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. We’ve all had those days where we have been so hungry between meals that we ended up overeating while trying to fix dinner on the fly. The good news is that making time for healthy snacks can help curb common diet pitfalls.
“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 what you choose to snack on to keep you satisfied and to curb cravings,” says Tiffany DeWitt, RD, dietitian with Abbott.
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 maintaining blood sugar levels throughout the day.
But just because snacking has some benefits doesn’t give you an excuse to whip out the candy and popcorn while watching your favorite TV show. If you’re going to snack, you have to be smart about how you do it. 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. A good snack should be between 200 to 300 calories. “If you eat too little 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 are looking for a special treat try this delicious, healthy 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 the Nutrition Journal found that eating a high protein snack such as Greek yogurt, cheese or meats or peanut butter can help control your hunger, keep you full, and even prevent you from eating more food later compared to eating a high-fat snack such as chips. If you are on-the-go, try packing a few flavorful nutrition bars like Curate that combine plant-based protein and fiber in culinary flavors to satisfy your hunger.
4. Eat Mindfully
Many people tend to eat their snacks at their desk, while watching TV, or even when driving. “When snacking turns into mindless eating, you can quickly over-eat, leading to eating too many 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. And when you are 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 when you’re on the go or to stick into your kid’s lunches. “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 go-to option or packing a compartmentalized container with cheese cubes, whole wheat crackers and blueberries is a nice treat too,” suggests DeWitt.