You have to eat — and when there are so many hours between meals, you need something that's going to sustain you and give you energy. But when it feels like the vending machine is calling your name, it's good to be prepared with some high-protein, low-fat snacks that won't wreck your healthy diet.
Benefits of Snacking
First and foremost, don't feel bad about needing a snack. Even though you might think eating between meals equates overeating, it doesn't have to be that way. A September 2016 report in Advances in Nutrition notes that enjoying a snack can stop you from being so hungry that you end up overeating at your next meal. It can also help you get important nutrients into your diet.
All of this is dependent, of course, on you choosing healthy snack options. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends thinking of snacks as mini meals — intended to nourish you and give you energy — rather than just an excuse to eat junk food.
It's also important to recognize why you're eating. If your body is genuinely hungry, you need to feed yourself. If you're eating because you're bored or stressed, then it's better to find another distraction. It's also possible that your body is confusing exhaustion with hunger.
Spacing your calories throughout the day can be helpful in your efforts to lose weight. A small April 2014 study published in the International Cardiovascular Research Journal tracked 90 overweight subjects over the course of three months.
One group of those test subjects ate a normal diet with three square meals and two snacks. The other group ate six small isocaloric meals, meaning every meal was the same amount of calories. The group eating six small meals lost weight over the three-month period. This suggests that although snacking isn't foolproof as a weight-loss method, there is some benefit to eating smaller amounts more frequently.
Finding Healthy Snacks
What are the best options for snacks? Is it high-protein, low-fat snacks that are best? Or is it low-carb, low-fat snacks that are most successful for weight loss? The September 2016 review published in Advances in Nutrition encouraged more fruits, vegetables and whole grains, with less fat, sodium and refined sugars.
For weight loss or maintenance, look for high-fiber, high-protein snacks for weight loss because these can keep you satiated and help you consume fewer calories at your next meal.
MedlinePlus recommends combining protein with complex carbohydrates to keep you full for the longest period of time. You shouldn't look for low-carb, low-fat snacks as much as you should look for low-sugar, low-fat snacks.
Fruits, vegetables and whole grains will all provide some source of carbohydrates, but they will be full of fiber and nutrients your body needs. Fruits and vegetables have fewer calories for their volume, meaning you can eat a lot of them without taking in too many calories, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
What Are Some Snack Ideas?
Low-carb, low calorie snacks don't have to be complicated — usually just a few easy-to-grab items from your kitchen can be combined to make something that tastes good and does good for your body. Here are a few low-carb, high-protein, low-fat snacks for you to try.
Greek Yogurt with fruit: Greek yogurt is great because it packs so much protein for very few carbohydrates, and no fat if you opt for the versions made from skim milk. A container of nonfat plain Greek yogurt has only 80 calories with 15 grams of protein, no fat and 6 grams of carbs. You can up the nutrition factor by pairing it with fruit for a marginal number of calories.
Egg whites with veggies: If you mix up some egg whites with a few chopped vegetables (try mushrooms and spinach), then cook them in a muffin tin, you'll have an easy, portable snack that's free of fat and carbs but full of protein. The egg whites have only about 20 calories but 5 grams of protein, and the veggies will add fiber and other nutrients.
Beef jerky and veggies: A 1-ounce serving of beef jerky has about 90 calories with 11 grams of protein. If you're going for low-carb, low-fat snacks, this is a good choice — it has only 1 gram of fat and 6 grams of carbs per stick, though it does not have any fiber, and it has about 480 milligrams of sodium.
You can up the nutrition factor by enjoying beef jerky with a few raw vegetables like carrots or celery sticks. These will provide you with some fiber, as well as vitamins and minerals.
Lettuce wraps: Make a mini sandwich with a 3-ounce leaf of romaine lettuce wrapped around a piece of sliced turkey breast and a slice of Swiss cheese. The turkey and cheese will deliver protein for very few calories, and using lettuce instead of bread will keep the carbohydrates low. Altogether, one wrap will be about 75 calories with 6 grams of protein.
Roasted chickpeas: Chickpeas have a lot of protein and fiber, and a bag of roasted ones means you can carry them around and eat them like nuts. A 1-ounce serving of roasted chickpeas has about 120 calories with 6 grams of protein. They do have about 3 grams of fat from the oil they are roasted in. Additionally, their total carbohydrate content is 18 grams, but those carbs don't sound too bad when you consider five of those grams are fiber and only two are sugar.
Veggies with hummus: Like the roasted chickpeas, hummus — which is actually made from boiled chickpeas — does have some carbs, as well as some fat from olive oil and tahini (sesame seed butter). Even so, 4 tablespoons of hummus has a little more than 100 calories with nearly 3 grams of protein.
Enjoy it with carrots and cucumbers for marginal calories and carbohydrates and no fat, but plenty of vitamins and minerals. When it comes to low-carb, low-calorie snacks, this is a definite winner.
The final important note about snacking is to remember your portion size. Even if you're eating low-carb, low-calorie snacks, the practice of snacking should not be a mindless activity. You should determine how much you are going to eat ahead of time rather than eating it straight from the package while you are distracted.
Even though snacking can help you take in fewer calories overall, it can contribute to weight gain if you eat excessive snacks in addition to what you're already eating or if you do not choose healthy options.
- Advances in Nutrition: “Snack Food, Satiety, and Weight”
- International Cardiovascular Research Journal: “The Effects of 6 Isocaloric Meals on Body Weight, Lipid Profiles, Leptin, and Adiponectin in Overweight Subjects”
- MedlinePlus: “Snacks for Adults”
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: “How to Use Fruits and Vegetables to Help Manage Your Weight”
- Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: “5 Tips to Curb Your Late-Night Snacking”
- Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: “When Should My Kids Snack?”
- USDA Food Data Central: “Beef Jerkey”
- USDA Food Data Central: “Roasted Chickpeas”
- USDA Food Data Central: “Romaine Lettuce”
- USDA Food Data Central: “Turkey Breast, Sliced”
- USDA Food Data Central: “Swiss Cheese”
- USDA Food Data Central: “Nonfat Greek Yogurt Plain”
- USDA Food Data Central: “Hummus”
- USDA Food Data Central: “Egg Whites”