Healthy Snack Habits
Choose your snacks wisely
By Kathleen M. Zelman, MPH, RD
Snacks are often blamed as one of the causes of our overweight nation. In part, this is true if the snacks you choose are empty calorie cakes, cookies and chips. But when you think of snacks as mini meals, they can be part of a weight loss diet plan and work wonders to help you get through the day with plenty of zip in your step.
Kids need snacks in order to get all the nutrients they need for growth and development. Adults need snacks, too. Choosing a healthy snack between meals can help you diminish the gnawing in your belly that might otherwise send you to a vending machine full of poor choices.
Secret to healthy snacking is planning ahead
One of the easiest ways to control calorie intake is to have a well stocked kitchen. Having nutritious snacks in your kitchen, lunch box or briefcase is the first step to incorporating healthy snacks into your diet plan.
Going too long between meals and not having healthy snacks readily available is usually when you "ate the whole thing." Another landmine is denying yourself or your family snacks. Deprivation can be a trigger for a binge or going overboard. It is much better to plan ahead so you can satisfy your desire for a sweet or savory snack every day with a portion controlled nutritious snack.
Take a walk through the grocery store in search of healthy, convenient snacks like bars, cups and individual pouches that are portion controlled and low in calories.
As a basic rule, try to keep snacks to approximately 100-200 calories. Many of the 100 calorie products feature portion controlled snacks that are great for weight control. But unless there is some nutritional goodness to the product, keep these 100 calorie snacks to a minimum.
To determine the healthfulness of snacks, read the nutrition facts panel to see if it contains a good source of fiber, protein or whole grain and not too much fat, sugar or salt. Another strategy is to think about the nutrient holes in your diet. For example, if you struggle getting enough calcium, choose dairy products as snacks.
When choosing snacks for weight loss, select ones that are controlled in calories, contain protein, fiber and a little healthy fat so the snack will fill you up and keep you satisfied until your next meal.
Whenever you choose to snack, take a few minutes to enjoy what you are eating, eat it slowly and mindfully. Take snacks out of large containers, place them on small plates and pay attention to the taste and flavors to maximize your eating enjoyment.
Here are several of my favorite healthy snacks:
- One-half peanut or almond butter sandwich on whole wheat bread – the fiber and heart healthy fats make this a winner
- Low sugar granola bars that have at least 4g fiber and a few grams of protein
- Whole grain crackers with hummus, low-fat peanut butter or cheese
- Small handful of unsalted or lightly salted dry roasted nuts (1 ounce)
- 6-inch whole wheat tortilla with hummus spread
- Individual unsweetened applesauce with dry roasted walnuts tossed in
- Small apple with single serve peanut butter
- Piece of fresh fruit with a few nuts or low-fat cheese
- One pack of low-fat string cheese
- Baby carrots, celery, grape tomatoes, jicama or any portable veggies in a ziplock bag
- Low-fat Greek style yogurt
- Trail mix consisting of a mix of high-fiber cereal, nuts, dried fruit
- Smoothie made with fruit, low-fat yogurt, ice and a little 100 percent juice
- Small bag of low-fat popcorn – popcorn is a whole grain
- Baked tortilla chips and salsa
- One fat-free pudding
- Bowl of low-sugar whole grain cereal with skim milk
- Ants on a log – celery sticks stuffed with peanut butter and decorated with a few raisins
- 100-150 calorie novelty ice cream cups and bars
- 1 cup of berries and 1 tablespoon melted chocolate chips for dipping
- A slice of angel food cake, fresh berries and fat-free whipped topping
- A cup of frozen grapes
- A frozen banana drizzled with a little chocolate syrup
- Freeze a container of whipped yogurt for a tasty sweet snack
When do you need snacks?
Many people prefer to eat five to six times a day which is a great way to control blood sugar and manage hunger. But it can also lead to weight gain if those mini meals contain too many calories. Try to keep mini meals to 300 calories each so your calorie intake is between 1,500 and 1,800 at the end of the day. Depending on your current weight status and physical activity level, these numbers can be adjusted a little higher.
Here are a few situations when you might want to consider a boost or healthy snack:
- When you need a pick me up or an energy lift
- If you are uncertain when your next meal will occur, be prepared with a snack
- Before and after working out – before give you energy, after rebuilds protein stores
- After three or four hours of no food, you need a snack to avoid low blood sugar and ravenous hunger
- Driving in the car for prolonged periods of time