Smart Snacking

sliced hard boiled eggs and avacados on breadMany people think of snacking either as something that kids do or as something that involves junk food and subsequent feelings of guilt. The truth is snacking can be a healthy habit for people of all ages as long as some simple guidelines are followed. By following these suggestions for smart snacking, you can eat more of the right foods to prevent malnutrition, hunger pains, and overeating.

Smart Snacking

Many people have poor snacking habits that can lead to overeating and potentially weight gain. A recent study of over 5000 American adults found that men are consuming an average of 923 snack calories every day from nutrient-poor foods (candy, cookies, soda, chips, etc.), while women are consuming 625 mostly empty snack calories.

If you find that most of your snacks are coming from a vending machine or a candy dish, it may be time to rethink your snack. To be a smart snacker, you need to consider what, when, how much, and why you are eating.

What?

Just as for kids, snacks for adults should be about quieting hunger and contributing to your nutritional needs for the day. Think of snacks as mini-meals rather than treats. Try to get at least 2 or 3 food groups in each snack. Aim for a combination of complex carbohydrates, protein, and healthy fat. Take advantage of snacks to help you get your recommended 5 cups of fruits and vegetables each day.

When?

Take a moment to think about your typical day. When do you find yourself reaching for a snack? Is your stomach rumbling around 10 a.m.? Maybe you reach for a pick-me-up during that mid-afternoon slump at work. Or are you raiding the refrigerator late at night? If you plan to have a healthy snack on hand during these times, it can help you make good choices throughout the day.

How Much?

The amount is just as important as, if not more so than the food itself when it comes to healthy snacking. Snacks should be kept small to prevent overeating. Even if the food you are eating is healthy, too much can be an issue.

Take almonds for example. Almonds are very healthy. They provide healthy fats, fiber, protein, vitamin E, and riboflavin. They also contain 163 calories for one ounce (or 23 almonds). If you’re grabbing handfuls throughout the day, that could add up to hundreds if not thousands of calories.

To avoid making your snack too large, try to keep it around 100-200 calories, 15-30 grams of carbohydrates and 3-5 grams of protein. Limit snacks to no more than 1 or 2 a day to prevent all day grazing.

Why?

As humans, we eat for a variety of reasons beyond just hunger. We eat for comfort, for entertainment, to celebrate, out of habit, because it’s time, or even just because it’s there. The next time you reach for a snack, take a minute to think about why you are snacking.

If you are truly hungry, a healthy snack is a great choice! If you’re not really hungry, is there something else you might choose to do instead? And if you find yourself ravenously hungry throughout the day, it might be good to take a look at your meals. Are you skipping meals? Are you getting good nutrition at each meal – complex carbohydrates, protein, healthy fat, and fiber – or are your meals full of simple carbohydrates?

The Takeaway:

Snacking can be a great way to supplement the nutrition of your meals and to prevent overeating as long as you practice smart snacking. As with meals, planning is key. Plan and even prepare some healthy snacks ahead of time to get you through the day or week. Any time you know you will be going at least 4-5 hours or more without a meal, pack a snack.

Here is a list of sweet and savory snacks to get you started.

  • Celery sticks with peanut butter and raisins on top
  • Rice cakes with peanut butter
  • Cheese cubes with apple slices
  • Hardboiled eggs
  • Greek yogurt with fruit (sprinkle chopped nuts on top for an extra nutrition boost)
  • Trail mix with whole grain low sugar cereal
  • Nuts or nut mix (stick to just a handful)
  • Vegetables with hummus
  • Broccoli or cauliflower florets with cottage cheese
  • Half of a turkey or tuna sandwich on whole-wheat bread
  • Cucumber slices (lightly salted or with nonfat Italian dressing)
  • Lettuce wrap with leftover chicken or turkey and cheese
  • Whole grain, low sugar cereal (great to eat dry from a baggie)
  • Pickles
  • Box of raisins or other dried fruit
  • Half a large whole wheat bagel with light cream cheese
  • Fresh fruit
  • Frozen mixed berries
  • Whole grain crackers and string cheese
  • Fruit smoothie
  • Tuna and cottage cheese
  • Light popcorn

Sarah Wood, the author of this article, is available to speak to groups or hold classes on a variety of health-related topics such as nutrition, physical activity, healthy cooking, stress management, and wellness. To schedule an event or get more information, call 816-279-1691 or email woodsarah@missouri.edu.

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About Sarah Wood

Sarah Wood is a registered dietitian with a Master's Degree in Applied Health Sciences. Currently, she is a Nutrition and Health Education Specialist with the University of Missouri Extension. When taking time for herself, she runs, travels, and creates art.

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