Snacking has a bad reputation, conjuring up images of greasy potato chips and sugary cookies. But when you make smart, strategic food choices, snacking can be an integral part of a healthy diet plan.
Why We Love Snacking
When you're trying to shed pounds, you might try to white knuckle your way through the day without grabbing a snack to save calories. But that would be a major mistake — here's why.
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Snacks Help With Weight-Loss Efforts
A healthy, balanced diet plan should encourage nutritious snacks since they can help you properly manage your hunger, according to the Mayo Clinic.
"Healthy snacking can support weight loss by keeping you full and satisfied between meals," Amber E. Denmon MS, RD, LDN, an educator at Penn State Extension, tells LIVESTRONG.com. This way, when mealtime rolls around, you're not ravenous and ready to binge.
Snacks Provide Energy
Not to mention that wholesome snacks can sustain your energy during the dreaded midday slump and when you work out, according to the National Institutes of Health.
They're a Source of Nutrients
Plus, "snacks are a wonderful opportunity to add nutrient-dense foods [in your diet] like whole grains, fruits, vegetables, low-fat or nonfat dairy and lean proteins, which can all support weight loss," Denmon adds. Snacks can even help supplement nutrients your body needs that you might not be getting enough of during meals.
All this to say, as long as you're choosing the right snacks, these healthy bites can benefit you on your path to weight loss. Here are five snacking mistakes to avoid when your goal is to drop pounds.
1. You Snack While Distracted
When your attention is elsewhere, i.e., not focused on the food in your mouth, you run the risk of unintentionally overeating. "It's like when you're driving and zone out — the next thing you know, you are miles down the road and don't remember" how you got there, Denmon says.
The same thing happens during mindless snacking. Suddenly you're halfway through a tub of ice cream without even realizing it. That may be because when you nosh while distracted by a highly engaging task, say, watching TV, playing a video game or even solving a crossword puzzle, you're less likely to notice when you feel full, according to an August 2020 study published in Appetite.
Distracted eating can be particularly problematic if you're snacking directly from a box or bag of food since it's so easy to lose track of how much you ate, Denmon says.
What's more, mindless eating isn't even a satisfying experience, she adds. Think about it: How can you appreciate your food when you're too distracted to taste it?
What to Do Instead
To avoid this scenario, limit distractions and focus on what you are eating. “Think about the smell, look, feel and taste of your snack and enjoy it to the fullest,” Denmon says.
Try pre-portioning out an appropriate serving of your snack to ensure that you don’t inadvertently overindulge, she suggests.
2. You Don’t Meal Prep Snacks
Meal prepping, well, isn't just for meals. Preparing snacks for the week is a smart strategy, especially when your goal is weight loss. If you have healthy snacks ready to grab and go, you're less likely to rely on junk food — or whatever's quick and easily available — when hunger strikes.
How to Prep Snacks — Fast
Snack prepping doesn’t have to be time-consuming.
“If you already meal plan for the week, it’s not hard to add snacks to your weekly meal prep list,” Denmon says. Prepping healthy snacks can be as simple as picking up a family pack of Greek yogurt or a bag of oranges and packing one for each lunch day of the week.
3. You Misread the Food Packaging and Labels
Reading nutrition labels is very important when it comes to our weight maintenance or weight-loss journey, Denmon says. But even when you have the best intentions to scrutinize food labels and make smart snack choices, you still might err. That's because food packaging can be confusing or misleading.
Take, for instance, this August 2020 study published in Public Health Nutrition which found that consumers misunderstood whole grain labels on items like cereal, bread and crackers, and an upwards of 47 percent inaccurately identified a healthier product when paired with a less nutritious alternative.
"No matter what the front of the package says, always turn over the food product and look at the nutrition label, which will tell you the real story," Denmon says.
What to Look for on the Label
- Ingredients: Generally, a short ingredients list with whole ingredients that you can recognize and pronounce is best. Plus, ingredients are listed in order of quantity, so the first few are the most abundant. This can reveal a lot about a food, especially if sugar or salt make the top of the list.
- Nutrition facts: Take a look at the nutrition facts including dietary fiber, vitamin D, calcium, iron and potassium (nutrients you need) as well as saturated fat, sodium and sugars (things to avoid), according to the Food and Drug Administration. Here you’ll also find the percent Daily Value (DV), which “tells you how much a nutrient in a serving of the food contributes to a total daily diet,” per the National Institute on Aging. Generally, 20 percent DV or more is deemed high, which can be positive or negative depending on the nutrient. For example, 20 percent DV of fiber can be helpful, since most people don’t get enough daily, while the same amount of saturated fat could be harmful to heart health.
- Portion size: Finally, pay attention to the portion size, so you don’t accidentally eat more than one serving. Even a small bag of pretzels may contain two (or more) servings.
4. Your Snacks Aren’t Balanced
"Snacks can support weight loss, but, to do so, they need to be balanced," Denmon says.
This means they must consist of a good mixture of carbohydrates, proteins and fats. Carbs provide energy to sustain us throughout the day while proteins and fats contribute to our satiety and keep us fuller for longer, she explains. That's why a well-balanced snack offers a great hunger buffer between meals.
Conversely, when your snack doesn't contain a combo of all three macronutrients, you're likely to get the belly rumbles sooner rather than later.
Get Macros in Your Snacks
To satisfy your stomach, “focus on nutrient-dense snacks like whole grains, fruits, vegetables, low-fat or non-fat dairy and lean proteins,” Denmon says.
Think: pairing an apple with nut butter or an egg with raw veggies and hummus.
5. You Aren’t Excited About Your Snacks
If your snacks are a snore, you might stray from your weight-loss plan in search of tastier bites. That's why it's essential to make your healthy snacks exciting, or at least, something to look forward to, Denmon says.
A little variety can go a long way to this end.
Try Something New
Look for new fruits or vegetables you’ve never tried and add them into your weekly mix.
Another way to spice up your routine is to experiment with new snack combos or recipes. For instance, Denmon recommends baking your own healthier granola with pantry staples like rolled oats, cinnamon, brown sugar, slivered almonds, honey and dried fruit. “This can be very satisfying knowing that you made something just as tasty (and less expensive) as the store-bought kind,” she says.
- Medline Plus: “Snacks for adults.”
- Appetite: “Ingested but not perceived: Response to satiety cues disrupted by perceptual load.”
- Mayo Clinic: Snacks: “How they fit into your weight-loss plan.”
- Public Health Nutrition: “Confusion about whole grain content and healthfulness in product labels: A discrete choice experiment and comprehension assessment.”
- National Institute on Aging: “Reading Food Labels.”