Snacking is one of those habits that often gets a bad rap, but luckily, nibbling throughout the day can actually have some powerful health benefits. "The right snacks ward off hunger so you feel more in control and have steady energy while waiting for your next meal. And it's important to choose snacks that curb cravings and keep you satisfied," says Abbott registered dietitian Tiffany DeWitt.
In fact, snacking or eating small portions throughout the day could end up being healthier than eating less frequent, larger meals. A study from the New England Journal of Medicine found that eating smaller meals throughout the day can have a positive impact on your health by lowering levels of "bad" LDL cholesterol and regulating blood sugar levels throughout the day.
But just because snacking has some benefits doesn't mean you can overdo it with candy and popcorn while watching your favorite TV show. Try these five tips to improve your eating habits and start snacking the right way.
1. Count Your Calories
A snack is called a snack for a reason — it's not supposed to be a full meal. Healthy snacks should be between 200 to 300 calories. "If you eat too few calories (100 calories), you may find yourself reaching for another snack in less than an hour," says DeWitt. To avoid a snack attack, make yourself a small plate instead of eating directly out of a bag or a box. Consider using an app such as MyFitnessPal or Fooducate to track your calories.
2. Fill Up on Fiber
When it comes to filling snacks, fiber should be your go-to nutrient. A study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine found that people who added fiber to their diet — without changing anything else — lost weight, lowered their blood pressure and improved their response to insulin. High-fiber foods include oatmeal, nuts, whole grains, hummus and vegetables. The next time you're looking for a special treat try this delicious recipe for Rhubarb Raspberry Oat Squares from Katie Cavuto, MS, RD, culinary nutritionist and writer.
3. Pick A Protein
Protein is fiber's partner in crime. A study published in Nutrition Journal found that in comparison to a fatty snack like chips, high protein, healthy snacks such as Greek yogurt, cheese, meats or peanut butter can help control your hunger, keep you full and even prevent you from eating more later. If you're on the go, try packing a few ZonePerfect High Protein Bars which combine great taste with plenty of protein.
4. Eat Mindfully
Many people tend to eat snacks at their desks, while watching TV or even when driving. "When snacking turns into mindless eating, you can quickly over-eat, leading to excess calories and eventually weight gain," says DeWitt. Pay attention to how you're eating by removing distractions and pausing between bites. Studies show that mindful eating can help prevent binge eating, aid in weight loss and help people develop a healthy relationship with food. When you're finished eating, brush your teeth to curb another trip to the pantry.
5. Plan Ahead
Preparing snacks doesn't have to be a hassle! Make meal prep a weekly activity you enjoy with the kids. Fill up snack-sized Ziploc bags with your favorite goodies, and keep them on hand for kids' lunches or an easy snack when you're on the go. "One of my favorites is mixing healthy cereals like Wheat Chex with pretzels, nuts and raisins and making a sweet and salty treat. Hummus and carrots is an easy option, and a compartmentalized container with cheese cubes, whole wheat crackers and blueberries is a nice treat too," suggests DeWitt.