In the weight loss game, you often hear about snacking being a bad thing. Clients complain about how their biggest issue is “grazing” or mindlessly snacking throughout the day, accumulating way more calories than they thought or intended and sabotaging their weight loss efforts. Snacks can absolutely fit into a healthy lifestyle, and in some cases, can even be a regular and helpful part of your day. But, for some, snacks can be more trouble than their worth. So, what to do? To snack or not to snack? And if you do, how can you do it best?
If you’re a busy person – and these days, who isn’t – and finding time to just eat three good meals a day is already quite an effort, snacks might not be for you. Forcing yourself to find time to eat more frequently can sometimes be more stressful than helpful, leading you to actually revert back to old ways and reverse your progress. If you’re someone who currently barely eats one solid meal a day, my recommendation is to first handle that, then think about snacks if you’re feeling ready for another change. Before you start adding snacks, ensure that you’re getting a good breakfast, lunch, and dinner, spaced no more than 3-4 hours apart.
If you’ve got the meal game down, but you get hungry between meals, or the gap between them is 4+ hours, snacks are a great way to keep your metabolism going and prevent you from binging at your next meal or chowing down on that candy bar stashed in the back of your desk drawer out of extreme hunger or fatigue. Your body relies on a regular, consistent influx of energy from food to keep running smoothly. Long gaps between “fuelings” or poor food choices can lead to poor food choices throughout the day, fatigue, a lack of concentration, headaches, and weight gain, among other things. In this case, snacks can be a great way to bridge the gap from one meal to the next and keep you powered up for the day.
Snacks should be smaller than meals, but should still be nutritionally-dense. What does that mean? Well, just like your meals, a snack should pack a huge nutrition punch, providing you with not merely calories, but vitamins, minerals, and nutrients your body needs to be happy and healthy. A snack should be about 100-200 calories, depending on your overall calorie needs and the way you choose to divvy them up throughout the day. In a very general sense, a snack should basically fit into one hand or less. It should also contain more than simply carbohydrates. This means a banana is NOT a snack. Neither is an apple or some carrots. These foods are JUST carbohydrates, which means they will a)tend to spike your blood sugar, which is not a good thing, and b)have no staying power, leaving you hungry again in very short order. Snacks need to contain protein and/or fat. So, cheese with whole grain crackers; fruit with nut butter; carrots with hummus. These snacks offer a healthy source of carbohydrates for some quicker energy and nutrients, as well as the staying power of protein and/or fat. Just be sure to watch your portions so that you don’t end up eating a “meal’s worth” of these items! Need some other fun, easy, and quick snack ideas? Try the following to help bust out of any snack slump and keep you fueled for the day.
Chocolate Covered Cherry Trail Mix
1 Tbsp each of walnuts, pistachios, dark chocolate chips, and dried cherries.
Tropical Treat Trail Mix
1 Tbsp each of macadamia nuts, pumpkin seeds, unsweetened shredded coconut/flakes, dried pineapple or mango
PB & A To Go
Slice a small apple in half, remove seeds and core. Add 1 Tbsp peanut butter to the center. Put apple back “together”. Wrap tightly in plastic wrap or foil.
Vanilla Bean Burst
8 oz 2% or whole milk, ½-1 tsp vanilla, 2 tsp maple syrup
8 ox 2% or whole milk, 1 heaping tsp cocoa powder, sprinkling salt, 2 tsp maple syrup (shake well)
¼ cup baked chickpeas
(1 can chickpeas rinsed and drained, drizzle of olive oil, seasonings of choice. Spread on baking sheet with foil and bake at 400*F for 40+ minutes until browned and crispy)
Make snacks work for you and your weight loss journey. Stave off binges and avoid derailing your progress with junk food by keeping these great snacks available and ready.
Aubrey Phelps MS RDN