Some people say the key to maintaining weight is never snacking between meals. I disagree. Recent studies have shown that eating smaller portions more often is better for your digestive system and can help increase energy, reduce cravings and improve metabolism. The trick is finding the right snacks and not over-indulging.
The concept of eating small frequent meals and snacks can be helpful for various reasons. But, this advice has been complicated by significant marketing of snack foods to replace whole nutritious food. Instead of reaching for easy packages which often leave us unsatisfied and lead to greater fatigue, try to take a new approach to snacking. The first step to successful snacking is planning. Here are some tips and strategies to help create a snacking strategy.
1. Drink a glass of water or herbal tea before eating your snack
Thirst is often confused with hunger. Being dehydrated (even slightly dehydrated) can cause a decrease in energy levels which can make us crave energy-dense, nutrient-low snacks. Drinking a glass of water or unsweetened herbal tea prior to eating will give you a few moments to pause and think about your snack. Studies have shown that drinking water or unsweetened tea can actually contribute to weight loss because it can help fill you up prior to eating.
2. View snacks as another opportunity to incorporate vegetables and fruit
This is the simplest and also the most effective strategy to improve snacking. We are conditioned to relate snacking to “snack foods” so rather than reaching for a sweet potato, fruit or a cup of vegetable soup, we look to packages to satisfy our snacking needs. Try to keep only one “healthier” snack cracker or air popped popcorn kernels in your house at a time. When thinking about snacks, first reach for a piece of fruit or vegetables (cooked, raw, all vegetable soup or salad). Then, if you need more substance, pair it with another whole food source of protein or fat.
3. Pair with lean protein or healthy fat
The anatomy of your snack will change depending on the purpose of your snack. Start with a base of vegetables or fruit, always. Then ask yourself a few simple questions:
- How hungry am I?
- When is my next meal?
- What do I need to accomplish between now and my next meal?
If your next meal is an hour away and you are just looking for a quick refresh, the fruit or vegetable alone is probably enough. However, if you are looking for a long-haul option or a snack to fuel exercise, pair your fruit and vegetable with a healthy protein or fat. For example:
- Boiled egg + fruit
- Nut butter + fruit
- Hummus or guacamole + vegetable sticks
- Cup of roasted vegetables + tahini
4. Make your own
Muffins, chips, granola/energy bars, candy, salted or sweetened nuts and sweetened yogurts are among the most widely consumed snacks. Instead of giving up foods, try to make a better version at home. Often, over time you find that the store-bought versions are too sweet or salty and the homemade versions actually taste better.
- Replace candy with almond butter, cacao or dark chocolate covered strawberries
- Replace chips with baked sweet potato rounds, kale chips or homemade corn tortilla chips
- Make your own trail mix by combining unsalted nuts with a variety of unsweetened dried fruit
- Make your own simple fruit and vegetable salsa for a healthy and delicious topping or dip. Dice fruit and vegetables well and adding a bit of onion, herbs, citrus juice and a pinch of salt. This flavor will go a long way to keep you satisfied without adding extra calories, sugar and salt.
5. In a pinch, select the package with the least ingredients versus the item with more protein/fiber.
We are conditioned to relate health to specific nutrient contents rather than thinking about the food overall. Start instead with the ingredient list. Aim for the food with the least ingredients, preferably 5 or less.