Some people never get hungry between meals – lucky them! For most of us, making it from one meal to the next without a snack is really hard – and I think that’s okay. Even if you’re trying to lose weight and keep your blood sugar under control, having a snack during the day may actually help with your nutritional goals. Enjoying a small portion of food between meals can prevent you from being so hungry that you overeat at the next meal, and if you choose wisely, snacks can be an important source of essential nutrients.
There are some tips for smarter snacking, though. Before nibbling, my advice is to ask yourself if you’re really hungry. Maybe you snack out of habit because you are stressed or bored, or you may actually be thirsty, not hungry. Snacks count toward your total calorie and carb intake for the day, so if you’re not hungry, skip the snack and replace it with another satisfying activity. If you’re at the office, take a mini-break and walk around the block or treat yourself to a few minutes of online window shopping. If you’re at home, call a friend for a few minutes, work on a crossword puzzle, or do something with your hands like knitting. Treat yourself to a no-calorie drink like sparkling water with lemon, herbal tea, or coffee, and then see if you still feel hungry.
If you do decide to snack, be sure that what you eat fits into your daily meal plan. Use the tips below to help make better-for-you snack choices.
Snack on fiber.
If you have trouble getting enough fiber each day, snack time is great for working in a few extra grams of this essential component of a healthy diet. Fiber-rich foods take longer to digest, they slow carbohydrate absorption, and they help you feel full. High-fiber cereal is not just for breakfast – have a half serving of bran flakes with skim milk in the afternoon, instead. Munch on a few whole-grain crackers and top them with hummus for even more fiber. Snack on unsalted dry-roasted edamame, or choose a fruit with lots of fiber like fresh raspberries or pears.
Pump up the protein.
Protein has no effect on blood glucose levels, but it does keep you feeling satisfied longer than simple carbohydrates. Pairing protein with a small amount of good carbs can keep hunger pangs away for hours. Try a tablespoon of natural peanut butter spread on a few whole-grain crackers; have an ounce of turkey breast, chicken breast, or lean roast beef on a thin slice of 100% whole-wheat bread; or have an ounce of canned water-packed tuna on rye crisp bread. Snack time is a perfect opportunity for getting a serving of dairy foods, which also pack a decent amount of protein. Have a glass of skim milk, a serving of plain unsweetened yogurt topped with a few berries, or some fat-free cottage cheese.
Ready, set, snack.
If you’re on the go all day, chances are you’re sometimes hungry, and the only convenient options are vending machines or fast food restaurants. Avoid succumbing to cheese curls or chicken nuggets by always carrying a healthy snack in your purse or briefcase. Take along whatever fresh fruit is in season, such as fresh strawberries, peaches, or melon cubes; crunch on unsalted plain nuts like almonds or peanuts (read more about nuts); or nibble on air-popped popcorn. Cherry tomatoes, baby carrots, hard-boiled eggs, and snack-packs of unsweetened applesauce are also great take-along snacks.
It’s easy to eat more than you should when you snack, so pay close attention to portion sizes. Weigh or measure snacks to make sure you’re not eating more than you should, especially if you are just getting started with portion control. Pay attention to serving sizes listed on food labels so you’re eating a “serving” and not a “container.” If you pack food to take with you, weigh or measure it, and store it in individual plastic bags so you won’t be tempted to eat more than one portion at a time. Never eat directly out of a bag or box if you want to keep track of calories and carbs. Love the 100-calorie snack packs? They are okay in an emergency, but most of these products have little nutritional value.
Take time for small pleasures.
Snack time can offer an opportunity to take a few minutes for a relaxing and indulgent break during the day. Try treating yourself to a food you really enjoy and take time to savor every bite. A 1-ounce piece of dark chocolate and a cup of freshly brewed coffee or an ounce of aged cheese with several whole-wheat crackers can make snack time a luxury. Snacks may even help satisfy your cravings, as long as you satisfy them sensibly. Craving a salty snack? Munch on a few baked whole-wheat pita chips. Need something creamy and sweet? Drizzle one-half cup of plain fat-free Greek yogurt with a teaspoon of honey. Want to warm up? Try hot chocolate made with skim milk, unsweetened cocoa, and artificial sweetener. Hungering for something spicy? Dip fresh cut-up veggies into your favorite fiery salsa.
Jackie Mills is the author of The Big Book of Diabetic Desserts. She is also a food writer and registered dietitian who develops recipes for such national magazines as Cooking Light and Family Circle, as well as for books such as the American Medical Association Type 2 Diabetes Cookbook. She was formerly the food editor at Redbook magazine. Mills is a paid contributor for The DX. All opinions contained in this article reflect those of the contributor, and not of Sanofi US, its employees, agencies, or affiliates.
© 2013 The DX: The Diabetes Experience