6 tips to improve your snacking habits

It’s no secret that people love snacks. And many people reach for soda, candy, chips, pretzels, baked goods or ice cream when they get a snack craving. The problem is those snacks can add up when it comes to sugar, fat and salt.

But snacking can be healthy. The right snack can power you through your midafternoon low. Or even make up for vitamins and minerals you might not be getting at mealtimes. Here are 6 tips for becoming a healthier, more mindful snacker. 

1. Ask yourself if you’re really hungry

Sometimes we snack because our workmates brought in cupcakes. Other times it’s because we’re bored. And when we’re not actually hungry, we typically choose snacks that are higher in fat, sugar or sodium.1 In other words, we’re more likely to make unhealthy choices. So try something else instead – drink water or tea, go for a short walk, play with your pet, or talk or text with a friend.2

2. Pair proteins with fiber

If you’re truly hungry, go for a power snack. A combination of protein and fiber keeps you feeling fuller longer. And it has more staying power than a donut or candy bar. Plus, most of us need to eat more fiber. Only 5% of Americans are eating the recommended amount, roughly 19 to 38 grams a day.3 Try the following pairings:  

  • Whole-grain crackers and hummus
  • Apple slices or whole-wheat pita with nut butter
  • Berries and yogurt

3. Make your 3 meals a day count 

Many people snack to make up for a missed meal, usually lunch.4 Try not to skip meals. And put some effort into making those meals nutritious. Again, pair fiber-rich foods with lean or vegan protein sources and load up on fruits and/or vegetables.

4. Be mindful when you snack

When you snack, be present and focused while you eat. Don’t snack while you’re in front of a screen. Otherwise, you’re more likely to get distracted and not pay attention to what and how much you’re eating. It takes about 20 minutes for the brain to send a signal to the stomach that it’s full. If you consistently keep eating past the point of fullness, you can interfere with those signals.5 Being mindful can help avoid that.

5. Snack on something you lack

Not only do Americans fall short on their daily fiber intake, but they also need to boost vitamins and minerals, including calcium6 and potassium.7 So pick snacks that make up for those potential deficits. For instance, have a cup of low-fat yogurt or cottage cheese or low-fat mozzarella cheese for a calcium boost. A handful of dried fruit and almonds or a banana can help address your potassium shortfall. And reach for sliced peppers with hummus or a cup of cantaloupe for more vitamin C.

6. Cut yourself some slack

You don’t always have to choose carrots and hummus. There are going to be times when you want to indulge in something salty or sweet, and that’s okay (especially at parties or holidays). Give yourself some leeway, and you can always get back on the healthy track tomorrow. Healthy eating is a sum of our choices over the course of the week, not just one day.

Consider these tips when you’re shopping and packing snacks for yourself and the kids. You may reap the benefits and your body will thank you.

This article is part of UnitedHealthcare’s 7-Day Healthy Eating Challenge. For an entire week, you'll find new ideas that encourage every member of your household to get involved. Eating nutritious meals – and teaching kids about the importance of healthy foods – is a key to overall health, both now and in years to come.

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