When trying to lose weight, we typically think about how we need to eat less, or that we need to cut out certain types of foods from our diet. Snacking often gets lumped into this line of thinking: "I need to snack less" or "I need to stop snacking altogether."
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It's easy to see why snacking gets a bad rap. Salty snacks (potato chips and pretzels), desserts (doughnuts and cookies), candy (chocolate bars and gummy bears) and sweetened beverages (soda and sugary coffee drinks) are what we're predominately snacking on, according to a May 2016 article published in Advances in Nutrition.
But eating between meals doesn't have to mean stalled weight loss or even weight gain. Snacking can actually help you lose weight and eat a more nutrient-rich diet if you choose healthier options.
The key to healthy snacking while losing weight is balancing what you're eating at breakfast, lunch and dinner with your in-between meal noshes. Focusing on these three factors will help you avoid making common snacking mistakes:
- Portion size: There's no one-size-fits-all recommendation, but ensuring snacks help you meet (not exceed) your energy needs is important.
- Timing: Instead of mindlessly grazing throughout the day, plan your snacks so they help to carry you over to your next meal. In other words, if you know there will be extended period of time between lunch and dinner (greater than four hours or so), consider an afternoon snack so that you're not ravenous when you sit down at the dinner table.
- Nutrient density: In general, our diets are quite unbalanced. We tend to overdo it on saturated fat, added sugars and refined carbs, and we consistently fall short of eating enough fruits, vegetables, fiber and other crucial nutrients. Use your snacks to help fill these gaps.
5 Best Snacks When You’re Trying to Lose Weight
These are delicious and healthy snacks to consider if you're trying to shed some pounds.
Yogurt is an optimal choice for snacking because it's pre-portioned, nutrient-dense and deliciously versatile — you can go savory or sweet. It's also packed with satiating protein: A cup of regular yogurt has about 9 grams of protein and Greek yogurt contains more than 20 grams of protein, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
When shopping for yogurt, opting for plain with no added sugar is your best bet. If you do choose a flavored yogurt, look for one that is lower in added sugars and keep in mind the recommended limits on added sugars — women should consume no more than 25 grams of added sugar per day, while men shouldn't get more than 36 daily grams, according to the American Heart Association.
If you go with a plant-based option — and there are many — look for one with added protein and limited added sugars.
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Nuts in general can aid in weight loss. Case in point: A September 2019 analysis published in BMJ Nutrition, Prevention & Health found that consuming just a half-serving of nuts (about 24 pistachios or 12 almonds) each day is linked to a lower risk of obesity.
Pistachios are unique, however, because they're often found in-shell, and a June 2011 study published in Appetite found that the shells help to slow down the speed at which you snack, resulting in fewer calories consumed overall.
But all pistachios — in or out of the shell — make for a healthy, fiber- and protein-rich snack. If you're craving something salty, skip the potato chips and pretzels and try pistachios instead.
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3. Pulses: Beans, Peas and Lentils
Did you know eating pulses like black beans and green peas may help you lose weight, without even trying? A May 2016 study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that including pulses in your daily diet led to small yet significant weight loss, whether or not that was the intention.
Don't worry, this doesn't mean you need to start snacking on a can of black beans (but if that's your thing, have at it). When it comes to snack time, try roasting chickpeas at home (they're crunchy like chips), dipping veggies in hummus or even picking healthier packaged options like roasted fava, lupini or chickpeas from the store.
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If you struggle with eating enough fruits and veggies, smoothies are an easy way to sneak them in. Aim for adding at least one serving of fruit and one serving of vegetables in each smoothie. This can be a cup of raw spinach, an apple or a cup of berries or riced cauliflower. Avoid common smoothie mistakes like adding in tons of sweeteners from sweetened nut milk or flavored yogurts.
We know fruits and vegetables can help us lose weight; they're high in fiber and are nutrient-dense while remaining low in calories. Despite this, we still don't eat enough. Only 13 percent of Americans meet the daily recommended intake of fruit and about 9 percent consume enough vegetables, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
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5. Apple With Nut Butter
Apples are where it's at when it comes to fruit and weight loss, according to a September 2015 analysis published in PLOS Medicine. The researchers tapped apples (followed by berries) as one of the top fruits for managing your weight.
Need more convincing? A paper from Obesity Reviews, published in March 2017, found that ursolic acid — a compound found in apple peels — is linked to an increase in thermogenesis (calorie burn), improved physical fitness and increased muscle mass.
So why the nut butter? Well, it tastes good, for starters. But the healthy fats found in nuts and nut butter can also support your weight-loss goals. Dietary fats slow our digestion, so we feel fuller longer. But keep portion size in mind. One to two tablespoons is a healthy portion when it comes to snacking.
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3 Snacks to Avoid for Weight Loss
If you're trying to lose weight, limit these popular snack foods.
1. Potato Chips
We love our salty snacks, and potato chips appear to be the fan-favorite. They currently rank number one in this snack food category, according to a January 2020 article published by the Institute of Food Technologists.
Potato chips are beloved for their salty crunch, but they leave a lot to be desired when it comes to their nutritional attributes. First, they're high in sodium, which is something Americans consume too much of as it is, according to the Food and Drug Administration.
They're also void of any real vitamin and mineral offerings. Potato chips contain some potassium and vitamin C because of the potato, but they lack fiber and protein, two key nutrients when it comes to weight loss.
We drink a lot of soda. Sugar-sweetened beverages, including soda, are one of the most consumed snack foods, per a May 2016 study published in Advances in Nutrition.
There's nothing redeeming about soda. A 12-ounce bottle has about 37 grams of added sugar — about 50 percent more than women should consume in an entire day.
Sipping on diet soda as a way to quell your hunger isn't a healthy weight-loss strategy either. We shouldn't ignore our hunger cues. Instead, try eating one of the healthy snacks above, which will truly help satisfy your hunger while delivering healthy nutrients to your body.
3. Baked Goods
About 50 percent of our diet comes from carbohydrates, but high-quality carbs like whole grains and fruit make up less than 10 percent of our entire diet. The remaining 40 percent or so comes from refined grains like sugary cereals, baked goods and white bread.
If grabbing a scone or muffin is your go-to snack, think about a healthier option like fruit and nuts or yogurt instead. This will help to cut down on added sugars, too.
- Advances in Nutrition: "What Is a Snack, Why Do We Snack, and How Can We Choose Better Snacks? A Review of the Definitions of Snacking, Motivations to Snack, Contributions to Dietary Intake, and Recommendations for Improvement"
- MyFoodData: "Nutrition Comparison of Plain Yogurt vs Greek Yogurt Plain"
- American Heart Association: "Added Sugars"
- BMJ Nutrition Prevent & Health: "Changes in Nut Consumption Influence Long-Term Weight Change in US Men and Women"
- Appetite: "In-shell Pistachio Nuts Reduce Caloric Intake Compared to Shelled Nuts"
- American Journal of Clinical Nutrition: "Effects of Dietary Pulse Consumption on Body Weight: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials"
- Centers for Disease Control: "Disparities in State-Specific Adult Fruit and Vegetable Consumption — United States, 2015"
- PLOS Med: "Changes in Intake of Fruits and Vegetables and Weight Change in United States Men and Women Followed for Up to 24 Years: Analysis from Three Prospective Cohort Studies"
- Obesity Reviews: "Ursolic Acid and Mechanisms of Actions on Adipose and Muscle Tissue: A Systematic Review"
- Institute of Food Technologists: "What, When, and Where America Eats"
- Food and Drug Administration: "Sodium in Your Diet"