Sara K Riehm, RD, LD/N, CSOWM
Wellness and Prevention

Snacking often gets a negative perception, and rightly so. A recent study revealed that some Americans effectively consume a “fourth meal” in calories through daily snacking. However, snacking can also present an opportunity for enjoyable self-care, depending on the choices you make for your snacks.

Why Do We Snack?

Fact: If you don’t regularly consume satisfying, balanced meals, a couple of hours later you are going to be hungry. Snacks are a great way to fuel activities between meals, but we want to be sure that hunger is driving our decision to eat. Too many Americans engage in mindless or emotional eating, especially with prolonged screentime. Before you snack, think through the “why”— am I truly hungry, or are there other activities I could engage in to deal with stress, boredom or sadness?

Grab and Go

Making healthy snack choices starts with the foods we choose at the grocery store. When you’re shopping, review the label. Look for foods with lower saturated fat, sodium and added sugar. These ingredients are inflammatory and can compromise your health when consumed on a regular basis. Fruits, vegetables and other fresh snacks are nutrient-dense and offer a host of health benefits.

When you choose fresh produce snacks, prep the fruits and vegetables as soon as you get home. This makes them as easy to grab as the other convenience foods in your pantry. If you’re buying in bulk, don’t sit down with the whole bag — divide it into single-serving portions to keep you on track with daily nutrition goals.

Awareness is Key

Another way to increase your awareness and evaluate your eating is tracking your intake via an app or a paper food diary. Research shows the more you track — by whatever means — the more successful you will be at making better choices. Tracking puts those choices right in front of you and makes the less healthy choice harder to ignore. It’s not necessary to use a tracker forever to get benefits, but the initial results might surprise you and lead to different choices in the future.

Don’t Fear the Snack

Pay attention to the signals your body sends. Listening to hunger cues and subsequent fullness signals is a great way to stay on track with your intake while still giving the body what it needs. Avoid restricting your intake to the point of starvation; very low-calorie diets — less than 1,000 calories a day — can trigger hormonal changes that interfere with weight loss. They also result in large weight fluctuations— significant loss and regain — that damage your metabolism. If you’re trying to lose weight, talk to a dietitian about your individual calorie needs and get in tune with your body’s natural hunger signals.

One way to snack healthier is to think about your snack in the context of your overall food plan for the day. Approach your snacks as you would meal planning: Make them balanced. Each food group contains different nutrients that are essential for processes throughout the body. For example, grains provide carbohydrates that give us energy. Protein helps us maintain our muscle mass and regulate our hormones. Fruits and vegetables have countless vitamins and minerals needed for everything from eyesight to maintaining bone health.

Getting Started

We’re not gonna lie: If you’re used to a snack diet of sweet, salty treats high in saturated fat and added sugar, it will take time to stop feeling those cravings. It’s OK to indulge every once in a while, but make sure nutrient-dense, less-processed snacks are at the top of your shopping list. Try swapping out sweet snacks with foods that are naturally sweet, like berries or dried fruit. For savory cravings, nuts are a high-protein, high-fiber food with lots of healthy, unsaturated fat.


Source: Orlando Health,