It doesn't take rocket science to realize a garden salad with a low-cal vinaigrette is lower in fat and calories than a double bacon cheeseburger. But, in the real world, reason rarely trumps desire.
When your stomach's screaming "feed me" and your next meal's a long way off, when the kids are whimpering and your schedule demands fast action, circumstances often overcome good intentions.
Your conscience tells you to look for better snack options than fries at the drive-thru. But, if you skip the pit stop, you're worried you'll be so hungry when you do chow down that both willpower and portion control will fail you.
Here are a few simple substitutions to steer you toward more sensible snacks when food emergencies hit. They may not be the most nutritious alternative, but they may save you from worse transgressions.
Kelly Ping, a dietitian at St. Vincent Healthcare and the Dialysis Clinic Inc., helped compile this infographic. Ping also does private nutritional counseling at Granite Health and Fitness.
ON THE ROAD
Doritos vs. pretzels
Nacho Cheese Doritos contain about 100 more calories than Snyder's Hanover Pretzel Sticks, but the chips pack 17 grams of fat, eight times more fat than the pretzel sticks.
Warning: Watch the salt. Two ounces of some pretzel brands contain nearly half of the daily recommended allowance for sodium.
Snickers vs. Twizzlers
Both snacks might satisfy the craving for sweets, but the Snickers bar packs 14 grams of fat, including 5 grams of saturated fat. The Twizzlers Bites contain less than a gram of fat, far less sugar and
half the calories of a Snickers.
Warning: Before you get carried away, Twizzlers are candy, meaning empty calories. Seventeen little pieces contain 19 grams of sugar.
AT THE DRIVE-THRU
Fries vs. chili
A small fries at Wendy's has 16 grams of fat, while a small Wendy's chili contains 6 grams. The chili also packs 14 grams of protein.
Warning: The chili contains 830 milligrams of salt.
Taco salad vs. soft tacos
The Taco Bell Fiesta Taco Salad has double the calories of the restaurant's two spicy chicken soft tacos and is loaded with a whopping 43 grams of fat. It's got 10 grams of saturated fat and 1.5 grams of trans fat. The two soft tacos contain 12 grams of fat and 4 grams of saturated fat.
Warning: Both meals contain a lot of salt: 1,790 in the taco salad; 1,160 in the soft tacos.
AT THE MALL
Banana bread vs. oatmeal
Starbucks Perfect Oatmeal could go a long way toward warding off hunger pangs. It contains 140 calories and just 2.5 grams of fat. Choose the Banana Nut Loaf from Starbucks, and you'll eat three times the calories. The quick bread includes 24 grams of fat and 37 grams of sugar.
Warning: If you choose the oatmeal's nutritious nut topping, it adds an extra 100 calories.
Cool Cappuccino vs. Orange Julius
The two 20-oz. drinks from Orange Julius look similar. But the original Orange Julius drink has 1 gram of fat, while the Cool Cappuccino has 13 grams, including 9 grams of saturated fat. The cappuccino also packs more sugar and calories.
Warning: The Cool Cappuccino contains a meal-size 480 calories, while the Orange Julius has 270 calories. There is a smaller size.
Chocolate chip cookies vs. Fig Newtons
Each choice might satisfy a cookie craving, but two Whole-Grain Fig Newtons contain 2 grams of fat, while three Chips Ahoy chocolate chip cookies, which is one serving, hold 8 grams. Another plus, the Fig Newtons contain two grams of fiber.
Warning: The serving size is two Fig Newtons, not five or six.
Pop-tarts vs. granola bar
The TLC Honey Almond Flax granola bar made by Kashi contains fewer calories and far less sugar than a Kellogg's Strawberry Pop-tart. But the granola bar packs a few more pluses: 4 grams of fiber, 7 grams of protein and 300 milligrams of heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids.
Warning: A pair of Pop-tarts comes in one foil pouch and toasters come with two slots, but the serving size is one pastry.
Try these 5 grab-and-go snacks
Plan ahead for snack attacks and you can carry along more nutritious alternatives:
• Any whole fruit - from apples to apricots,
• Low-fat string cheese or Laughing Cow light cheese wedges,
• Non-fat yogurt,
• Chocolate milk with 1-percent fat.
• Any raw vegetables - from baby carrots to green pepper slices.
Tuck away 5 store-in-a-drawer snacks
Keep these items on hand for snacking at work or on car trips:
• Small quantities of unsalted nuts, seeds or dried fruit.
•Low-fat Mexican bean dip or salsa and low-fat whole-grain crackers.
• Fat-free chocolate pudding cups.
• Whole-grain cereals, mixed and bagged to munch as finger food.
• Reduced-fat peanut butter and whole-grain crackers.