I really love sitting down to a great meal, but I have always been a food “grazer”. I was never one who could starve myself all day so I could save the calories for my evening meal. Not only would my stomach start to growl, but I would experience a frightening personality change from the lack of food! Our blood sugar typically dips around three to five hours after we eat, so eating small, frequent snacks keeps the metabolism revved up and helps normalize our blood sugar. Hunger can throw the body into famine mode, which slows metabolism; making it easier to pack on the pounds.
A few recent studies have negated the effectiveness of snacking claiming that people who snack in the morning gain weight more often than those who snack in the afternoon. The studies cite the food choices as the most significant factor, saying the afternoon snackers eat more fruits and vegetables.
But we really shouldn’t feel guilty about snacking. In fact, most well-planned weight-loss programs allow for snacks to help manage hunger and reduce binge eating since eating a healthy snack can tame your hunger without ruining your appetite for your next meal. Snacking can support diet goals, but only if you are eating because you’re really hungry, not just because you’re bored. And, the type of snacks you choose also make a big difference in your weight loss and maintenance.
We often reach for carbohydrates when we’re feeling down because they help lift our mood by boosting the brain chemical serotonin. While snacking on processed foods like plain bagels and cookies can provide a quick high, it’s followed by a sharp low. Good-for-you fruit sugars, honey, low-fat dairy products, whole grains, and many vegetables lift your mood and battle fatigue without the roller-coaster effect.
To keep your energy levels going — and avoid weight gain — steer clear of foods with lots of simple carbohydrates (sugars) like candy bars or soda, and look for foods that contain complex carbohydrates like whole-grain breads and cereals. Combine them with protein-rich snacks such as peanut butter or low-fat yogurt or cheese. Foods like fruits, vegetables, nuts, low-fat dairy products, whole grains, and legumes are satisfying and are packed with the nutrients, fiber, and protein your body needs, and they guard against sugar highs and lows, so you are less likely to succumb to your sweet tooth.
These healthy snacks provide more of a slow-burning fuel than the quick high and sharp drop, and that helps you keep going all day. Having several snacks a day helps banish that post-meal sleepiness that comes from consuming too many calories at one sitting. And, if you include protein in your snack, it gives you an extra mental boost. Foods like fish, meat, eggs, cheese, and tofu contain an amino acid that increases the production of neurotransmitters that regulate both concentration and alertness.
-Foods rich in soluble fiber make for great snacks because soluble fiber leaves the stomach slowly, encouraging better blood sugars and making you feel satisfied longer. Here are some possible snack ingredients that are high in soluble fiber:
-Snacks should be around 150-200 calories — just enough energy to tide you over until your next meal but not so much that it contributes as many calories as a meal.
-Snacks need to be eaten slowly, too, just like meals. Don’t forget that it takes 20 minutes for your brain to get the message that you are full. Give that message time to work before you decide the snack didn’t do the trick.
-Pair complex carbohydrates with protein and a small amount of fat for sustainable energy — and control portions to avoid calorie overload
Choose healthy snacks and keep moderation and balance in mind.
Fruits and vegetables. Again, eating fruits and vegetables provides a feeling of fullness with little to no fat and only a small number of calories. Fruits and vegetables also provide vitamins, minerals, fiber and other nutrients.
Whole grains. Whole-grain snacks are rich in fiber and complex carbohydrates, giving you energy with staying power. Look for low-fat whole-grain crackers, whole-grain pretzels,oats and oat bran (make a batch of oatmeal flavored with low-fat milk, a little vanilla extract and cinnamon in the microwave — or freeze a batch of blueberry oat bran muffins so you can grab one when you need a quick afternoon pickup!) Orville Redenbacher’s 100 calorie Microwave Kettlecorn-1.5 fat 3 fiber 3 protein
Nuts and seeds. Nuts and seeds provide protein, so you will feel fuller longer. They can be high in fat, but it’s mostly monounsaturated, a healthy kind of fat. Nuts and seeds are high in calories, however, so don’t eat them in large quantities. A small handful of almonds (about 14 nuts) contains 100 calories, but eat a cup of almonds, and the calorie count jumps to over 800 calories
Dried Fruits-Trail mix gives you some fiber and carbohydrate calories, but the nuts help round the snack off with protein, fat, and some more fiber. Try to stay away from those that contain sesame sticks or dried banana chips or chocolate chips or M&Ms. Again, watch your portion size.
Low-fat dairy products. Cheese, yogurt and other dairy products are good sources of calcium and protein, plus many other vitamins and minerals. Choose the low-fat versions. Some yogurts have extra added sugar, so look for low-calorie or “light” varieties.
And use some of these tips to make healthy snacking part of your everyday routine:
Prepare healthy snacks in advance. Make your own granola or trail mix to control the ingredients and put in what’s good for you! You also can keep plenty of fresh fruit and veggies at home to take on the go. Cut up melons or vegetables like celery and carrots in advance. Keep the servings in bags in the fridge, ready to grab and go. I’m all about the small Zip-Loc bags. When I buy a bag of trail mix, crackers, SkinnyPop or nuts, I immediately measure out serving size portions and divide them into individual Zip-Loc bags.
Keep healthy snacks with you. Make it a habit to stash some fruit, whole-grain crackers, or baby carrots in your backpack or workout bag so you always have some healthy food nearby. Half a cheese sandwich, or a Mini Babybel Light with nuts or soy crisps also make great snacks to have on standby.
Make it interesting. Healthy snacking doesn’t have to be boring as long as you give yourself a variety of choices. Whole-wheat pretzels with spicy mustard, rice cakes with peanut butter and raisins, or low-fat fruit yogurt Apple slices with 1 tablespoon peanut or sunflower seed butter (you can get individual packets like Justin’s peanut or almond butter) are healthy, tasty, and easy.
Satisfy cravings with healthier approaches. If you love chocolate, try a chocolate VitaTop instead of a chocolate bar. Only 100 calories and 3 grams of fat compared to a a chocolate bar with 230 calories and 13 grams of fat. Substitute nonfat frozen yogurt or sorbet for ice cream. If you’re craving savory snacks, try soy crisps or SkinnyPop
Read serving size information. What looks like a small package of cookies can contain 2 or more servings — which means double or even triple the amounts of fat, calories, and sugar shown on the label.
Overall, moderation is the key to smart snacking. People who eat regular meals and healthy snacks are less likely to overeat and gain weight than people who skip meals or go for long periods without eating and then scarf down a large order of fries.
It’s natural to feel hungrier at certain times, so knowing how much food your body needs to satisfy this hunger is critical. A handful of almonds is great brain food before sitting down to do your checkbook, but a whole bag won’t help you add anything — except pounds!