I have always been a snacker. When I was a kid, I preferred white bread spread with cold butter and folded in half, or an oatmeal creme pie. In high school, my snack varied according to whether or not I was on a diet; when I was, I munched Wheat Thins and grapes, and when I wasn't, I was partial to eating ice cream cakes right out of the box. Regardless of the menu, though, I always had a snack between lunch and dinner.
Now that I am older and my metabolism no longer operates at the speed of light, I am constantly looking for healthy alternatives. I've tried foregoing the afternoon snack altogether, but it's impossible. Like a newborn baby, I simply cannot go for more than a few hours without eating.
Over the years, I've thought a lot about what constitutes the perfect snack. I've whittled down the list to four key components:
1. Tastes great.
2. Fills you up.
3. Takes a long time to eat.
4. Salty, not sweet.
Let's examine these in reverse order.
Salty, not sweet. This criterion is self-explanatory. It just comes down to personal choice. If you want to get phreaked on a sugar high at three o'clock in the afternoon, knock yourself out.
Takes a long time to eat. I have read time and again that it takes 20 minutes for my brain to realize that my belly has had enough to eat. On top of that, I'm a supersonic eater. All together, that means that if my snack is a string cheese, it's gone quicker than you can say mozzarella. When that happens, I have a choice: I can either spend the next 19 minutes listening to my tummy buckle and howl, or plant myself in front of the fridge and desperately shovel in anything that isn't stuck to the shelf. That's why it's crucial that the snack eating itself can last a long time. That might mean a snack with lots of individual parts (popcorn) or one that demands constant reassembly (cheese and crackers).
Fills you up. The whole point of the snack in the first place is to keep me out of the kitchen until dinnertime, so it's no good eating a handful of carrots or grapes (see also: face-stuffing fridge scenario, above). On the advice of my personal trainer, I started working in some fat or protein, and that helps a snack stick with me. So does eating triple-digit calories.
Tastes great. This is a snack's most important quality. Healthy eating is all too often a sacrifice. Either you eat something delicious, but in such small quantities that it wouldn't satisfy an anorexic celebutante, or you eat a lot of something that tastes like salted cardboard, minus the salt. Since I'm a girl who likes to have my cake and eat it too, when I find something tasty that doesn't increase the likelihood that my thighs will be assigned their own zip code, I'm in heaven.
That's why I was so delighted to discover popchips, a brand new chippy snack that is popped rather than fried or baked. It meets all of my criteria and then some. They start with potatoes, organic white corn, or brown rice and apply heat and pressure to "pop" the chips without any oil. The crunchy nibbles come in nine flavors like Parmesan garlic (potato), cheddar (corn), and sea salt (rice). Each bag is a good solid serving, enough so that I don't have to resort to desperate measures like pouring the crumbs into my mouth or running a damp finger around the inside of the bag to snag every last flavor molecule. Each serving weighs in at 120 calories with half the fat of regular potato chips, and there isn't a single gram of trans fat, saturated fat*, or cholesterol to be found. There are no fake colors, flavors, or preservatives, either. In fact, the ingredients in the sea salt corn chips, for example, are all things I can understand: organic white corn, safflower oil and/or sunflower oil, and sea salt.
The company sent me samples of each flavor and I've been working my way through them. So far my favorites are barbecue (potato) and salsa (corn). The only one that I don't care for is wasabi (rice). I'm just not a big wasabi-lover, unless it's the real deal. But the others are compulsively delicious, with just the right amount of flavor locked into every crevice and cranny.
Is it snack time yet?
popchips are available at Bristol Farms, Mollie Stone's, Safeway, and online through Amazon.com
*Except in the cheddar corn chips, because they use real cheese and real cheese has trace amounts of saturated fats.