Smart Snacking

One of the most popular topics I encounter as a dietitian is snacking.  Is it OK to snack?  What to eat, how much, when, how to incorporate snacks while trying to lose weight.  At the time I’m writing this we are more than 60 days into the corona virus quarantine, and many of you tell me you’re snacking more than usual while working from home.

Confession time:  many years ago, long before I became a dietitian, I thought snacks were the enemy.  True story.  I mistakenly thought it was better for my weight loss goals to ignore my growling tummy and wait for my next meal.  Now that I’m a dietitian, I can tell you that is 100% absolutely bad advice!

I love snacking these days.  Snacks are an important component of a healthy diet.  They help curb hunger between meals, which is super important to help prevent overeating later.  Snacks can also supply necessary energy pre and post workout.  Hooray for snacks!

The key to smart snacking is choosing the right foods, amounts, and combos, not to mention timing.  Sounds like it’s complicated, but it’s really quite simple.  Let me break it down for you: 

  • To achieve maximum benefit from snacks, avoid highly processed foods that add calories without much in the nutrition department.  Choosing whole foods rather than processed versions, will provide you with the nutrients your body needs and the satiety you desire, without increasing your waistline.
  • Choose snacks large enough to curb hunger, but small enough so they don’t interfere with your next meal.  See #1 above: maximum nutrients (think fiber, protein, healthy fats) for satiety and be mindful of calorie content.
  • Snacks composed of carbohydrates (specifically grains, beans, fruit) are quickly absorbed by the body which is why you often feel hungry shortly after eating them.  To keep you satisfied longer, combine carbohydrate foods with protein (meat, dairy) or fats (nuts, seeds, avocado).  Protein and fat take longer to digest, which means you’ll feel fuller longer.  Good options include lean protein such as chicken or fish; low fat dairy such as milk, yogurt, cheese; nuts or nut butter without added sugar; avocado.
  • Eating a little something every few hours is a good idea.  Yes, it’s true!  This helps keep your metabolism going, similar to stoking a fire, which will prevent spikes and crashes that leave you feeling sluggish or “hangry” between meals. 

I’m a big proponent of planning ahead, so I always have snacks with me when I’m on the go.  You never know what can happen when you are away from home.  When you prepare ahead of time, you can avoid being tempted by the fast food drive thru.

containers of food

Here’s some of my favorite healthy snacks:

  • hummus or guacamole and whole grain crackers
  • nut butter or avocado on whole grain bread
  • air popped popcorn with nuts or a drizzle of melted nut butter
  • cheese stick and whole grain crackers or fruit
  • fruit and nuts or nut butter
  • yogurt with fruit or whole grain cereal
  • whole grain cereal with low fat milk

These snacks follow my pairing tips above and are enough to help curb hunger without filling you up so you’re not hungry for your next meal.  Adding yogurt, fruit, or veggies to snacks is an easy way to incorporate important food groups into your daily intake.  There’s no reason to avoid snacking when you apply my simple strategies for choosing wisely.  Let’s face it, nobody can ignore a growling tummy!

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