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Rules lack teeth for defining a ‘healthy snack’

The “Healthy Snacks” aisle in the Durango Walmart features a wide selection of flavored popcorns, candy-based trail mixes and heavily salted nuts as an alternative to junk food.

While shopping at Walmart, I saw something weird: One of the aisles had an overhead sign touting “Healthy Snacks,” however, the “healthy” items on the shelves were anything but. We’re talking Beer Nuts, Sweet & Salty Kettle Corn and gourmet potato chips. Since when are these “healthy?” Did I miss a tweet announcing the deregulation of nutrition? Sign me, Make Eating Great Again

Action Line finds this to be remarkable.

Not the instance of foods so dubious are labeled as salubrious.

It’s the fact that there was only one instance of weirdness at Walmart.

Any excursion to the Vast Empire of Stuff should result in several eyebrow-raising sightings and encounters.

And that’s just in the parking lot before you go inside.

In any case, Action Line went looking for “Healthy Snacks” and found it to be a deserted aisle. Or would that be a “desserted” aisle, considering the preponderance of M&M-based trail mixes?

There were gobs of goobers flanking the gorp, along with heavily salted nuts and a vile product dubbed “dill pickle sunflower seeds.”

Then there was a bag of “Movie Theater Butter Flavored Popcorn.”

Ask your cardiologist about this cinema staple.

But, hey, the bags said “gluten free,” so that’s good, right?

Action Line will dispense with further foodstuff folderol, being that it’s Thanksgiving Week.

However, remaining on our plate is the issue of what constitutes a “healthy snack.”

Turns out, there’s no decent definition of “snack.” Seriously.

That comes from an exhaustive review of studies, published in 2016 in the scholarly journal Advances in Nutrition.

The article was titled “What Is a Snack, Why Do We Snack, and How Can We Choose Better Snacks? A Review of the Definitions of Snacking, Motivations to Snack, Contributions to Dietary Intake, and Recommendations for Improvement.”

Here’s some food for thought:

“Government-issued dietary guidelines could benefit from the use of a clear and consistent definition of snack and snack food or the elimination of these terms altogether,” the study opines.

For example, the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans “encourages decreasing the consumption of ‘snack foods’ but also provides few suggestions for ‘snacks.’”

Then a 2015 update of those guidelines suggests citizens simply choose “smart” snacks.

What, then, is the difference between “smart” and “healthy”?

No one bothered to answer that question, but “Smart Snack” is now the strict standard for all school vending machines, fundraisers and snack bars.

According to the USDA, a Smart Snack must “be a grain product that contains 50 percent or more whole grains by weight (have a whole grain as the first ingredient).”

Hmmm. Doesn’t that sound like a really cheap, dry dog food? But that’s another story.

Not to go against the grain, but a Smart Food can also “have as the first ingredient a fruit, a vegetable, a dairy product or a protein food,” the guidelines add.

Alternatively, a Smart Snack can be “a combination food that contains at least a quarter-cup of fruit and/or vegetable” and meet a variety of nutrient standards for calories, sodium, sugar and fats.

So here’s your “bottom” line for not putting lard in your larder: Be smart, go fresh and don’t believe signs.

That being said, “Mrs. Action Line, would you please pass the gravy for this second heaping helping of roast turkey and stuffing? Then we’ll have some pumpkin cheesecake!”

Email questions to actionline@durangoherald.com or mail them to Action Line, The Durango Herald, 1275 Main Ave., Durango, CO 81301. You can ask for anonymity if you prefer bad nutrition news to be sugar-coated.