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What to Snack on for Weight Loss

(Photo by twenty20.com/@best_helen)

(Photo by twenty20.com/@best_helen)

To snack or not to snack: Which is better for waistlines? While not everyone agrees on whether snacking is good or bad for weight management, the fact is that most Americans are doing it, and now there's new research, published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, pointing us in the direction of the best snacks for losing weight.

For better or for worse, Americans love to snack. As Kristen Smith, M.S., RDN, of 360 Family Nutrition, points out, "Snacks make up one out of every four of an adult's daily calories, and the number of snackers in America has jumped 30 percent in three decades."

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Today more than 90 percent of Americans snack. Smith says recent national data indicate most adults have at least two snacks a day, and kids are snacking about three times a day. According to Abby Langer, RD, of Abby Langer Nutrition, "Some people snack 10 times a day," and "the trend among millennials is to snack numerous times a day. They don't even eat meals, they just snack."

Previous research on snacking and weight has shown mixed results, with studies linking snacking to both losing and gaining weight. Additionally, very few studies to date have looked at how snacks affect diet quality. In response, this new study looks at total snack calories, snack calories by food type, how often people snack, diet quality and weight status by examining the snacking habits of 233 adults who were part of a community-based worksite wellness-nutrition program in Minneapolis.

Surprisingly, snack calories and how often people snacked had no impact on diet quality or body mass index (BMI), an approximation of body fatness. Instead, it was what people were snacking on that influenced both the quality of their diet and their BMI.

Snacks to Ditch
Not surprisingly, the more that people snacked on desserts, sweets and sugary drinks in the study, the further their diet-quality scores plummeted. Sweet snacks included cakes, cookies, pies, candy and other sweets. Snacking on desserts and sweets was directly and significantly related to higher BMI scores.

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The Healthiest Snacks
In the study, when more snacking calories went to nuts, fruit and juice, diet-quality scores went significantly up. Nuts provided a greater nutrition boost compared to fruit and juices, but both were linked to better diets. Snacking on vegetables was linked to lower BMI.

Nuts. It's no secret that nuts are good for you. Some of the most widely studied nuts for their health benefits are almonds, pistachios and walnuts. 

Fruit. In-season fruit to try now: peaches, nectarines, cherries, blueberries and strawberries.

100 percent juice. Orange juice and pomegranate juice are widely available, or you can make your own (e.g., carrot-apple-kale juice). If it has a label, be sure it lists "100 percent juice."

Langer says she frequently snacks on nuts, but also loves to snack on fruit or cooked vegetables or salad that's left over from dinner. Some of Smith's go-to snack combos are carrot sticks and hummus or a handful of nuts with a small apple. 

Nutrition Experts Weigh In
Langer reasons, "If you're eating when you're not hungry -- out of habit, stress or because food is around -- then it's not a good thing." She counters: "Snacking can help prevent overeating at meals and add needed nutrients to our diet, so it's a matter of snacking responsibly." Smith agrees that snacking can help prevent weight gain if snacks are well planned and part of a balanced diet.

--Maggie

Readers -- Do you think snacking can be part of a healthy diet? What do you snack on? How often do you snack? Do you think snacking is harmful? Leave a comment below and let us know!

Maggie Moon, M.S., RD, is a Los Angeles-based registered dietitian. She authored a book on food sensitivities, The Elimination Diet Workbookand continues to provide nutrition counseling and contribute to healthy-living media as a writer and an expert source. Previously, she led health-and-wellness initiatives for online grocer FreshDirect.com.

Maggie was an adjunct lecturer in the Department of Health and Nutrition Sciences at Brooklyn College in New York in both undergraduate and graduate programs. She also developed and implemented nutrition curricula for NYC public schools. She holds a B.A. in English Literature from UC Berkeley and a Master of Science in Nutrition and Education from Columbia University. She completed her clinical training at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital of Columbia and Cornell.

Connect with her at maggiemoon.com and on TwitterPinterestFacebookGoogle+ and LinkedIn.

 

Reference
Barnes TL, French SA, Harnack LJ, Mitchell NR, Wolfson J. Snacking behaviors, diet quality, and body mass index in a community sample of working adults. J Am Nutr Diet. Epub ahead of print 3/12/15.

 

 

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