If you’re looking to improve your diet, you may want to start with your snacking habits. Although snacks have the potential to improve nutrient intake and increase energy levels between meals, in reality, snack choices often fail to meet these goals. Before you jump on the latest diet fad, consider how your snacks might be derailing your healthy eating plans.
Researchers looked at the diets of more than 20,000 Americans and found that, on average, people consumed an extra 400 to 500 calories per day in the form of snacks. Snacks contribute about a meal’s calorie intake, or about 22% of daily calories, while providing little nutritional value. The study, published in PLOS Global Public Health, found that snacks mainly consisted of ready-made foods high in carbohydrates and fats, sweets, alcoholic beverages and sugary drinks.
Healthy snacks can help manage appetite and keep energy levels stable for longer periods between meals. Some people may need to snack more often, such as those trying to gain weight, manage their blood sugar, athletes with higher energy needs, and those who get full easily. Choose the right snacks and adopt mindful snacking habits to get the most out of them. Here are some smart snacking strategies to up your snacking game:
Choose satisfying snacks
Choosing the wrong snacks can unintentionally make you hungrier. Ideal snacks contain a combination of protein and fiber that stabilize blood sugar, appetite and energy levels. Opt for snacks like apple slices and nut butter, whole grain crackers and cheese, a tortilla with turkey or guacamole, or a hard-boiled egg with sliced vegetables and hummus, for example. If you have a little more time, try making snacks that require a little more prep time, like tuna salad, steamed edamame, or a protein shake.
Track your meals and snacks
To assess the impact of your snacks on your overall nutritional intake, consider tracking your food intake for a few days to a week in a food tracking app like MyFitnessPal, Cronometer, or Lifesum. Take note of how your snacks stack and any adjustments that might be needed.
Create a meal schedule
Excessive snacking can prevent you from eating directly at mealtime. Create a meal and snack schedule that prioritizes balanced meals and avoids mindless snacking. Plan healthy snacks that meet your daily nutritional needs.
Plan snacks to go
Bring healthy snacks and drinks for your travels. It’s easy to fall into the trap of unhealthy snacks and sugary drinks when you’re away from home. Plan ahead by bringing smart snacks in the car so you’re prepared when hunger strikes.
Make Healthy Snacking Easy
Remember that your food environment affects your eating habits. If you keep cookies, chips, and candy handy, you’ll be more likely to grab them when you’re hungry. Instead, keep your healthy snacks ready and easily accessible at eye level in the refrigerator. Fill a fruit bowl on the counter and place nutritious snacks like nuts, dried seaweed, and freeze-dried fruit in the pantry.
Hydrate with less sugar
Sugary drinks like sweetened flavored coffee drinks, fruit juices, and sweetened teas are fun treats, but are often high in sugar and calories. Stay hydrated with unsweetened, low-sugar drinks like unsweetened tea and coffee, flavored sparkling water, fresh fruit and vegetable smoothies, coconut water, and, of course, water.
LeeAnn Weintraub, MPH, RD is a registered dietitian who provides nutrition counseling to individuals, families and organizations. She can be contacted by email at RD@halfacup.com.
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