I am sure you’ve heard it a thousand times before…snacking in between meals is important for your health, but why? I get questions about snacking from my clients on a regular basis so I thought I would address those questions here:
What is the benefit of snacking in between meals?
Snacking in between meals is a great way to stay energized throughout the day and a way to curb your appetite so you don’t over eat during meal time. It creates an additional opportunity to consume nutrient dense foods and keeps the metabolism from slowing down.
What constitutes as a snack?
Typically a snack is 250 calories or less. This can be equivalent to a mini-meal (ie. half of a sandwich), a piece of fruit or a cheese stick (or combined together). A snack can be savory, sweet, or both.
How many calories should I aim to snack on in between meals?
First off, quality of food will outweigh quantity in calories a majority of the time. For example, 1 cup of carrots with 2 tbsp of hummus (~150 calories) is a smarter choice than 100-calorie pack of cookies because the fiber content will keep you fuller for longer, not to mention the nutrients in carrots and hummus will benefit your body in the long run. When we consume processed foods that are high in sugar, we want to eat again a few minutes later. Registered Dietitian’s call these food “empty-calorie” foods, meaning although they taste good, they lack additional benefits from consuming them. Second, a nice rule of thumb for choosing your snacking’s calorie content is the “100 calories per hour” rule. For example, it’s 10AM and you’re going to choose a snack but will be having lunch at 11AM (1 hour later), keep that snack to 100 calories or less. If you are going to be eating lunch at 12noon (2 hours later), keep it to 200 calories or less, and if you are going to be eating lunch at 1pm (3 hours later), aim to keep it 250 calories or less.
What constitutes as a healthy snack?
A healthy snack should fall within the following parameters:
- 250 calories or less (this can be more for athlete’s post workout or someone trying to gain/maintain weight).
- 9 grams of added sugar or less per serving (ex: plain yogurt will naturally have about 6g of sugar per serving however some yogurts add syrup which makes this number go up.)
- 0 grams trans fat
- 140 mg sodium or less (this can be more after 1 hour of sweating or exercise)
- 3 grams of fiber or more per serving (this can be less if it is an animal source like a hard boiled egg since fiber is only found in plants)
- At least 5 grams of protein (can be 0g if less than 150 calories; ie: a piece of fruit)
- Simple ingredient list with words you can understand and pronounce
What does not constitute as a snack?
The obvious answer to this would be whatever does not fall into the parameters addressed above but the not so obvious answers may surprise you. Calorie-free choices do not count either. Although sugar-free candies and diet beverages can help to avoid giving into the empty-calorie foods, like chips and soda, they will only make you hungrier later. Remember the basic purpose of a snack? It is to curb the appetite and provide your body with nutrition!
Can you give me some ideas or suggestions?
The number one important thing is to plan ahead and have healthy foods around you. Second, once you have those foods, you have to prep them and bag them so they are ready to eat and visible either in your refrigerator or on your counter. When you’re rushing from place A to place B, you will have little time to think so your brain will usually grab what it sees first. Do yourself a favor and set yourself up for success! A good example of this is buying a fresh cantaloupe but then not actually cutting it. Your best bet would be to cut it, peel it, and place it in a tightly sealed container so it’s ready for you when you’re ready to eat it! Second, choose healthy whole foods with minimal ingredients or processing. Examples include:
- A hard boiled egg + an apple
- Carrots + 1 tbsp. peanut butter
- Celery + 2 tbsp. guacamole
- Cheese stick + a clementine
- Plain Greek Yogurt + small banana + ground cinnamon
- Snap peas + 2 tbsp. hummus
- 1 slice of whole grain bread + 2 slices of low fat lower sodium turkey breast
- 1/4 cup lightly salted nut mix
- RX Bar
- Kind Bar
- 1/2 cup low fat no added salt cottage cheese + 1 cup pineapple
- 1/2 cup overnight oats made with 1/2 cup unsweetened soy milk
- Homemade smoothie: 1 cup Mango slices + 1 cup spinach + 1 cup low fat kefir
Still struggling to find the snacks that fit for you and your lifestyle? If so, contact me today!