According to recent research, around 50% of all eating occasions in the US are snacks, which accounts for about one-third of all adult calorie consumption. That’s a lot of snacks!
What constitutes a “good” snack is really up to you, but a definition I like to work with is a small amount of food eaten between meals. It should bridge the gap between full meals, fuel activities, and provide small bursts of energy.
Produce + Protein
When people ask me about healthy snacking, I always say a great goal to have in mind is produce + protein or healthy fats. The combination of produce and protein or fat tends to be satiating since the food will move through your digestive system at a moderate pace, while keeping blood sugar levels stable. Reaching for a sugary snack or simple carbs, on the other hand, can cause your blood sugar to spike then crash, which will wreak havoc on both your appetite and your energy levels.
Keep it snack sized
When reaching for a snack, be mindful that the purpose of the snack is to bridge to your next meal, not become a meal in of its self. While our bodies need fuel, we also benefit from giving ourselves a break from constant digestion. With this in mind, when you’re choosing snacks go for snack-sized portions that will fill the hunger gap, yet ensure you’ll still be hungry when the time comes for your next meal.
So many snacking occasions happen when we’re tired and hungry, and we have a difficult time controlling both the type of snack (give me sugar!) and the portion size (ALL the sugar!). One of the ways I work around this is to pre-portion snack foods into individual servings. For example, if you buy a big bag of nuts or are bulk shopping, take some time to pre-portion your snacks into single snack-sized servings in small jars or baggies.
Before you grab a snack, stop and ask yourself why you’re reaching for it in the first place. Are you actually hungry? Or are you tired? Bored? Lonely? Sad? Having a craving? I know I snack a lot at work when I’m really just looking for an excuse to get up from my desk. If the answer is anything other than true hunger, try replacing the snack with something else, like a quick walk around the block, some simple stretches, or a nice cup of tea. If you’ve done those things and you still want a snack, then have one.
Fuel your day
If you’re grabbing a snack between the office and your workout class, that snack should follow a different set of parameters than simply bridging the hunger gap between meals. For example, to fuel an after-work swim and get me through from lunch all the way to a late dinner, I often choose a much more energy dense snack than I would otherwise. On the other hand, if I know I’m going straight home to dinner I choose a later snack so I’m hungry for my evening meal.
Use a system
Here’s a system I like to use when choosing my snacks: choose one snack-sized portion of a healthy whole grain carb, one to two snack-sized portions of proteins and healthy fats, and one to two servings of veggies or fruit (this post details what a serving of produce looks like). You can skip the whole grain carbs if you’re not in the mood or if you’re not fueling a workout with your snack and simply stick to protein + produce.