The guy above is DOOMED! Eating chips in front of the TV (at least he measured out a bowl of them - but look at the size of it). Yikes!
Snack Girl doesn't want to be so dramatic, but a recent study by a team headed by Liza Makowski, Ph.D at the University of North Carolina has some pretty damning evidence about unhealthy snack food.
Liza was kind enough to allow me to interview her about the study of different diets on rats. You see, you aren't allowed to shove people in a room and feed them whatever you want for days on end and then test them. Not legal or very cool (unless it is a reality TV show).
Snack Girl: Why did you use rats to test the differences in consuming different diets?
Liza Makowski, PhD: Rats and mice are great models to study human obesity. We can track exactly what they eat, which is often a challenge in human studies.
Snack Girl: What is in the "Cafeteria Diet"?
Liza Makowski, PhD: We are interested in studying the causes of obesity so that we can understand it better, with the goal of preventing and controlling it. Most people use a manufactured lard-based diet in animal studies even though humans are not consuming lard every day.
So in our study we used a highly palatable (or delicious) experimental “Cafeteria Diet” which is a special snack-filled diet containing food people actually consume daily including cookies, tortilla chips, chocolate, pepperoni, cereal, muffins, etc.
We offered 3 different snack foods a day plus the standard chow pellets that rats normally eat. This diet more closely mimics what kids and adults in America are actually eating and will help us to better understand the formation of obesity and diabetes.
Snack Girl: What happened to the rats that were fed the Cafeteria Diet and why is your result important for humans?
Liza Makowski, PhD: Rats that were offered the Cafeteria Diet ate more calories, gained excessive weight, had severe tissue inflammation and developed pre-diabetes compared to rats who got obese from diets filled with lard.
As part of the Cafeteria Diet, the rats were also offered a choice of the standard chow pellets that a separate control group of rats were fed which contains a healthy mix of ground up oats, barley, wheat and corn.
It was no surprise that the rats overwhelming ate the snacks, even when they were getting severely obese! Using this experimental diet showed us that these rats could not stop eating this highly palatable snack-filled diet which further supports that it is hard for humans to put down the snacks!
Snack Girl: How much packaged snack food do you think we should consume on a daily basis?
Liza Makowski, PhD: I am not a registered dietician so I can’t comment on specifics of a daily diet, but I can tell you that when I pack my son’s lunch for kindergarten, I provide packaged snacks like a Kashi granola bar or crackers like Triscuits (along with a healthy lunch including a pro-biotic drinkable yogurt, sandwich on wheat bread, and a fruit).
Snacks are not the enemy. They are very convenient and portable- the danger is consuming too many of the bad ones. Many packaged snacks are high in salt, fat and trans-fat, and low in fiber.
And the worst snacks for you are often the cheapest, so it is easy to fall into the trap of eating lots of cheap low nutrient snacks. For my family, those are “sometimes” treats like when we go to a movie or have a party.
Snack Girl: What is your favorite snack?
Liza Makowski, PhD: My mom always had a snack ready when I came home from school. It was no wonder our house was where the kids hung out. I grew up eating potato chips and sour cream dip in front of the TV.
Now, I try to treat my body with more respect! For family movie night with my kids, I love to make homemade popcorn with a little oil in my stovetop popcorn maker and a shake of sea salt. My husband adds cayenne pepper to make his spicy.
I would love to snack all day, but I know that it is just not smart. I don’t keep junk food at home and I never keep it in my office since I would never stop snacking- like the rats in our study.
Thanks so much for all the hard work, Liza. Check out Snack Girl's healthy French Onion Dip recipe and you can go back to eating dip (but maybe not in front of the TV :)