The Diet Detective: Snacking Choices

Cupcakes vs. Muffins

I recently had a few bakery-purchased cupcakes analyzed for a segment I did on National Public Radio and found that a 6.5-ounce vanilla cupcake (from the famed New York Crumbs bakery) has 780 calories, 107 grams of carbs and nearly 36 grams of fat. Magnolia (another famous New York bakery) sells a three-ounce cupcake with 389 calories, 52 grams of carbs and almost 19 grams of fat. So, cupcakes are not exactly the best snack choices. But that doesn't necessarily make muffins a slam dunk. In fact, muffins can be calorie catastrophes, and, unlike cupcakes, we don't usually think of them as dessert.
Most muffins start in the 400-calorie range. For instance, a four-ounce blueberry muffin is generally about 400 calories. And a Dunkin' Donuts Banana Walnut Muffin has 540 calories, 69g carbs, 25g fat, 10g protein and 520mg of sodium. At least when you pick a fruit-and-nut muffin, it will have some nutritional benefits (fiber, protein and some good fat)--however, that doesn't make it a "healthy" choice. Don't be fooled by muffins called "bran" or "whole grain"--there could be very little bran or whole grain in the muffin, so you get lots of calories for little reward.
Fit Tip: If you're among those who like the cake part of the cupcake and can forgo the frosting, you can save up to 140 calories. However, if you choose right, your better bet will still be a muffin. In fact, there are some great, healthy, low-calorie muffins on the market. Try Dark Chocolate Pomegranate Heart Healthy VitaTops from (only 100 calories) or make your own.  

Pepperidge Farm Cheddar Goldfish vs. Nabisco Wheat Thins

It's a toss up. Fifty-five Goldfish (about one ounce) have 150 calories (three calories each), 6g fat, 19g carbs, 3g protein and 250mg of sodium. As for Wheat Thins, 16 crackers (about an ounce), have 130 calories, 4g fat, 21g carbs, 2g protein and 260mg of sodium. But keep in mind that the Wheat Thins contain high-fructose corn syrup, which has been linked to obesity and diabetes.
What about 100% Whole Grain Wheat Thins-Baked Snack Crackers? They're whole grain, so they have to be good--right? Yes, it's better to have 100 percent whole grains, but that doesn't necessarily mean crackers are a healthy choice. Right after the whole-grain wheat, the next ingredients on the label are soybean oil, sugar, cornstarch, corn syrup, salt, high-fructose corn syrup and barley malt syrup--which add up to 21 grams of carbohydrates. And, interestingly, after consuming about 16 whole-grain crackers (140 calories) you'll have made only a small dent (2 grams) in your daily goal of consuming 25 to 38 grams of fiber.
Fit Tip: Go for Wasa Delikatess crackers. This Swedish import is an acquired taste, but once hooked, well, you're hooked. Just take a peek at the ingredients: rye flour (whole grain), water, salt, skimmed milk--that's it--nothing else. Each cracker has only 26 calories, 5.3 carbs, 0.1g fat and 1.3g of fiber. That's a lot of fiber for one cracker. 

Combos vs. Corn Nuts

For some strange reason--maybe wishful thinking--I believed that Corn Nuts were a healthy choice. They have corn, right? Yes, in fact, the ingredients are corn, partially hydrogenated soybean and/or canola oil and salt--pretty straightforward. And they're really not as bad as they could be. A one-ounce portion has 120 calories, 4.5g fat, 21g carbs, 2g fiber, 3g protein and 180mg sodium. The only problem is that Corn Nuts are fried; however, the saturated fat content is still relatively low at 0.5 grams, whereas an ounce of potato chips has about three grams of saturated fat. And the Corn Nuts don't have any sugar.
What about Combos? Yes, they're made with real cheese, but cheese is 10th on the ingredients list. The first three ingredients are flour, vegetable oil and whey. A 1.75-ounce bag has 240 calories, 11g fat (5g saturated), 31g carbs (7g sugar) and 490mg of sodium.
Fit Tip: Looking for that cheesy combo taste? Try a spreadable pretzel cracker with some low-fat cheese. 

Trail Mix vs. Trail Mix Energy Bars

There are many types of energy bars and trail mix. For instance, PowerBar Nut Naturals have 210 calories, 10g fat, 20g carbs, 3g fiber and 10g protein in one 45-gram bar. And while this particular bar has a more readable ingredients label, most don't. Energy bars do give you some decent nutrients like fiber, fat and protein at a lower calorie level than, say, a candy bar, but they still need to be consumed carefully.
Now take a look at Planters Trail Mix Mixed Nuts & Raisins, which has 150 calories per ounce (a small handful), 11g fat (mostly healthy fat), 10g carbs, 2g fiber, 5g protein and only 15mg of sodium. The majority of the ingredients, other than the oil, (I'm not a fan of cottonseed oil) are decent: peanuts, raisins, cashews, almonds, brazil nuts, pistachios, peanut and/or cottonseed oil, salt. But not all trail mix is equally wholesome. Those that contain dried fruits and/or "yogurt-covered" anything have various preservatives and drying agents, which add many chemicals.
Fit Tip: Go with an all-natural organic trail mix such as Bear Naked Pacific Crest Mix, which has 140 calories with two grams of fiber and four grams of protein. It's a 100 percent organic combination of fruits, such as mangos and raisins, plus hearty nuts, including cashews and pistachios.

Charles Stuart Platkin is an Active Expert , nutrition and public health advocate, author of the best seller Breaking the Pattern (Plume, 2005), Breaking the FAT Pattern (Plume, 2006) and Lighten Up (Penguin USA/Razorbill, 2006) and founder of Integrated Wellness Solutions. Sign up for The Diet Detective newsletter free at

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