Did you know that eating burns calories? It’s true—5 to 15 percent of your daily energy expenditure is used digesting, absorbing, and storing the food you eat. It’s called diet-induced thermogenesis and it’s one of the reasons why smart snacking throughout the day can actually help you burn fat and lose weight.
The emphasis, however, is on “smart” snacking. The types of foods you chose can make or break your diet. To help take the guesswork out of healthy snacking, I’ve put together a few smart snacking guidelines along with a list of healthy snack ideas. Bon Appétit!
Smart Snacking Guidelines
Before you reach for that mid-morning or afternoon morsel, consider the smart snacking guidelines below.
Eat Smaller Meals, More Frequently
The traditional three square meals a day recommendation is a thing of the past. If you want to keep your metabolism and energy going strong, focus instead on eating five or six smaller meals throughout the day. Make sure each meal or snack contains a good source of lean protein such as chicken, turkey, fish, tofu, nuts, nut butter, or reduced-fat dairy, and load up on fiber-rich veggies and legumes. Both protein and fiber will help fill you up and tide you over until your next meal.
Note: If you are following the mini-fast diet or intermittent fasting, which requires going without food for extended periods during the day (most often putting off eating until around noon), these same considerations are applicable to you. You can still snack—just don’t eat anything during your fasting hours.
Identify Mood Triggers
Often our moods dictate food cravings. Keep a food journal and note how you are feeling when that urge to eat something unhealthy hits. Do you eat when you are bored, sad, tired, etc.? If so, the next item—distraction—is the key.
Distract Yourself and Wait It Out
The next time the craving for an unhealthy or high-calorie food hits, distract yourself. Go for a walk, play on the computer, call a friend—anything that gets your mind off food. If after 20 minutes the urge has not passed, go ahead and have a tiny portion. If you completely deny yourself every single time, you’re more likely to indulge later on.
Drink a Glass of Water
With all the fad diets and expensive gimmicks out there, it’s ironic that water may turn out to be one of our most effective weight-loss tools. Researchers have found that people who drank a full glass of water before each meal lost more weight than a control group that didn’t drink water before meals.
Avoid Eating In Front of the TV or Computer
Ever accidentally snacked your way through a whole bag of chips or popcorn during a movie or while you were playing around on the computer? If you answered “no,” you’re either telling a fib or you’re very disciplined. Snacking while you are engrossed in a TV program or a computer task—really any sedentary, mindless endeavor—can cause you to ignore portions and distract you from heeding feelings of satiety. It’s better to take a break to eat. That way, you’re aware of exactly what, and how much, you are putting into your body.
Don’t Buy Foods You Can’t Resist
If you know that cake and cookies are your weakness, don’t buy them. This sounds like a no-brainer, but resisting the urge at the grocery store is where it starts. Take it a step further by purging your refrigerator and cupboards of unhealthy items. Instead, stock up on healthy snacks like the ones you’ll find below.
Healthy Snack Ideas
Now that you have a few guideless on smart snacking, here’s a list of healthy snacks you can enjoy.
Edamame. Just ½ cup of these little soybeans provides 8 grams of protein and 4 grams of fiber. Better still, you’re eating just under 100 calories.
Celery With Peanut Butter. A stick of celery with a tablespoon or so of peanut butter combines fiber and protein for the perfect between-meal treat. Almond butter makes a nice substitution as well.
Cottage Cheese. A quarter cup of low-fat cottage cheese with chopped tomatoes, bell peppers, or a little salsa tossed in makes a wonderful snack. The cottage cheese provides the lean protein you need to stay satisfied and adding the fiber-rich veggies helps spruce up this otherwise bland healthy snack.
Hard-Boiled Egg. If you’re looking for a low-carb, protein-rich healthy snack idea, a hard-boiled egg fits the bill. At just under 80 calories, this snack will curb your appetite and help trim your waistline.
Nuts. Nuts are an excellent healthy snack. Any kind of nut is great, but almonds top the list when it comes to health benefits. When hunger strikes eat ¼ cup (approximately 22 nuts) of these raw or dry roasted, unsalted nuts. You’ll fill up and get plenty of heart-healthy magnesium and vitamin E to boot!
Snack-Size Protein Shake. A small portion of a meal replacement protein shake can make a great healthy snack. Just aim for around 7-10 grams of protein and blend your shake with low-glycemic berries for added fiber.
Reduced Fat Cheese. A one-ounce portion of reduced fat cheese (the size of a pair of dice) gives you 6-7 grams of protein at around 80 calories. One of my favorites is string cheese. It’s tasty and easy to take with you for a healthy snack on the run.
Vegetables With Hummus or Ranch Dip. Cut up some fresh broccoli, carrots, tomatoes, snap peas, bell pepper strips, or cauliflower flowerets and dip them in a little hummus or light ranch dip. The calorie count of the veggies is low, plus they are full of stick-to-your-ribs fiber. Two tablespoons of hummus contains about 60 calories while the ranch dip has about 80.
Smart Snacking Recap
To learn more about smart snacking and weight loss in general, read my book The Mini-Fast Diet. It’s available online, in bookstores, or by calling 800-810-6655.