Snacking can be the superpower that gets you through the day, or the thing that sabotages your healthy eating efforts entirely. What makes the difference? How you snack and what you snack on!
Unfortunately, research finds that we snack on the wrong things, for the wrong reasons. This can cause us to gain weight, skip nutrient-dense meals, and make us more susceptible to illnesses related to diets high in fat, sugar, and sodium.
Yet, done right, snacking can give us an energy boost hours after our last meal when blood glucose levels are dropping, help prevent us from overeating at the next meal, and give us extra micronutrients we need.
We can turn dangerous snacking into smart snacking with these five tips! Read on to turn snacking into a regular and important part of your healthy diet.
5 Tips to Snack Smarter
1. Assess why you snack. Evaluating why you typically snack, when you snack, and what you eat will help you avoid snacking pitfalls. Do you tend to eat when you’re stressed, bored, distracted, overindulging, or when you’re worried about food (food insecurity)? Studies show that many of us do. Plus, we tend to reach for unhealthy snacks high in sugar and carbohydrates when we’re not eating because of hunger.
We don’t really need snacks if we’re eating healthy meals. So, if you’re snacking for the wrong reason or out of a bad habit, then pick a couple of alternatives to snacking for those times – like taking a walk, reading a book, playing with a pet, or calling someone. We often snack because we’re thirsty, so have a glass of water before indulging cravings!
2. Plan ahead. To get the healthy snacks in your belly, you need to have them on hand. It’s even easier if foods like vegetables are prepped – washed, cut, and ready to eat. Snack planning is similar to meal planning. We want options for all our preferences: crunchy, creamy, sweet, and salty/savory. Here are a few ideas:
- Crunchy – Veggie sticks, apples, nuts, seeds, whole grain crackers
- Creamy – Avocado, yogurt, hummus, cottage cheese
- Sweet – Fresh fruit, dark chocolate, energy balls, banana ice cream
- Salty/Savory – Nuts, nut butter, jerky, roasted chickpeas, cheese
Need more healthy snack ideas? Try these. If there are unhealthy foods you cannot resist snacking on (cookies, chips, ice cream, candy, soft drinks, crackers, cake, etc.) leave them at the store! Whether you’re bored or really hungry, you want great options on hand!
3. Eat balanced snacks and complement meals – Incorporating snack planning into meal planning helps you get balanced snacks that complement your meals. Ideal snacks combine healthy fat, fiber, and protein. Good examples are apple slices with nut butter, yogurt with fresh fruit and nuts or granola, pita and veggies with hummus, or dark chocolate with almonds. Balanced snacks give us energy, keep us full longer, and help prevent blood sugar spikes.
To complement meals, consider what may be missing from the day’s meals. It’s recommended we eat five to 13 servings of fruits and vegetables a day, yet only one in 10 adults do. Boost your intake of through snacks to get more vitamins and minerals!
4. Schedule snack time – Best snack times depend on when you eat meals, but in general snacking is ideal halfway between meals, anytime it’s been over four hours since a meal, after a strenuous workout, and before bedtime. Also, it’s better to have a healthy snack than skip a meal.
As mentioned above, balanced snacks are excellent. At bedtime, it’s really important to eat foods that induce sleep rather than disturb it. Foods that have melatonin, magnesium, and zinc – like walnuts, almonds, and pistachios, can help us sleep well. Other good bedtime snacks include bananas, oatmeal, seeds, kiwis, tart cherries, and yogurt.
5. Watch your portions – Exceeding healthy portions is one of the biggest pitfalls of snacking. A snack should satisfy, but not ruin your appetite for meals. Aim for 150-250 calories max. A handful of nuts, about an ounce, typically has over 150 calories. Likewise, dried fruit often has five times the calories and sugar of fresh fruit. Nuts and dried fruits offer many micronutrients, just enjoy them sparingly!
If you like packaged snacks, check the Nutrition Facts label when you buy and again when it’s snack time so you’re enjoying in moderation.
As you use these five tips to turn snacking into a powerful asset to your healthy eating, try new foods so you don’t get bored and be mindful of your cravings. Sometimes the snack we really need is a glass of water and walk.