Is It ‘Healthier’ To Eat Chips Or French Fries For Merienda?

A nutritionist helps us pick the 'less evil' food to snack on!
by Stephanie Shi
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Healthy food isn’t always accessible, so when we’re looking for something to munch on at work or eat for merienda, it’s inevitable to consume way too much fat or sugar and not much vitamins and minerals. And if you have a sedentary lifestyle, that’s bound to result in weight gain or health problems like heart disease in the future.

We asked nutritionist Dave Sison, MSc, RND for pointers on choosing which snacks to eat when there's hardly anything in sight, while at the same time keeping unwanted calories at bay. We also let him pick the least sinful snack from a list of salty and sweet bites. (Note that his tips and suggestions assume that we do not have any dietary diseases.)

“In terms of diet, the fastest recommendation a licensed nutritionist-dietician would give would be to cut out on caloric intake,” states Sison. “Nutritionist-dieticians prescribe reducing calorie (energy) intake by 500 each day, depending on their current nutritional status. That would be a total of 3,500 kcals per day, and that would yield an expected loss of around 1 kg (approx 2 lbs) of body fat in a week.”

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The salty merienda
(Ex: instant noodles, burger, pizza, fried chicken with rice, and siomai)

Pick: siomai.

“All the others are quite heavy and can be considered a meal,” he reasons. “But just in case you have no further choice, go for maybe half a slice of a classic cheeseburger or half a slice of regular pizza.” He also suggests drinking something relatively healthy like fruit juice to complement the snack.

In the mood for pizza, though? Ordering a box with vegetables on top “doesn’t make a big difference” in terms of trying to consume the healthier option. Sison explains, “Pizza has the base dough and the ingredients in the layering, and then the toppings. If the ingredients, the quality of the dough, and the layers are the same for the meat pizza and the vegetable pizza, you’ll still have a dish with large calorie content.”

“‘Value adding’ ingredients like handfuls of arugula can contribute to a pizza’s ‘nutritional profile’ though,” Sison adds.

If you’re craving some burger but still want a healthy one, Sison advises asking (or checking) if it’s high in fiber (which is good), what type of fat it contains (and how much), how much sodium is in the food, and what type of meat is in it.

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Ideally we shouldn’t consume too much sodium because it retains water in our bodies hence contributes to body weight. But when you do eat something salty, do some “damage control” by drinking lots of water to dilute and flush out the salt. And of course, exercise.

The salty munchies
(Ex: peanuts, chips, plain crackers, and french fries)

Pick: peanuts.

“Peanuts are a good snack; they break the hunger pangs and they deliver essential fats. Plain crackers would be my second choice.”

If you want to eat chips, you need to check how much saturated fat and sodium are present per serving. If those are low, they’re not so bad for you—for the moment.

The worse choice, according to Sison, is eating large amounts of calorie-dense food that is also not nutrient-dense. In this case, it’s french fries. “Potatoes, when fried, are porous. Meaning, they absorb all the fat they’ve been fried in. So you get fat from the oil and refined carbohydrates from the potato.” And while refined carbohydrates are not bad on their own—your body needs them for instant energy—they can result in weight gain if you don’t burn them immediately because they are easily absorbed by the body and stored as fat.

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The sweets
(ex: cookies, chocolates, brownie, granola bar, ice cream, frozen yogurt, halo-halo, donut, cupcake)

Pick: Granola bar and dark chocolate (because of antioxidant content).

“Frozen yogurt is possible too because of its low fat content and possible probiotic content. Of course this does not make the other foods ‘not qualified.’ You can always reduce the serving size and mix and match to get the nutrients your body needs.”

Other snacking tips:

1. Remember the term “small frequent feeding.”
This means eating less in one sitting, but eating more in frequency (around five to six times a day). That way you have more control of your calorie intake.

2. Ate junk? Make sure you eat healthier food after. 
Always make sure you don’t eat junk food for the rest of the day. Make up for it by loading up on vegetables and fruits—look for nutrient-dense food—so you can get your vitamins, and by drinking lots of water.

3. Eat fiber-rich food so you won’t experience a crash.
Fiber helps in providing sustained energy as opposed to refined carbohydrates that provides instant energy for quick-response activities. Some foods mentioned above have very little fiber, so it’s easy to gobble now and eat more later because they don’t fill you up.

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4. Remember: balance, variety, and moderation.
So yes, you can eat the food listed above but don’t go crazy. And of course, don’t eat them every day.

5. Know your nutritional status.
You can do this by getting blood tests (they’ll check for things like your cholesterol, uric acid, iron, and sugar levels). According to Sison, if you do, you’ll have an easier time managing your weight. You’ll know exactly what you can and can’t eat.

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