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Avoiding a Sugar Overload at Snack Time

June 1, 2009

We’ve all done it, yelled: “Grab a bar & a bottle” as we bolt out the door. It’s tricky figuring out a healthy, on-the-go snack for our kids in a hurry.

So it was my turn on the Saturday sport snack schedule a week ago. I’ve pretty much figured out the food end of it. Cut fruit, whole-wheat crackers, and chunks of cheese usually does the job. But I’m challenged in the beverage department.

Have you studied a drink bottle label recently? Here’s a handy hint on label reading: Listing sugar in grams doesn’t mean much to me, other than more is obviously not good. But this is a measure I can visualize: Just divide the # of grams by four to find out the sugar content in teaspoons.

Before snack duty day I loaded up the cart with fruit-juice-only drinks, vitamin waters, and other (it turns out) sugar-filled beverages. One brand popular among health-conscious types boasts that it’s 70 percent juice. It also contains a whopping 43 grams of the sweet stuff in one of its 12-ounce bottles. We’re talking 11 teaspoons of sugar. Yikes. And those vitamin waters — which contain no fruit juice but sometimes do have caffeine so double check those labels — are high in sugar too. Now I’ve become an obsessive label reader.

Check this out:  A 20-ounce soda bottle of an iconic American drink contains 65 grams of sugar. That’s about 17 teaspoons. By gulping down the real thing you add about 240 excess calories to your day — and it would take an hour of walking to burn off those babies. Drink just one a day for a year and you (or your kid) are looking at 25 extra pounds you could do without. Yowzer. (For the scoop on the sugar content of lots of foods visit

I’m not a zealot. I get that the occasional treat is fun. I can still recall ordering pink lemonades with my grandparents in suburban Sydney. Unlike American lemonade, these concoctions were a soda more akin to a 7-Up with a dash of bright pink grenadine for a festive effect. Loved ’em. Only got ’em once in a while.

What about plain old water? Yes, my kid has his own reusable water bottle. But you try showing up with bottled water in the Bay Area. It’s a political hot potato.

So I tried a little experiment. Along with the regular “crap snack drinks” as my son and I call them, I sent two big pitchers of water with citrus slices and homegrown mint to practice; not a drop came home.

Next time: I’ll forgo the packaged drinks for the gently flavored H20. Choice isn’t always a good thing. Feel free to share other on-the-go drink (or snack) ideas.

At home, there’s a drink we can offer our kids without guilt. The humble smoothie is a simply delicious way to quench thirst, supply energy, and get some nutrition into the mix as well. Cheers.

Strawberry Smoothie

Smoothies make a great snack or a quick breakfast. Vary the fruit or fruit juice depending on taste. Blueberries, for instance, make for a cool-looking concoction.

Substitute vanilla rice, soy, or cow’s milk for juice and/or yogurt. Use measurements below as a guide. The consistency of a smoothie can be custom made to suit personal preference.

Quick Tip: Frozen fruit such as berries, bananas, mango, or pineapple makes a thicker, frothier smoothie and ensures it’s a refreshing ice-cold drink to boot.

You Need:

1/2-1 cup plain yogurt
1/4-1/2 cup orange juice (no pulp)
1 large banana, peeled
6-8 strawberries, hulls & stems removed
1/2-1 teaspoon vanilla essence
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon and/or nutmeg
1-2 scoops of whey protein powder (optional)

To Do:

1. Combine all ingredients in a blender. Blend until smooth.

2. Pour into chilled glasses and serve.

Flickr photo by p2nnylan3, used under the Creative Commons license