1. Choose whole foods over processed foods.
Whole foods – fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein – have high nutrient density and low caloric density, meaning they provide lots of nutrients for minimal calories. Processed foods, however, are essentially empty calories. Snack foods like chips, pretzels, soft drinks, and cookies have almost no beneficial nutrients, but still add another 200-300 calories to your diet. Depending on your snacks, you can easily add to your daily recommended intakes for vitamins and minerals and beef up your “five-a-day” for vegetables and fruits.
2. Choose snacks with either protein or fiber, plus unsaturated fats.
The purpose of your snack is to provide energy and curb hunger until your next meal. Fiber slows the rate of digestion, making you feel fuller longer. Studies show that protein may affect leptin, an appetite-suppressing hormone, to improve satiety, also making you feel fuller after a snack. And a 2008 study from University of California at Irvine found that unsaturated fats, like those found in avocados and nuts, triggers the production of oleoylethanolamide, a compound that decreases appetite.
3. Choose low glycemic index foods.
Foods with high glycemic indexes are broken down fast, resulting in a swift rise and fall in blood sugar. Such foods – like white bread, chips, and candy – often lead to cravings soon after consumption. Foods with low glycemic indexes are the opposite: they are broken down slowly, leaving you with stable blood sugar levels and sustainable energy. Low glycemic index (low is considered to be below 55) foods include whole grains, vegetables, certain fruits (grapefruit, strawberries, grapes, apples, cherries), yogurt, beans and legumes, meat and fish, and nuts (notice that all of these foods are also high in fiber, protein, or unsaturated fats).
4. Choose a snack with 150-200 calories.
A snack should tide you over until your next meal; it should not fill you up like a meal would (If you work out a few hours after a meal, you may need two snacks). Pair energy-boosting carbohydrates (like an apple) with protein or fats (like almond butter or cheese) for lasting satiety.
5. Prepare snacks in advance.
If you know you’re going to be away from your kitchen for a few hours, pack yourself a healthy, homemade snack. You’ll be able to control the ingredients, and since you’re not famished, you can make informed decisions regarding what to snack on. And when you find yourself passing the office vending machine or mall-court Cinnabon, you won’t be tempted to give in to high-fat, high-sugar snack choices.
6. Avoid the “NEEDNT” snacks.
In February, researchers at the University of Otago in New Zealand identified 49 “NEEDNT” foods – non-essential foods that should be avoided. These foods are either calorie-dense and nutrient-devoid, contain added sugars, or are prepared using a high-fat method (like frying). The foods may also be “trigger foods,” which are those foods you simply cannot eat enough of and encourage you to binge. Some items on the list include cake, cookies, energy drinks, fruit juice, muffins, and fries. To see the whole list, click here.
7. Be mindful.
Treat a snack like a meal: sit down and savor each bite. In a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, individuals ate lunch while either playing solitaire or without distraction; 30 minutes later, they were allowed to eat as many cookies as they wanted. The group who played solitaire ate 250 calories worth of cookies (compared to about 125) and had more difficulty recalling the nine items in their lunch. Being mindful while eating helps us remember what we eat, making us less inclined to eat more at a later time.
Try these functional snacks to replace any mid-day cravings you have.
If you’re craving something CREAMY (savory)
Instead of: Chips and dip
Try: 1 cup cucumber slices (16 calories) with 1 oz soft herbed goat cheese (100 calories) = 116 calories
If you’re craving something CRUNCHY
Instead of: Tortilla chips
Try: ½ large red bell pepper (25 calories) + ½ cup carrots (20 calories) with ¼ cup hummus (100 calories) = 145 calories
If you’re craving something SWEET
Instead of: Snickers bar
Try: 12 medium strawberries (70 calories) dipped in 1 Tbs chocolate chips (70 calories) + 7 almonds (50 calories) = 190 calories
If you’re craving something SALTY
Instead of: Pretzels
Try: ½ cup edamame (100 calories) + 25 pistachios (85 calories)
Other snacks to try:
Sliced apple with almond or peanut butter
Berries and almonds/pistachios (if berries aren’t in season, buy them frozen and thaw)
Yogurt and whole grain cereal, sprinkled with cinnamon, ground flaxseed, and chia seeds
Sliced carrots, bell pepper strips, and cucumbers dipped in hummus
A cup of high-fiber soup
Black beans with green onions and garlic
A serving of a grain- or bean-based salad