preparation, stick with the “Good” and “Great” processed foods and try to avoid the ones that are just okay or worse. Remember that the foods with artificial ingredients and flavor enhancers are addictive, and it can take a while to switch off of them. A good first step is to get rid of the two most pervasive unhealthy ingredients: high fructose corn syrup and hydrogenated oil. Just by taking that step, you’ll start feeling a lot more cleansed.

Spring Cleaning, Part 2: Spring Diet and Detox Diets

Spring Cleaning, Part 2: Spring Diet and Detox Diets

As I mentioned in the Introduction, during the month of spring the body naturally kick starts its own cleansing and detoxing process. The food that we eat, and the lifestyle that we live, can either aid or hamper this process. More cleansing and nutritious foods will make it easier for you to detoxify, while on the other hand eating cold, damp and heavy, fatty foods will make detoxifying more difficult and will induce colds and sinus trouble. Some people like to undergo a fast during spring as a way of making the cleansing process more total. This can be great idea, but is not a substitute for eating healthy during the rest of the year. In other words, if you decide to fast, don’t “retoxify” when you’re finished; eat a balanced diet instead. If you take care of yourself for most of the year, you don’t end up in a position where you need to seriously detoxify in the spring.

Whether you’re fasting or not, the best spring diet is going to be more low–fat than diets corresponding to the other seasons. That means cutting down on fatty foods like dairy products, nuts (peanut butter), processed foods with hydrogenated oils or vegetable oils in general, and meat that has a high fat content. This is not to say there is something intrinsically wrong with fat, but at this time of year a lot of fat interferes with the natural cleansing going on in your body, which doesn’t expect a lot of fat to still be around after a cold winter. So this is the one time of year when a low–fat diet makes sense. Note: this does not mean low–fat versions of normally high–fat foods. Just eat smaller amounts of high–fat foods at their normal fat content. Fat cravings are not as common in the spring, although if you feel like you need some fat, then go ahead and eat it. Now, what about the foods that are good for the spring? A discussion of the spring diet follows below, and at the end of this article is a section on fasting.

The Spring Diet . The best foods for spring are dried foods left over from the winter and the fresh young greens and sprouts that are just beginning to grow. These greens have a high amount of chlorophyll, which is healing and cleansing for the blood. The greens usually have a bitter or pungent flavor, which is just what you need to break up accumulations of fat in the body. The dried foods, on the other hand, help balance the spring body’s high water content. Below is a list of nutritious spring foods, divided by food group, partially adapted from John Douillard’s The Three–Season Diet.


Type Food Healing Property
Fruit Dried Fruit Drying (of course)
Lemons Sour (liver cleansers)
Sour apples
Strawberries High in antioxidants
Vegetables Asparagus Stereotypical spring food
Brussels Sprouts Very alkaline, nutrient rich
Swiss Chard
Carrots Balances bitter vegetables
Chili Peppers Hot, breaks up mucus
Cilantro Spicy/bitter, very cleansing
Mustard Greens
Collards Bitter, detoxifying
Dandelion Greens Very bitter, detoxifying
Corn Slightly sweet, goes well with greens
Endive High in fiber, also cleansing
Garlic Pungent, burns up fat
Turnips Slightly pungent
Grains Cooked Amaranth, Barley, Corn, Millet, Quinoa and Brown Rice are all good, but reduce wheat. Granola is a good dry cereal.
Beans All dried beans and bean sprouts are good, especially kidneys, lentils, split peas and mung beans.
Nuts/Seeds Pumpkin and sunflower seeds are best, lowest in fat.
Dairy Dairy is usually too cold and thick, but some butter and yogurt is okay.
Meat/Fish Low–fat protein like chicken and fish is best; dried meats like naturally preserved beef jerky are okay too.
Oils Olive oil is best, but reduce consumption of oil to below winter levels.
Sweeteners Raw, local honey is perfect! If you have cravings for sugar and fat in the spring, combine honey with yogurt and berries.
Beverages Water, Green Tea or Black Tea are good. So are pungent teas such as peppermint, dandelion and ginger.
Spices Use lots of pungent spices when making rice and beans—especially black pepper, cayenne pepper, ginger and garlic.

In general, as you can see from above, what’s recommended is a mostly vegan diet, with a lot of whole grains, cooked beans and bean sprouts, fresh vegetables, dried fruit, and bitter, pungent and sour flavors. This is the diet that will help you feel the best in the spring and enhance the cleansing process. In regard to fruits and vegetables, some of the above don’t become available until later in the spring. Look for what is freshest and was grown locally. The foods that naturally grow at this time of year have the most healing properties for spring. Also, remember that low–fat doesn’t mean low–protein. Don’t just eat salads, but have plenty of rice and beans and enough chicken and fish to keep from getting too cold. It’s not summer yet!

The Detox Diet. Eating only the foods listed above is already going to be highly detoxifying. However, some people like to take a few days, a week or even two weeks in the spring to seriously cleanse their bodies. Fasting is a very old tradition, and is an important part of many different religions. Sometimes fasting can be an emotionally or spiritually cleansing experience on top of being a physically cleansing one. I think it’s worth trying out just to see what the experience is like. If ever you don’t feel well, you can always just go back to your normal pattern of eating.

There are obviously different levels of intensity in fasting. Just eating cooked whole grains, beans, vegetables and fruits—the foods listed in the table above—would be the most relaxed fast. Presented below are some different options for fasting:

1. Whole Grain fast. You could also call this the “Bread and Water” diet. Essentially, it involves eating cooked whole grains such as millet and brown rice, chewed very thoroughly, with water as your sole beverage. The whole grains can also be combined with mung beans that have been cooked with kombu. This diet purges toxins from the body while still providing a lot of energy in the form of carbohydrates. Better for people on the thin side who can’t afford to lose a lot of weight.

2. Steamed Vegetable fast. This diet is good for people who would like to lose weight but can experience symptoms of coldness from time to time. Eat two or three different cooked vegetables combined at a time for your meals, and no other foods. Drink water or herbal tea if thirsty.

3. Raw fruit and vegetable/fruit and vegetable juice fast. This diet is good for those with symptoms of heat who want to lose weight and detoxify. Combining fruits and vegetables at the same meal is not always best, so alternate eating fruits and vegetables. As always, chew your food very thoroughly—even chew the vegetable and fruit juices to mix them with alkaline saliva. Beware of fruit and vegetable juices that have added sugar, which will cancel out the cleansing effects.

4. The Master Cleanser. This diet consists solely of water and a drink called the “Master Cleanser”—no food. One glass of the Master Cleanser consists of 2 tablespoons of lemon juice, 1 tablespoon of maple syrup, a pinch of cayenne pepper and a cup of water. Mix together and drink 8-12 glasses a day. Always drink a glass of water with the master cleanser to rinse out your mouth afterwards. Drink as much water as you like. Lemon juice helps detoxify the liver, while the hot pepper breaks up fat and mucus in the body. This diet can be followed for a day, a few days, or a week—continue for as long as you would like, but listen to your body and eat if you feel like you have to.

Some people can get too obsessed with fasting and fast against their body’s wishes. Remember that it is not an alternative to a healthy everyday diet, but it can be very helpful if you feel you need to cleanse yourself of toxins accumulated over a long period of time. Finally, if you choose to fast, remember that your body may not be able to sustain a high level of activity. Don’t work out too hard, and get plenty of sleep.