Snacks can be a great addition to your diet in order to sustain your energy in between meals and to assure you’re meeting your daily nutrient needs. However, your snack choices can either energize you or make you feel even hungrier after. Read on to find out what exactly your snacks should consist of and get some yummy ideas on what to keep in your pantry.
When we think of snacking, a lot of times what comes to mind is “junk” foods like chips, cookies, and candy. But healthy snack choices can be a great addition to your diet and can help satisfy cravings as well! When I refer to snacking here, I’m not talking mindless grazing throughout the day but instead having pre-planned snacks ready to go for when you are actually physically hungry.
What are some health benefits of snacking?
- Regulates blood sugar levels, preventing between meal cravings and energy crashes (for example that common late afternoon energy slump that we often default to coffee for)
- Helps meet nutrient gaps in your diet that may be harder to fill if only eating 3 meals/day
- Prevents overeating at the next meal. When you’re hungry and you wait too long until the next meal, it becomes harder to control your portions and you’re much more likely to overeat. A study conducted in postmenopausal women found snacking was associated with the consumption of more fruits, vegetables, and fiber rich foods many of us may not get enough of with our meals. 1
- Healthy snacking is associated with increased levels of potassium, iron, folate, calcium, and magnesium in the diet which are often nutrients we may be lacking, especially in pregnancy and postpartum. 2
What does a healthy snack consist of?
A protein and healthy fat source as well as carbohydrate. A good rule of thumb is about a 3:1 ratio of protein/fat to carb. Carbs should always be paired with a protein and/or fat because it will hold you over longer and aide in regulating your blood sugar levels. Carbs alone (for example an apple or crackers) without a protein source will cause a blood sugar spike quickly after eating followed by a crash shortly thereafter, leading you to feel more hungry than you may have been without EATING AT ALL! So now you ate more calories that did not satisfy you and you will likely eat even more at your next meal. Instead, opt to always pair your carbs with a protein or fat. Here are some great examples :
- apple or banana with 1 tbsp peanut butter
- 1/4 cup berries + 1 hard boiled egg
- handful of nuts or sunflower seeds with 1/4 cup dried fruit
- 6 oz plain greek yogurt + handful of strawberries
- carrot or red pepper sticks with 2 tbsp hummus or bean dip
- 1/2 avocado with handful of whole wheat crackers
- Orgain shake
- Ants on a log – 1 tbsp peanut or almond butter spread on celery sticks
- pear + handful of almonds
- 1/4 c whole milk cottage cheese + 4 oz peaches or pears packed in water
- handful of grapes + cheese stick
- handful of nuts + 1 oz dark chocolate
- 2 tbsp chicken or tuna salad on whole wheat crackers
How often should I snack?
Snacking 2-3 times a day is appropriate – for example in between breakfast and lunch, lunch and dinner, and a couple hours after dinner. Just make sure not to snack immediately before bed, waiting at least an hour or two to go to sleep after a snack is ideal in order to make sure it’s properly digested, especially if you have any issues with heartburn or reflux. The key is being mindful and recognizing when you’re actually hungry or if you are simply snacking out of habit, boredom, or because you’re stressed. If you’re snacking because of physical hunger, then you should listen to your body and totally give in to it using some of the examples above. If you’re not, try to distract yourself and do something else – get out of the kitchen, read a book, call and friend, or pop some gum. You’d be surprised after a couple of minutes how quickly you forget that urge. Your body will tell you what it needs!
Listen to your body and assess your hunger, have pre-made snacks ready to go, and always pair your carbs with fat or protein.
1. Kong A, Beresford SA, Alfano CM, et al. Associations between snacking and weight loss and nutrient intake among postmenopausal overweight to obese women in a dietary weight-loss intervention. J Am Diet Assoc. 2011;111(12):1898-1903.
2. Kerver JM, Yang EJ, Obayashi S, Bianchi L, Song WO. Meal and snack patterns are associated with dietary intake of energy and nutrients in US adults. J Am Diet Assoc. 2006;106(1):46-53.