We know the key to a healthy diet is eating more fruits, leafy greens, and less added sugar and saturated fat. But what about snacks? Are they bad for you? Not if done right, according to nutrition experts. Eating between meals may be necessary to boost your energy in the middle of the day or after a workout. It can also help prevent overeating at your next meal. But not all snacks are created equal. Choosing healthier snacks, such as fruits or raw vegetable sticks, can be a great way to eat more protein and fiber. Snacking becomes a problem when we make unhealthier choices or overindulge.
There's no magic formula for the perfect snack, but a few helpful tips can help you make better choices. Here are a few you can start incorporating into your diet today:
Rethink your snacking behaviors
There's a big difference between snacking because you're hungry and snacking out of boredom or to cope with stress. Research shows that emotional eaters tend to eat snacks that are higher in sugar and fat, so it's vital to understand why you snack in the first place. If you snack frequently, ask yourself if you're truly hungry or eating because you're stressed, tired, or sad. If your eating is associated with an emotion, try a few mindful strategies, such as savoring every bite, eating modest portions, and eating slowly. Eating slowly makes you more likely to recognize when you're satisfied. The opposite of mindful eating, or mindful snacking, is mindless or distracted eating. Remember these tips next time you grab a snack.
You can improve your eating habits.
If you're snacking between meals because you're starving, you probably need to eat the right meals. For instance, did you know that certain foods make you stay fuller longer? Also, those foods are high in nutrients and have fewer calories. That makes them excellent choices for anyone starting a weight-loss plan. These healthy options, known as diet-boosting foods, take longer to digest, making you feel fuller longer. Diet-boosting foods include beans, whole grains, nonfat dairy products, and foods grown on farms, gardens, and trees.
Diet-busting foods such as fatty meats, fried foods, creamy sauces, and canned soups have the opposite effect. They're low in nutrition and full of calories. Many of these foods leave you hungry because they're low in fiber and protein. So, ensure you’re filling half of your plate with colorful fruits and vegetables at your next meal.
Choose nutrient-dense snacks
Foods that are high in nutrients and relatively low in calories are better than those with poor nutritional value. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2020-2025 recommend nutrient-dense snacks like raw vegetables, fresh fruit, nuts, plain yogurt, whole grains, and peas. Avoid or limit snacks that offer little nutrition but are high in saturated fats, sugar, and sodium. Need more ideas? Try replacing unhealthy snacks with healthier options. Popcorn, for example, is a beloved family snack, but the microwave popcorn sold at stores and movie theaters is packed with butter, oil, too much salt, and other artificial flavors. Instead, make your popcorn on the stove, known as air-popped popcorn. You only need unpopped popcorn kernels and a non-stick pot with a lid. There are plenty of air-popped popcorn recipes online. The trick is to avoid microwave popcorn as it's the least healthy option.
Avoid the vending machine.
Most salty and sweet snacks dispensed in vending machines are bad for you. One bag of potato chips or cookies won't make or break your health, but if you make it a habit, it may affect your health. According to experts, potato chips are high in sodium and will leave you hungrier. Baked foods sold at vending machines may be increased in saturated fats, which contribute to heart disease. You're better off planning and bringing your snacks to work or school.
Replace the candy dish with a fruit bowl.
One of the simplest ways to make smarter snack choices is to limit what you buy at the store. That includes candy, cake, chips, cookies, and ice cream. If you have these in your house, you will be tempted to eat them. Instead, replace unhealthy choices with better ones. You can replace ice cream with nonfat yogurt, chips with unsalted nuts, and soda with sparkling water. It's OK to nibble not-so-healthy snacks every once in a while. If you plan to keep ice cream and cookies in the house, put them in a hard-to-see or reach area. Always move the healthier options to the front.
Make your snacks
Snacks don't have to be boring. They can be healthful and delicious but may require some creativity on your part. You can find many fun and healthy snack recipes online, including mini pizza recipes made of whole-wheat English muffins. Fruits and vegetables are always good choices for healthy snacks. Hummus, low-fat or nonfat yogurt, pretzels, and some whole-wheat crackers and cheeses are excellent choices, too. Don't be afraid to experiment and plan. Making snacks could be fun, and you will sigh in relief knowing they're fresh and free of preservatives.
Healthy snack options are endless, whether crunchy, salty, sweet, or creamy. Follow the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2020-2025 and ask your primary care provider for advice at your next wellness visit. Ask your St. Luke's Health physician, nurse practitioner, or physician assistant for guidance or refer you to a nutritionist who can help you create an eating plan that works for you.
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Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020-2025
Diet-busting foods: MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia
Diet-boosting foods: MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia