Skip to Content

NorthShore’s online source for timely health and wellness news, inspiring patient stories and tips to lead a healthy life.

Healthy You

Breaking Down the Elite Ate

Friday, March 31, 2017 6:52 AM

This month we are putting our best fork forward for National Nutrition Month. Using our bracket-style contest, the Kellogg Cancer Center Registered Dietitians – Lori Bumbaco, Lisa Zoberman and Colleen Takagishi – are helping us understand the nutrients of “healthy” snacks. The overall format followed to pick the winners was nutrient-dense foods vs. empty calories.

When choosing what to eat, do you evaluate the nutrient density of your choices? Nutrient-dense foods and beverages are ones that for the calories they contain provide a significant amount of vitamins, minerals and other health-promoting substances. Another way of looking at nutrient density is a nutritious “bang for your buck.” These nutrient-dense choices are preferred over empty-calorieoptions, which, in contrast, offer a lot of calories while lacking nutritional value.


C.1- The “Chompion”
: Low-Fat Soy Milk
Loser: Low-Fat String Cheese
Why: Our winner is one that packs a nutrient-dense punch! Soy contains many beneficial disease-fighting compounds from phytochemicals. Soymilk that is low in fat and unflavored tops all other non-dairy milks for its protein, vitamin and mineral content.EliteAteBracketChallenge

: Low-Fat Soy milk
Loser: Hazelnut Spread
Why: Hazelnuts are healthy, right? Yes, they are a great choice! Unfortunately, there is more sugar and saturated fat in the popular spread than hazelnuts. Soy possesses a variety of active compounds and phytochemicals that are disease fighters. 

: Low-Fat String Cheese
Loser: Pretzels
Why: Pretzels lose out to low-fat cheese as a result of nutrient density. Most are refined versions of grains and Lori, Lisa and Colleen would rather snack on the childhood favorite nutrient-dense snack over the pretzels.


: Hazelnut Spread
Loser: Yogurt-Covered Raisins
Why: While the word “yogurt” sounds healthy, this imposter snack deceptively contains sugars and trans fats in the candy-coated frosting. Hazelnut spread has slightly more protein and a bit less saturated fat than the raisins, and it can be used as a spread on nutrient-dense fruit like apples or bananas, or whole grain bread/crackers, so it beats raisins, but only by a hare.

Winner: Low-Fat Soymilk
Loser: Cold-Pressed Juice
Why: While some brands may offer nutritious choices, liquid calories do not provide us with the same feeling of fullness as do solids. Most brands disguise their content with a large amount of pear or apple juice, rather than only vegetables, and therefore could provide a larger amount of calories. Lori, Lisa and Colleen prefer that we eat our fruit and vegetables rather than drink them

Winner: Low-Fat String Cheese
Loser: Fruit Yogurt
Why: This calorie-controlled and portable snack offers nutrition in its protein and micronutrients. Some yogurts pack as much added sugar as desserts contain, with generally 4 to 5 teaspoons of added sugars. 

Winner: Pretzels
Loser: Veggie Chips
Why: Disguised as a healthy option simply due to the word “veggie,” most brands contain mostly dried potato, rice and oil as their main ingredients. Pretzels, while not ranking high in nutrient density, are a better choice due to their low fat content. A calorie-controlled portion of pretzels is a portable option for a snack to hold you over between meals.