For many people, the hours-long gaps between meals can feel like a long, hungry wait. With the ready availability of unhealthy snack foods – such as chips, candy, nuts, yogurt, fruit, and pastries – it can be challenging to avoid making unhealthy choices. Having some tips for healthy snacks can come in handy.
These unhealthy snacks are high in carbohydrates and fat but lack minerals, fiber, and protein. There’s also evidence that snacking during the day may leave you feeling more hungry in the evenings.1
So, try these tips for healthy snacks, and ideas for filling the hunger gap in ways that satisfy your cravings without ruining your diet.
Smart Snacking: Understanding Your Food Habits
Do you skip breakfast in favor of a larger lunch? Do you ‘graze’ all day, steadily consuming parts of your meals and maybe some snacks? Are your meal times generally fixed, or does eating depend on some variables (e.g. childcare, your commute, other people’s schedules)?
Eating ‘little and often’ might seem a good way to avoid overburdening your digestive system, and some cultures prefer several small meals to the classic breakfast-lunch-dinner approach.2 But evidence shows that eating on a more regular schedule (including snacks) may help decrease hunger and encourage better appetite control.3
Regular snacking also promotes satiety (the feeling of fullness). This means you may feel less hungry at mealtimes – so you might be less likely to eat too quickly, to overeat, or to reach for high-fat, high-calorie foods.4
Does Eating More Frequently Burn More Calories?
Now, weight loss depends chiefly on burning calories. And there’s no evidence that eating more frequently boosts your total energy expenditure or raises your resting metabolic rate.5 The calories you gain from snacking (and those you take in during meals) are burned at the same rate, regardless of when you consumed them.6 Eating six meals of 500 calories will have the same effect as eating three 1000-calorie meals.7
The ‘When’ And ‘Why’ Of Food
The timing of your meals (including snacks) and their size can be very important to how hungry you feel throughout the day. Generally, it’s best to front-load calories by eating a large breakfast, then a regular lunch, followed by a modest dinner. Eating too many calories later in the day may throw your body’s circadian rhythms (which control the sleep-wake cycle) out of sync. So, one way to potentially help stave off evening hunger is by having a low-fat, 200-calorie mid-afternoon snack with plenty of protein and fiber. Some of Tony Horton’s favorites include an apple with a tablespoon of peanut butter; a small tomato salad with olive oil and feta cheese; or Greek yogurt with fruit).8
While when you eat is important, you also want to take a close look at why you eat between meals. A healthy snack can tide you over until the next meal, but it can also be an important signal. Studies show that food availability is one of the primary motivations for snacking, followed by hunger, and emotional reasons (feeling fed up, bored, or stressed).9
It’s crucial to gain some control over your snacking. This can take a little planning.
Tips For Healthy Snacking: Keep Healthy Options On Hand And Avoid Processed Snacks
Manufactured, ‘ultra-processed’ junk food makes up around 58% of an average American’s energy intake from food.10 These products often include combinations of added sugar, salt, and fat, and they include:
- Most breakfast cereals
- Sugary drinks
- Some frozen meals
- Luncheon meat11
Eating processed sugar and grains provides refined carbohydrates – which contain little dietary fiber and are quickly consumed in the body, producing a short-term energy spike but not longer-term satiation.12
When planning, try to shop for snack food ingredients which are:
High In Protein And Fiber But Low In Carbohydrates
Need some ideas?
- Try mixing cottage cheese with salad vegetables, pineapple, or cantaloupe.13
- Hard boiled eggs each have a hearty 6g of protein.14
- Guacamole is a good choice. This tasty mix of avocado, cilantro, lime, and onions includes healthy fats and is perfect for dipping.15
- Yogurt is packed with protein, and it mixes well with all kinds of nuts and berries. Just make sure to watch the sugar content. Read the labels on yogurt carefully.16
- A ¼ cup of almonds, peanuts, sunflower seeds, or roasted chickpeas (garbanzo beans) make a great high-protein snack.
- A tablespoon or two of peanut butter contains healthy types of fat and it’s also a good high-protein snack.
Once you’ve found something tasty, remember that it’s easy for snacking to get out of control, so assess the size of each snack portion and only eat what you intend to.17 A reasonable aim would be to consume about 200 calories and 10g of protein at each snack time.18
Now, keep in mind that what you drink counts toward your daily calories, too. So, instead of sugary, high-calorie beverages, choose water, tea, sugar-free kombucha.
Genuinely Satisfying Ideas
Smear whole grain toast with peanut butter or almond butter, or try making spinach and artichoke dip with crudite (sliced bell peppers, celery, and/or carrots). For something different, experiment with a low-fat tuna-stuffed avocado, create your own granola bars, or try making jerky at home. Give yourself something to look forward to at snack time by trying varied and interesting snack ideas.
Slices of apple, celery sticks, baby carrots, halved radishes, cauliflower florets, and grain crackers may help offset a natural desire to chew, and they’re fantastic for dipping into a serving of ¼ cup hummus.19,20
If you can fit your snack into your laptop bag or purse and bring it to work, you might be less likely to choose an unhealthy alternative snack while you’re out. For example, homemade veggie chips made from carrots, zucchini, sweet potatoes, beets, or radishes are great healthy snack ideas. Nuts and dried fruit are also excellent portable options.21
Mix And Match Salty And Sweet: Try Fruit And Nuts For A Satisfying And Delicious Snack
A healthy, non-perishable snack, fruits and nuts offer a balance of fats, proteins, and carbs. There are plenty of health benefits to nuts, especially almonds, pistachios, and walnuts; they’re full of healthy fats, and studies have shown that a mid-morning snack of almonds may also help keep hunger away.22,23 Try developing a homemade trail mix with your favorite nuts and dried fruits (coconut, papaya, pineapple, raisins, cranberries, prunes, etc).
Quality, Calories, And Portion Size Are Key When It Comes To Snacking
Healthy snacking can be delicious, enjoyable, and easy once you take control of your shopping list and food choices. Try some nutritious, healthy snack ideas which fit your schedule, budget, and preferences while giving you something to look forward to at snack time.
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