How to Have Your Snacks and Lose Weight, Too
By LEA BASCH
More and more, Americans are snacking at all times of the day. In fact, snacking now accounts for more than half of all eating occasions. But is more frequent eating healthy for our waistlines?
As with many things, it depends on how you do it. Snacking as part of a healthy diet or weight-loss plan can help you lose weight. But spontaneous craving-based snacking that just adds empty calories can lead to weight gain. The idea that eating more frequently boosts your metabolism has been circulating for a while, but research has shown that this isn't true. It really comes down to what, when and how you are eating and how it fits in to your overall diet.
Here are my tips for how to make snacking work for you as part of a healthy weight-loss plan:
Make a plan. If you know you like to snack, plan out what, how much and when to have them. This will help you to avoid spur-of-the-moment emotional eating and to maintain portion control. Plus, it can help add variety to your snack life so you're not just reaching for the same thing each time. If you're on a calorie-driven diet, allocate each day's calorie intake between your desired number of snacks and meals.
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Focus on healthy fats, protein and fiber. Nutrient-dense snacks that contain these three elements are more likely to give you energy and keep you satisfied for longer. Plus, protein helps maintain lean muscle, which burns more calories to metabolize than fat or carbohydrates, and fiber keeps your digestive system churning.
Snack on veggies often. Veggies provide water and fiber and are low in calories. Pair raw carrots with hummus or cheese and you've got yourself a great snack.
Stay away from simple and processed carbs (e.g., candy and soda). Processed junk food just adds on empty calories without providing the nutrients to keep you going. Highly sugary snacks can even stimulate an insulin response, which in turn may make you even hungrier.
Choose snacks that you enjoy. Snacking is all about satisfaction. If you eat a healthy snack that you don't enjoy, chances are you won't feel satisfied and will want to keep eating until you do. So plan ahead and make or buy snacks that you know will taste good.
Snack at the right time. Snack earlier in the day rather than late at night so you have time to burn the calories you eat.
Don't shop hungry. Research shows that we're more inclined to buy unhealthy foods when we're hungry. So before you go grocery shopping or are in a situation where there is food available, make sure to eat a healthy snack.
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Don't sit down to the dinner table starving. Have you noticed how much easier it is to overeat when you started out starving? Snack enough throughout the day so that you just don't have room to overeat at a meal.
Stay hydrated. Include noncaloric beverages with your snacks so your brain doesn't confuse your thirst with hunger. Aside from water, try sparkling water with some fresh lemon or grapefruit juice squeezed in instead of soda.
Don't skip your planned meals or snacks. Often people think skipping meals will help them lose weight, but that often results in nighttime binge eating. By eating three meals and planning snacks in between, you can help yourself lose weight and maintain better control of your eating.
Readers -- What kinds of foods do you snack on? How do you keep yourself from snacking on unhealthy foods? Leave a comment below and let us know.
Lea Basch, M.S., RD, is the registered dietitian for The Tasteful Pantry. Lea has been in the nutrition industry for more than 30 years and was one of the founders of Longmont United Hospital's nutrition program in Boulder, Colorado. She is a diabetes educator and focuses now on gluten-free diets and food intolerances. Lea's passion is combining the science of nutrition with the heart that it takes to change lifelong habits.