Are You a Smart Snacker?
Smart snacks can be part of a healthy diet by helping you curb hunger between meals. Just be sure you know their calorie content and practice portion control.
If you grew up believing that eating snacks between meals was a sure path to weight gain, you’ll be happy to hear that this is now outmoded thinking — with a caveat. If you choose healthy snacks and practice portion control, you can curb hunger between meals and even lose weight doing it.
“A planned snack can actually help prevent overeating,” says Deborah Beauvais, RD, a spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and a district supervisor of school nutrition services in the Rochester, New York area.
If you have a small snack to curb your hunger, you won’t be famished when you sit down for lunch or dinner, which can make it easier to control how much you eat during meals.
Tips on Being a Smart Snacker
Start with these steps to make healthy snack choices:
Snack only when you're truly hungry. Don’t hit the vending machine or dip into the cookie jar out of boredom or frustration. “Feed an emotional urge to munch with an alternative activity like walking the dog, checking e-mail or social media, or calling or texting a friend,” says Beauvais. “Remember — the more physically active you are, the bigger your daily calorie budget is.”
Practice portion control. An ounce of raw almonds (about 23 nuts) is about 160 calories and can easily fit into your healthy eating plan. But if you eat half a bag without thinking, those extra calories could add up to trouble. “Almost any food can be worked into a healthful diet when you pay attention to portion size,” Beauvais says. The daily rule of thumb is that total calories in must equal total calories out.
Think small. You don’t need to eat an entire bag of chips or box of cookies to be satisfied. Researchers at Cornell University gave different portion sizes of three snacks — apple pie, potato chips, and chocolate — to two groups. The group that was given smaller portions was as satisfied as the group that ate larger portions.
Don’t confuse snacks with treats. A treat is something you eat on a special occasion, like cake on your birthday, or pumpkin pie at Thanksgiving. A smart snack is a healthy food that helps ward off hunger pangs and is part of your day’s overall eating plan. “Yes, you can work both snacks and the occasional treat into your diet,” Beauvais says. But because treats tend to be higher in calories than snacks, you need to limit them to special occasions and keep portions small.
Don’t be fooled by “fat free” or “no sugar” labels. “Fat free” doesn't always translate to lower calories, Beauvais points out. You need to review the nutrition facts label and pay special attention to the serving size and the number of calories per portion. “There are many fat-free and low-fat products that are healthier options than their full-fat cousins," she says, "but only by comparing food labels will you learn if the food you are choosing fits the bill.”
Here’s what to look for per serving on the label to be sure you’re choosing smart snacks — and be sure to limit your snack to the designated portion size if the package contains more than one serving:
· 7 grams or less of fat
· 2 grams or less of saturated fat
· 0 grams of trans fat
· 15 grams or less of sugar
· 360 milligrams or less of sodium
Nuts are the exception to this list, notes Beauvais.
Plan your snacks ahead of time. You’ll be less tempted by the candy bar in the vending machine at work if you planned ahead and brought fresh fruit or some whole-wheat crackers and low-fat cheese to snack on. Your kids are more likely to reach for some carrot and celery sticks with peanut butter if they’re cut up and waiting for them in the fridge. “Measure ahead and pre-portion foods in snack bags,” Beauvais suggests.
Time your snacks. A study of women in the Seattle area who were overweight or obese found that they lost more weight if they had a snack between lunch and dinner than if they snacked between breakfast and lunch. The women who snacked in the afternoon also tended to eat healthier fruits and vegetables as part of their day’s snacks and meals.
Ideas for Healthy Snacks
Here are Beauvais’s recommendations for smart snacks, for kids and adults alike:
· 1 cup of dry whole-grain cereal — eat it like snack mix
· 1 cup of low-fat yogurt topped with 1/2 cup fresh fruit
· Fresh fruit (1 piece) or fresh vegetables (1 cup) paired with 1 to 2 tablespoons of low-fat yogurt, hummus, or tofu dip
· 1 tablespoon of peanut butter or hummus on whole-wheat crackers (read the cracker box for serving size)
· 2 cups air-popped popcorn with an herb seasoning (no butter)
· Fruit smoothie made by blending 1 cup of nonfat yogurt with 1/2 cup juice and 1/2 cup fruit, and ice as desired; yields two 8- to 10-ounce smoothies
Feeling hungry? There’s always room for snacks in a healthy diet if you choose them carefully and include their calories in your day’s total.