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Whole-wheat waffles a better morning option
By Karen Collins | Columnist
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Published: 7/7/2010 12:00 AM

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Q. My family loves frozen waffles. How do they rate nutritionally, compared to toast?

A. Compared to having a piece of toast, waffles tend to be higher in fat; however, some are available that are low in fat (and whole grain!). Compare nutrition information on labels to see how much waffles can vary.

The vitamin content is quite similar, but if you choose waffles with whole-wheat flour first on the ingredient list, you'll see that fiber content is higher. Remember that more whole-grain flour means there are also more cancer-fighting phytochemicals, as well as more vitamin E, B-6 and magnesium even if these nutrients are not on the label. Also compare the fat content of different waffle options.

Finally, a major influence on the nutrition quality of those waffles will be how they are served. Don't make them just a vehicle for fat and sugar-loaded syrup. Waffles are delicious when spread with peanut butter and topped with apple or banana slices for breakfast or a snack. Or top waffles with vanilla yogurt and applesauce, pureed berries or sliced fruit. Then you're getting a real nutrition boost from the waffles. Added yogurt or peanut butter will keep energy levels even and hunger satisfied longer than the energy spike and fall you may experience when they're topped with nothing but sugar.

Q. What are some good snack choices before I do a workout or sports event?

A. First priority, make sure you're getting fluid. If your physical activity is coming several hours after a meal (for example, end of the afternoon), a good snack will provide energy that allows you to put more into your workout or sport and get more out of it.

The right snack can help prevent low blood sugar, settle the stomach and avoid hunger. If you find that you do best with a substantial snack because of the length or vigorous nature of your activity, it's best to snack one or two hours ahead of time to avoid stomach discomfort during exercise; if all you need is a light snack, then half an hour to an hour is fine.

Aim for choices relatively low in fat, since fat leaves the stomach rather slowly, potentially causing stomach discomfort during intense activity. The snack should be mostly carbohydrate, though modest amounts of lean protein may enhance endurance.

Some sports nutrition research suggests that by choosing carbohydrates that raise blood sugar more slowly - such as whole grains and fruits - body fat may be more easily mobilized to fuel activity, which helps to avoid that feeling of being totally out of energy when blood sugar dips too low. Some specific ideas that meet all these criteria: oatmeal (preferably not the pre-sweetened type, so add your own sugar if you want a little) topped with raisins, berries or banana slices and milk; yogurt (soymilk or regular) with fruit; whole-wheat toast or English muffin with a little turkey or peanut butter; string cheese and a piece of fruit; whole-wheat mini-pita bread with hummus; some fat-free refried beans and salsa rolled up in a whole-wheat tortilla; or a yogurt-fruit smoothie.

Q. Over the winter I started including bean-based dishes in meals more often, but what can I do with beans in warm weather beyond endless bowls of three-bean salad?

A. Dried beans - kidney, black, navy, garbanzo and many more - offer great nutrition at a low price and are flexible enough to include in a wide variety of dishes. Perhaps during cold weather you enjoyed them in casseroles and hearty soups and chili, but beans are great additions to warm weather meals, too.

First, expand your vision of bean-containing salads. Combine beans with tomatoes, peppers and other ingredients as you create salads flavored in Greek (with olives and lemon-based dressing), Mexican or Cajun style, for example. Light summer soups that highlight seasonal produce can become a main dish with the addition of beans.

Black beans and garbanzo beans can be blenderized with flavors of your choice (I like to go heavy on garlic) to make hummus-like dips for vegetables and sandwich spreads. Enjoy beans in Indian-style curries, in Mexican-flavored burritos and all-American pasta salads.

In short, there are just as many great ways to enjoy beans in warm weather as in cooler months. You can find healthful recipes at the AICR Test Kitchena at aicr.org.

• Provided by the American Institute for Cancer Research. More abou the group and its New American Plate program at aicr.org.