It’s two hours to lunchtime but your tummy is grumbling and you can’t get your mind off those Munchos in the vending machine. But you just had breakfast a couple hours ago and you know you’ll feel guilty if you fall prey to a snack attack so close to your next meal. Maybe the Munchos aren’t the best option, but you’re just plain wrong if you think that avoiding a snack altogether is the only healthy choice. Snacking can be a healthy, even beneficial addition to your diet—you just have to plan your snacks with moderation, nutrition and desire in mind. What does IE Weekly mean by “desire?” You’ll have to read on to find out.
Even though the idea of indulging your desire to snack might sound like gluttony, frequently stoking your food-fire with fuel can help prevent against binging. Nowadays more and more doctors and dietitians are touting the benefits of eating six smaller meals a day rather than the classic three large meals. Six smaller meals, spaced about two to three hours apart, ensure that you never feel ravenous (which can lead to overeating), they keep your metabolism going strong and they keep your energy levels steady. Which isn’t to say that six is a magic number. The best advice to take away from this theory is that it’s good to eat when you’re hungry and avoid eating too much at once.
If you’re simply snacking to curb your hunger and tide you over until your next real meal, you just want to be careful that your snack, even if it’s physically small, doesn’t pack in a full meal’s worth of calories. For example, four Hershey Kisses only have 102 calories and could kick a minor chocolate craving, but if you’re feeling hungry, you’re likely to eat a lot more than four. A couple handfuls of almonds (which are very healthy in other ways) can add up to over 400 calories. On the other hand, three cups of air-popped popcorn has 93 calories. You can consume six cups (!) and still not take in 200 calories. Fresh fruit and vegetables are always a spectacular choice—they’re not high in calories, which means you can eat fairly large portions (be more careful with fruit and starchy vegetables) and the fiber will help fill you up. Nuts and seeds provide protein and fat which can help you to feel full for longer, but they are also pretty high in calories so be wary of portion distortion. Whole grains provide energy that has some staying power, so look for low-fat whole-grain products such as cereals, crackers and breads. Low-fat dairy products are also a good choice, providing carbs, protein, calcium and other vitamins, but make sure you seek out low-fat and low-sugar options.
Try to keep most of your between-meal snacks at or less than 200 calories, and mix carbs with protein in order to give yourself an energy boost as well as curb your cravings. Good options include an apple and a tablespoon of peanut butter (180 calories); half of a whole-wheat English muffin with one slice cheese and one slice tomato (190 calories); a low-fat yogurt topped with a sliced fresh peach and cinnamon (170 calories); and a fat-free chocolate pudding cup topped with a half cup of granola (200 calories). If you desire salt, try popcorn or pretzels. If you desire sweet, have fruit or yogurt. If you desire savory, have cottage cheese or a hard-boiled egg.
And if you just can’t help yourself, eat the Munchos. But stick to one bag, and tomorrow indulge in carrot sticks.