What you need to know
Ask 10 nutrition experts about adult snacking and you’ll get 10 different answers. Ask me and I’ll answer: yes, no, maybe. When it comes to eating for well-being, we’re all unique. No two approaches are identical. Gone are three squares per day, and studies show we’re eating more food as snacks than at meals. There’s a belief we must eat every few hours or our metabolism will plummet. (It won’t.)
Manufactured food-like substances are everywhere. Foods marketed as snacks tend to be highly palatable – a perfect combo of salt, sugar, and fat. Guess what? Not necessarily healthy and easy to overeat. Before heading for the fridge, ask yourself if you’re hungry. If you haven’t eaten in three to four hours you may need a snack. But, is it true hunger?
Is it belly hunger or head hunger?
Research shows if you feel genuine hunger (call it belly hunger), you’re more likely to make a nutritious choice.
Eating in the absence of hunger (head hunger) is associated with weight gain.
Be mindful. Are you experiencing below the neck hunger or above the neck hunger? Why are you eating a snack now? Maybe for comfort? Are you bored, frustrated, sad, or just procrastinating?
Step away and redirect. Take a 5-minute walk, make a phone call, play solitaire, brush your teeth.
How do many of my adult clients put a stop to their mid-afternoon mindless munching? They start at the beginning and set their day up for success with a high protein, high fiber meal.
Planning! That’s the key. Not having a plan may lead to poor rather than healthy snack choices. A little preparedness goes a long way.
Super snack ideas
There are many healthier pre-packaged snacks available, but I like simple and minimally processed foods. Many of these incorporate the protein-carb-fat balance I encourage my clients to eat.
• Half a PB&J sandwich
• Celery, apple, or banana with peanut butter
• Piece of fruit and a cheese stick
• Whole-grain toast or half an English muffin with peanut butter and a small sliced banana
• Cooked oatmeal with fruit
• Cottage cheese or plain Greek yogurt with fresh, frozen, or canned fruit
• Avocado, egg, and toast: half a whole-grain English muffin, sliced hard-boiled egg, avocado
• Whole-grain crackers and cheese
• Popcorn topped with grated Parmesan cheese
• Half a sandwich – chicken or scrambled egg with tomato
• English muffin pizza – top an English muffin with tomato sauce and shredded part-skim cheese
• Small, whole-grain tortilla with turkey or cheese and vegetables
• Whole-grain crackers or veggies with hummus
Simple one-item nutritious snacks
• Fresh fruit
• Crunchy veggies (think carrots, sugar snap peas, celery, jicama, bell peppers)
• Hard-boiled eggs
• Handful of nuts
• Roasted chickpeas
• Deli turkey
My favorite? Frozen red grapes. Grabbing just a few takes the edge off wanting something sweet.
Some snacking rules of thumb
- Satisfy thirst first – drink water
- Plan for nutritious snacking
- Make your first meal high in protein – 25 to 30 grams
- Be mindful – focus on belly hunger not head hunger
- For packaged carbs, look for a ratio – 10 grams carb to 1-gram fiber
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