Even if you eat three healthy meals a day–each including a good source of protein, some complex carbohydrates and healthy fats–you undoubtedly at times experience those between-meal hunger pangs or temptations that can easily sabotage a good diet.
With the typical busy, stressful, on-the-road lifestyle many of us lead, most everyone can benefit from developing the “snacking habit.” But we’re not talking about just any snacks, like those available from the typical vending machine or fast-food source. To develop good snacking habits, you need to have an understanding of nutrition and some forethought and planning.
Many people associate snacking with unhealthy habits. They assume snacks mean snack-type foods, such as candy, chips and soda. What’s more, they assume that if they eat three meals a day, they should follow the long-held dictate many of our parents often repeated: don’t eat between meals.
But snacking has gotten a bad rap. There are a slew of reasons that snacking—when done at the right time, for the right reasons and with healthy options—is a great idea. (By the way, this is not the type of snacking done out of hunger, but out of boredom, anxiety or habit.)
The following is a list of reasons snacking is a good idea:
- Snacking, which is part of a widely endorsed health plan of eating small frequent meals, means that your blood sugar remains steady. Normal blood sugar levels can help with mood and energy levels
- Snacking keeps your metabolism constantly running, which means that your body can continue functioning properly and burning calories efficiently
- Snacking can prevent you from overeatingwhen it comes to mealtime
- Snacking keeps your energy up
- Snacking ensures you’re getting your nutrients. Healthy snacks are good sources of vitamins and minerals
- Intense hunger can cause you to choose less healthy food alternatives, overeat or choose what is most convenient, which is often not the best choice
- Protein-rich snacks can give your brain a boost and help you avoid the bogged-down, sleepy feeling you get after a heavy meal
It is important to understand the importance of good food choices, especially with snacking. The U.S. Government’s nutritional guidelines, issued jointly by the Department of Agriculture and Department of Health (USDA) and Human Services (HHS), emphasizes nutrient-dense foods (as opposed to foods loaded with empty calories, excess sodium, fat).
Below are just some of the foods that meet nutritional needs, are low in calories, are filling, and/or alter moods. Most of them are easy to pack and carry, so you are never without your “stash.” What’s more, this list and the positive snacking habit, is an excellent plan to instill in your family, especially children:
- Smoothie or protein drink, snack-size version
- Protein snack bars
- Plain nonfat yogurt, topped with fruit or mixed in a blender for a drink
- Raw vegetables – carrots, peppers, broccoli, cauliflower (with or without dips, such as yogurt w/ herbs or hummus)
- Non-fat cottage cheese with or without fruits or vegetables
- Whole fruit
- Kale chips
- Rice cakes
- Avocado slices
- Canned tuna or sardines
- Turkey or chicken breast
Handful of nuts (easy-to-carry, single-serving nut butters are also now available)