If you frequently eat between meals, those extra portions have a big impact on your health. They could play an important role in helping you to manage your weight and take in all the nutrients your body needs.
On the other hand, USDA studies show that currently we’re taking in about one-third of our daily empty calories from those afternoon candy bars and late night refrigerator raids. That means most of us are consuming two to four times the recommended limit in solid fats and added sugars.
Turn those numbers around by learning how to choose smart snacks that are good for your health and wellbeing. Try these tips to get started.
(a) Change the Foods You Eat
1. Focus on whole grains.
Bake your own treats or look for packaged food that lists whole grains as the first ingredient. Whole wheat flour has more nutrients and fiber than white flour.
2. Reduce sugar and sodium.
Many junk foods are loaded with sugar and sodium. Satisfy your sweet tooth with fruit instead.
3. Plan a balanced menu.
Think of your snacks as miniature meals that need to include all three food groups. Along with complex carbohydrates, add in lean proteins and healthy fats.
4. Opt for whole foods.
You may be tempted to simplify things by just grabbing an energy bar or buying cookies that are labeled low fat or low sugar. In fact, many convenience foods are less healthy than the label suggests. Buy natural foods like raw nuts and plain yogurt.
5. Drink up.
If you’re pressed for time, you can snack on healthy beverages. Tea contains antioxidants and other beneficial ingredients. Water will keep you hydrated and feeling full. For heartier fare, whip up smoothies in minutes with vegetables, natural peanut butter, or other goodies.
6. Eat more produce.
On average, we’re eating 3 servings of fruits and vegetables compared to the recommendations for 7 to 13 servings. Snacks can help you fill in the gap.
7. Find substitutions.
You probably have certain snacks that you crave the most. If they’re high in sugar or saturated fat, consider how to adjust them. Oven-baked fries are much slimmer than the fast food version. A square of dark chocolate is lighter than a doughnut.
(b) Change the Way You Snack
1. Limit portions.
It’s easy to consume as many calories as a full meal if you’re scarfing down potato chips or cheesecake. Measure out a single serving instead of eating out of the container.
2. Snack mindfully.
Stay in control by giving your full attention to your food. Enjoy the process of cracking nuts and eating them one by one instead of wolfing down a whole package while watching TV. Spoon out leftovers onto a plate and pull up a chair rather than eating with the refrigerator door open.
3. Pack a bag.
Carry sensible treats around with you to avoid desperately searching for something wholesome in vending machines or gas stations. Pack a cooler with carrot sticks and yogurt drinks.
4. Manage stress and boredom.
Distinguish between true hunger and appetite. Do you eat for entertainment or to comfort yourself when you feel blue? Pick up a hobby or invite a friend out for a walk instead.
5. Keep a journal.
If you need more help, a snacking journal can track how much you’re really eating. Spot the triggers that make you want to overindulge and develop strategies for dealing with them.
Select snacks that stabilize your blood sugar and give you the energy you need to sail through your busy day. Nutritious foods and advance planning will help you to stay fit and healthy while you graze between meals.