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Five Healthy Reasons to Surrender to a Snack Attack

By Beth Sumrell Ehrensberger, RD, MPH

Say the word “snack” and all sorts of unhealthy things fill the visual—that’s because somewhere along the way, the plethora of foods labeled “snacks” has given eating between meals a bad reputation. Salty nachos, greasy chips, and other fat-filled, calorie-busting, neon-colored (a la cheese puffs?) morsels have come to be what most of America thinks of when it’s time to nibble. If nothing more, snacking definitely isn’t the first thing most people think of when they’re working to stay on the healthy straight-and-narrow.

But quite to the contrary. A solid snack can actually be one of the best kept secrets when it comes to a get-healthy regimen. Simply supplementing the meals you eat with a couple snacks can help you squeeze in vital nutrients you may otherwise miss—plus they can keep your appetite in check. So long as you manage the size of your portions, keeping to around 100 to 200 calories, and the foods you select healthy, snacks can be help you improve the quality of your diet as well as help manage your weight. Yes, we’re giving you permission to eat between meals! Check it out…

Snacks make it easier to eat right.
For a lot of people, taking in the suggested daily 5-9 servings of fruits and veggies feels like a tall order. And the three recommended daily servings of dairy? Even worse. But snacking can be a great help to fitting those foods into your daily lineup. Instead of vending machine snack fare, choose wholesome foods like a banana and a whole grain, low sugar granola bar—or a melon wedge with honey-drizzled Greek yogurt. Making selections that count toward your healthy foods tally can help you power up the volume of antioxidants, vitamins and minerals in your day.

You’ll be able to stay on top of hydration.
You know how important it is to stay hydrated, but that doesn’t mean you always do as you should. Because keeping hydrated is so important to keep the body operating at peak as well as helping to play an important role in weight loss, you definitely shouldn’t skimp on fluids. Keeping a BPA-free water bottle with you is a great way to keep the water flowing, but if you’re busy during the day—even that tactic can fail. Just by adding a serving or two of water or seltzer to the snacks you eat, you’ll find it easier to sneak in a couple extra opportunities for hydrating. Consider this: if you’re sipping with all your meals and snacks, you’ll have less hydrating to remember to work in throughout the day. And keep in mind that some foods like water-rich produce and low sodium soups (that incidentally make great snacks) count toward your hydration goal, too.

You’ll feel less pressure to eat perfectly at mealtime.
Studies show that people who eat breakfast tend to weigh less, eat fewer calories during the day, and have greater success on weight loss diets. Indeed, breakfast is the most important meal of the day. But if there’s no time to have breakfast—or the thought of sitting down to a meal first thing just isn’t appealing to you—snacks can provide the perfect solution to guaranteeing a morning meal. Think of breakfast in terms of two small snacks, rather than an at-the-table experience. Try a whole-wheat mini bagel with a smear of peanut butter on the way to work, then a low-fat string cheese with an apple later in the morning. Even if you snack your way to a morning meal, you’ll still have enough satisfying nutrients in your belly to gain the benefits of breakfast.

Your food choices will improve.
If you’ve ever gone too long between meals only to inhale everything in sight the next time you eat (and who hasn’t?) just remember this: a simple snack to take the edge off hunger could have helped prevent that inevitable blowout. A strategic, healthy morsel between meals can keep blood sugar on an even keel, which can keep ravenous hunger under wraps. Staying on a schedule that allows for a meal or a snack every 2 ½-3 hours will help you make smart choices—and much less likely to fall prey to disastrous foods that tempt you.

Your workouts will be more productive.
Some people believe that exercising on an empty stomach burns more fat than eating a small meal or snack post workout. Unfortunately, experts don’t exactly agree on the answer of whether you should (or shouldn’t) eat before workouts to maximize fat burning. While the jury is out, this much is true: if you do burn more fat by exercising on an empty stomach, it’s not that much more. Plus, by exercising on empty, you set yourself up for overeating afterward, risking cancelling out all your hard work. Snacking on a small piece of fruit can give you just enough fuel for your workout, and studies show that you’ll be able to keep going for longer and more intensely than if you’d started out with no food to fuel you.

Ready, set, snack!
The best snacks contain some fiber to fill you up, plus carbohydrates to give you a boost—as well as some healthy fat and protein to sustain that lift. If you need a little help getting started with a few healthy ideas, sink your teeth into the suggestions below, all of which fall between 100 to 200 calories and are crafted with power-you-though sustainable nutrients to keep hunger off your mind.

Craving sweet? Try this…

  1. 2 whole wheat graham cracker squares and an 8-ounce glass of ice cold 1% milk
  2. ½ ounce cashews mixed with two tablespoons dried blueberries and ¼ cup low-sugar, whole-grain cereal
  3. 8 oz 1% chocolate milk and a handful of strawberries
Craving crunchy? Try this…
  1. A small Asian pear with one ounce of sharp cheddar cheese
  2. ¼ cup low fat bean dip with 4 whole grain, low sodium crackers and a cup of carrot sticks
  3. 10 small pretzels with a tablespoon of almond butter
Craving salty? Try this…
  1. 1 cup air-popped popcorn tossed with a teaspoon of olive oil and salt, plus a tablespoon of roasted peanuts
  2. One cup boiled Edamame pods sprinkled with sea salt
  3. ¼ cup pistachios
Craving savory? Try this…
  1. 1 cup grape tomatoes with 2 tablespoons hummus and a small whole wheat pita
  2. 2 deviled egg halves with ½ cup red pepper strips
  3. 2 oz tuna with 4 whole grain crackers
When you’re fueled by healthy snacks to stretch your energy between meals, you’ll amp up your diet game and pump up the nutrients you eat. Happy noshing!