Should you satisfy your snack desires? Or should you avoid the snack fix? These questions perplex a lot of people, especially those who are trying to lose weight and efficiently manage calories. The idea of eating extra calories, especially if one is “not hungry,” doesn’t make a lot of sense to most of us.
The term snack means different things to different people. Someone might think of a snack as a small bag of chips to stave off the afternoon munchies. Another person might consider a snack Greek yogurt and an apple. The key with snacking is identifying the purpose of a snack. For most of us, a snack is meant to hold us over because we start feeling hungry before the next meal.
Generally, a balanced meal that contains lean protein, healthy fat, complex carbohydrate and vegetables keeps us full and satisfied for three to five hours. Every person is different and everyone’s body is a little bit unique, but this is accurate for the majority of us. So, if meals are scheduled more than four to five hours apart — i.e. lunch at noon and dinner at 6:30 p.m. — then a snack is in order. However, if lunch is 1 p.m. and dinner is generally at 6 p.m., then a snack may not be necessary. It is important to identify the general time frame of meals so that you can determine when you should need a snack to curb your hunger. And if meal times vary from day to day, you may need to have a backup snack so you don’t get yourself in a fix.
Here are a few things you should know to make the best choices for you and your body:
There is no doubt that choosing real, whole, unprocessed foods is the best way to nourish your body. Processing strips foods of a variety of micronutrients (such as vitamins and minerals) and fiber. Those micronutrients are involved in a variety of body processes such as metabolizing protein and carbohydrate, helping keep your hair, nails and skin healthy, maintaining healthy blood glucose, and preventing a variety of cancers by keeping cells healthy. Choose nourishing foods that fuel your body, supply it with energy and promote healthy appearance and vitality.
Sugar comes in a lot of different forms and under a lot of deceptive guises. Ever heard of barley malt syrup, beet sugar, coconut sugar, dehydrated cane juice, fruit juice concentrate, maltodextrin or sucrose? There are more than 60 names for sugar so make sure to read those labels. Snack choices with too much added sugar will spike blood glucose and cause it to drop faster, leaving you feeling lethargic and tired.
In the future, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration will require nutrition labels to indicate total sugars and added sugars on all food products so that it is easier for consumers to identify which products are high in added sugars. Until then, continue to inspect all packaged food ingredient lists and try to limit added sugar to less than 10 percent of daily calorie intake. If sugar is one of the first three ingredients, you may want to consider alternative choices.
This remarkable form of carbohydrate helps us feel full and satisfied, reduces cholesterol, helps control blood sugar levels (goodbye cravings!) and normalizes bowel function. The name fiber may sound dull and boring but it is very active in working to keep our bodies healthy and happy. Foods rich in fiber include fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts and seeds and they tend to take longer to chew than processed foods and therefore slow down the meal so our brains get the signal we are full. Choose snack foods that naturally contain at least 3 grams of fiber per serving.
Snacks that do not have enough calories — fewer than 100 — may not keep you feeling full until meal time and you might find yourself reaching for another snack before long. So, reaching for the lowest calorie snack is not the right solution.
Healthy Protein and Fat
Protein and fat take longer to digest and therefore can leave you feeling full and satisfied for a longer period of time. Ideas for lean protein include low-fat dairy, edamame, beans or legumes, eggs and even canned tuna or cooked chicken. Healthy fat includes those that are low in saturated fat and higher in unsaturated fats such as almond butter, roasted nuts (unsalted or dry roasted), avocado or guacamole.
Every time you eat, you have an opportunity to nourish your body. A snack is no different. Snacks are very useful mini-meals that help many of us get hunger and cravings out of our mind so we can focus on the life we are living. To go through the day without thinking about how we will fuel our bodies in between meals may lead us to make unwise food choices or can cause us to overeat at the next meal.
To begin snacking well, I encourage you to choose two to three snacks each week that you rotate through each day to give variety without complexity. Make sure you add these foods to your grocery list and pack them in your lunchbox, bag or car so that you are never without.