by Christine M. Okezie, CHHC: We are a snacking culture…
Everyone is always looking for an easy grab and go, a treat for that 3 p.m. or 4 p.m. energy slump, or a tasty nibble while watching their favorite television show.
In fact, studies show we spend more time noshing on snacks today than ever before. With concern for the growing obesity crisis in America, there’s a lot of debate about whether or not snacking contributes to weight gain. One reason snacking has gotten such a bad rap is because the majority of snacks consumed these days are high in sugar, processed carbohydrates and additives, and have low nutritional value. So when it comes to snack choices, quality is priority No. 1.
We want to avoid all the packaged stuff available in the grocery store and instead create a whole, real-foods snack with healthy fat, fiber and protein. Foods high in healthy fat and protein will keep you full and satisfied by keeping your blood sugar more stable throughout the day — a great way to avoid those dips that can sap your physical and mental energy. With plenty of good nutritious choices to choose from, snacks can also play an important role in filling in important nutritional gaps.
Healthy Snack Options
Here are a few of my favorite snack options to go to during the day:
- Raw Nuts and Seeds — Try a small handful of almonds and pumpkin seeds to curb cravings between meals.
- Apples and Nut Butter — Cut up some apple slices and dip them in some almond or cashew butter and enjoy.
- Edamame in the Pod — In the frozen food section, you can find a great snack that you can sprinkle with sea salt and watch a movie.
- Carrots or Celery Sticks with Hummus — Enjoy a perfect blend of crunchiness and smoothness; make your own hummus or find spiced varieties made without preservatives at your natural foods market.
- Trail Mix – Ditch the store-bought ones, which can have added sugar, and create your own custom blend of nuts, seeds and dried fruit from the selection in your local health food store’s bulk section.
- Hard Boiled Eggs / Turkey / Grilled Chicken Breast – If you are really hungry between meals, there’s no reason you can’t eat normal meal things! These choices fill you up with protein and keep you in balance.
- Smoothies – Who doesn’t want a milkshake experience in the middle of the afternoon? For a truly satiating option, blend ½ a banana, a handful of frozen berries, a handful of kale, a tablespoon of almond butter and 1 cup of coconut milk. For an added bonus, throw in a dash of cinnamon, which naturally stabilizes blood sugar.
Bringing In Awareness
Another important key in the snacking debate lies in the proper definition of a snack and how it fits into your daily lifestyle. The primary purpose of a snack is to curb the appetite between main meals, and when done right, snacking can prevent us from overeating. In other words, by eating small, high-quality snacks between meals, you won’t be tempted to overeat for your regular meals.
Careless snacking, on the other hand, done out of boredom, anger or stress without regard to physical hunger can easily tip the scale the other way. If we routinely choose unhealthy snacks and make equally unhealthy choices for meals, don’t be surprised if we start to gain weight.
To keep snacking in the right context of a daily routine, I advise my clients to prioritize their focus on their actual main meals, making them the most whole, balanced and delicious as they can be. That way, high-quality snacks stay in the right proportion for your personal needs and can be a complement to everyday eating.
So, what makes snacking a good or bad habit when it comes to weight and health goals? It’s paying attention to both the quality choices as well the context in one’s overall eating behavior. It’s important to decide which works best for us: eating three amazing healthy meals or eating small healthy snacks or mini-meals throughout the day. The truth is both strategies can work well for different people.
Regardless, the key is awareness. Don’t just snack for the sake of snacking. Listen to your body and fuel it when it needs it. The more you can be aware of your body, the more you can effectively determine why you feel the way you do, and the more successful you will be in making the food choices that truly serve you.