Thursday, February 2, 2012

Snack Attack: The Art of Healthy Snacking

It’s 3 pm and your stomach is grumbling. You decide to eat an apple but the cookies a coworker brought to work are looking mighty good. You eat the apple hoping that the cookies will leave your mind; an hour later they are still there and you eat six. So much for good intentions.

Snacking behavior can make or break a healthy eating plan. Most people go wrong with snacking by leaving it up to impulse. Meals are planned, but what people snack on is left up to whim. The myriad of unhealthy snack foods available in the supermarket doesn’t help impulse control either.

The first defense in taming the inner snack beast is to eat a healthy breakfast. A study of obese people trying to lose weight showed that those who regularly ate breakfast lost more weight than those who skipped the morning meal. Those who skipped breakfast ate more calorie-dense foods later in the day. Breakfast should be more substantial than just a cup of yogurt and coffee. An egg on whole wheat toast with lean ham and cheese, an orange and tea will fit the bill. In a hurry, grab an oat English muffin smeared with peanut butter and a banana and pick up your Starbuck’s coffee on the way to the office (hold the café mocha).

Another important guideline is to avoid eating when not hungry. This may seem like common sense, but snacking clearly plays a role in obesity. Almost a quarter of the American population is obese and obesity related diseases account for over 300,000 deaths per year. Eating because of boredom, anxiety, anger or because food just looks good will lead to weight gain in the end.

Eating smaller, more frequent meals that incorporate healthy snacks has been shown to reduce overall stomach capacity. Over time, one feels more satisfied with less food. It is believed that this is the reason why people who “graze” tend to be leaner.

In general, snacks should contain from 200-300 calories. Consider that an apple has approximately 60-100 calories; it is no wonder that an apple alone may not satisfy hunger. Spread a little peanut butter on your apple or dip it yogurt and your hunger is more likely to be quelled. Protein contained in peanut butter and yogurt increases the feeling of fullness and prevents hunger from coming back too quickly.

Keep in mind that all healthy diets allow favorite foods and treats. Snacking on cookies may not seem like a good idea when trying to lose weight, but allowing a treat at some point in the day may keep one from losing their fortitude.

Snacking Basics

1. Don’t eat if you are not hungry.

2. Don’t skip breakfast.

3. Eat smaller, more frequent meals.

4. Plan your snacks and choose the right foods (whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nonfat dairy, lean protein).

5. Think out of the bag! Avoid foods marketed and sold as snack foods as they tend to be high in refined carbohydrates, sodium and fat and low in fiber.

Snack Ideas

There are any number of good snack ideas out there. Choose foods that you like and find satisfying. Eat enough food to abate your hunger, but not so much to tip the scale.

1. ½ sandwich (peanut butter, lean meat, veggies) on whole grain bread with milk.

2. Nuts. Limit to approximately ¼ cup per day.

3. 3-4 fig cookies with milk (look for whole wheat variety in the organic food section of grocery store).

4. ¼ cup granola with 6 oz. low fat yogurt.

5. Sliced fresh fruit with yogurt.

6. Sliced fresh fruit with cheese.

7. Apple or banana with peanut butter.

8. Bowl of whole grain cereal with low fat milk.

9. Oatmeal cookies with low fat milk.

Keep in mind that every time you eat, you have an opportunity to do something good for your body, mind, and soul.

What kinds of healthy snack do you find satisfying?

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