Why Healthy Snacking is Good for You
Snacking is as American as Apple Pie – a culturally reinforced behavior that is simply hard wired into our food environment. And while traditional snack choices have largely been nutritional disasters, typically low in the good stuff, like fiber and nutrients, and high in the bad stuff, like excess calories, bad fats, salts, sugar and refined carbs, I’m pleased to report that healthy and tasty options are now widely available too. In fact, if done right, strategic snacking can provide a valuable and delicious means of maximizing nutritional wellness. Here are 7 compelling reasons to engage in healthful snacking:
- It takes less calories to prevent hunger than it does to alleviate it. Well planned between-meal-snacking helps keep hunger at bay, which diminishes the chances of binging, over-consumption at meal time, and other dietary indiscretions. Controlling hunger is one of the most powerful defenses to avoid the battle of the bulge.
- Regular intake of food (i.e.: approximately every 3 hours) maximizes metabolic rate. The higher one’s metabolic rate, the more calories one burns at rest. There is a compensatory decrease in metabolic rate when food is withheld from the body for extended periods of time.
- Snacking helps maintain steady blood sugar levels, which insure that our muscles have a constant supply of readily available fuel. The steadier our sugar levels, the more energy we have, the more we move, and the more calories we burn.
- Smaller, more frequent feedings result in lower and more stable blood insulin levels over the course of the day. This helps reduce the risk of insulin resistance. Insulin resistance is currently epidemic (especially in overweight sedentary people) and turns your fat cells into fat magnets.
- Snacking provides additional opportunities to bring in valuable, essential micronutrients, like folate, vitamin C, and calcium.
- Snacking enhances the variety in one’s diet. The more dietary variety, the greater the chances of consuming the full spectrum of essential nutrients.
- Snacking provides sensory pleasure. Healthful snacking and satisfying our primordial drive to please our taste buds can go hand in hand.
So take control of your nutritional environment and always have a variety of healthy snack options available at your finger tips. Here are some helpful, general guidelines:
- Keep snack calories between 100-250 per serving.
- Space your snacks about 3 hours after mealtime.
- Focus on whole, “real” foods with little to no ingredients list.
- Plate your snack before you eat it and be conscious by savoring each and every bite.
- Avoid snacking in front of distracting influences like the TV and computer.
- Consume packaged snacks from small, single-serving containers/bags.
Here are my top snack picks:
- Nuts/Seeds– any variety, packaged or bulk fresh (limit to 1 small handful, about 1 oz.)
- Cut fresh veggies (carrots, celery, bell peppers, broccoli, cauliflower)—dip in hummus/bean dips, guacamole, or salsa to jack up its flavor and nutrient profile.
- Soy nuts, dried wasabi peas
- Wasa, Ak-mak, Kashi TLC or other 100% whole grain crackers with non-fat cheese, peanut butter, hummus, salsa, guacamole, sardines, smoked salmon
- Stone ground tortilla chips or baked chips dipped in hummus, salsa or guacamole
- Synder’s Oat Bran or Honey Wheat Sticks
- Stacy’s Multigrain Pita Chips
- Low fat plain yogurt (sweeten with a little sugar if you must)
- Part-skim mozzarella or other reduced fat (2% milk) cheeses (try convenient cheese sticks)
- Dried fruit (avoid if overweight, diabetic or insulin resistant)
- Granola bars (Kashi), trail mix, Luna or Pria bars
- Dark chocolate – 60% or more cocoa (limit to ½ -1 oz.)