As registered dietitians, one of the things that people share with us the most is the steps they are taking to get healthier and lose weight. What we typically find most interesting is what people tell us about their snacking habits in their quest to be healthier. Some people say they don’t snack at all when they are on the healthy train, while others proudly announce that they religiously have an afternoon bite to shed pounds. So what’s the deal with snacks and why do people have such different beliefs about them?
The truth is that an afternoon snack can be helpful or harmful for your health or weight-loss goals. If you make a poor choice, you’re typically better off not eating a snack at all. However, if you choose a wise snack at an appropriate time, it will help create a winning situation and set you up for an energy and mood boost and successful weight loss. Here’s why:
Having a small amount of food in between lunch and dinner is a perfect way to curb your hunger and sneak some extra nutrients into your day. Eating something every four hours keeps your blood sugar (glucose) levels more stable, preventing dips. This means you’ll feel more energized and alert because glucose is your brain’s main source of fuel—and this food will tide you over and prevent overeating at dinner. Not so if you choose a snack that works against you!
What makes a snack a foe?
A snack backfires when it’s low in fiber, protein and nutrients. So if you reach for these types of snack foods (think potato chips, soda or candy) you risk overeating because they don’t have much “staying power” and won’t keep you feeling satisfied. Typically, you’ll eat more of these foods to try and satisfy your hunger. Also, you miss the opportunity to add energizing and performance-enhancing nutrients to your diet. In fact, these foes can cause you to have energy lows and crashes—signaling you to eat more food—which is definitely not ideal if you’re hoping to lose weight!
What makes a snack a friend?
These are the key ingredients:
1. Protein and fiber: This is the power combo for satiety. If you want a snack to provide long-lasting energy, prevent mood swings and a growling belly, be sure to include both protein and fiber. (See examples below.)
2. Your healthy snack option should be between 100 and 200 calories if you’re a female and up to 250 calories if you’re a male. You may need the higher amount to tide you over and prevent overeating at dinner if it will be hours before mealtime—or if you’ll be exercising before dinnertime. (You can test this to see if the higher-calorie snack helps.) Go for fewer calories if you’re simply satisfying a craving.
3. Portable so you can be prepared. Although not critical when it comes to a winning snack, it’s good to always have one or two good on-the-go snacks on hand to prevent succumbing to a snack “foe” like vending machine options in a weak moment!
Tip: Use your snack as a chance to take in extra vitamins, minerals and fiber from wholesome food.
Try these snack ideas that have a protein, fiber and calorie combo:
-Baby carrots and edamame hummus
-An apple with a level tablespoon of peanut butter (or other nut butter) sprinkled with cinnamon
-A hardboiled egg, celery and sugar snap peas
-Non-fat yogurt topped with berries or one tablespoon of granola
-Edamame (We love it plain, but you can dip in mustard or low-fat ranch dressing if you wish!)
-Cucumber with low-fat cottage cheese
-Cucumber Tuna Sammies (Cucumbers make a light and refreshing mini “bread” for tuna sandwiches. Slice the cucumber into coin-like shapes and make mini sammies or slice it length-wise and spread tuna with dijonnaise in between two slices)
-Several whole-grain crackers with black bean dip and salsa (We like Ry-Krisp crackers, which have 30 to 50 calories a sheet.)
-Black Bean, & Corn Salad Zucchini Boats (These work great in portable containers)