It may seem counterintuitive, but snacking is an essential part of maintaining a healthy weight. Well-chosen snacks can keep us satisfied, boost energy levels and curb cravings for less healthy options. However, just like with meals, not only what but when and how much you eat plays a role in determining whether your snacks are working with you or against you.
Follow these tips to ensure you make sound choices come snack time.
- Snack to prevent hunger, rather than satisfy it. Don’t wait until you are ravenous to eat a snack, as this will only make you more likely to overindulge. Instead, try to eat a small snack within a few hours of your last meal, regardless of how hungry you are feeling. Try setting a reminder on your phone or using a timer, so you don’t forget.
- Eat snacks that are filling. A bag of chips or a sugar-filled treat is a quick fix that will temporarily keep your hunger at bay. When choosing what to snack on, opt for high-fiber or protein-rich options, which leave you feeling fuller (and more satisfied) longer. Try fat-free, air-popped popcorn; a bowl of whole grain cereal; yogurt topped with sliced almonds; or a bean burrito made with a whole grain tortilla.
- Snack in pairs. While snacking on a piece of fruit is certainly a healthy option, it may not satisfy you for very long. A piece of fruit paired with a two slices of low-fat cheese and whole grain crackers, on the other hand, is far more likely to keep you feeling full long after your snack break has ended. An added benefit? Certain foods have greater health benefits when eaten together than they do individually. Your body will absorb more immune-boosting beta carotene found in a handful of cherry tomatoes when they are eaten with a few slices of heart-healthy avocado, for example.
- Consider each snack a “mini meal.” Rather than settling in front of the TV or computer with a bag of something to nosh on, treat snack time as you do meal time, with a defined beginning and end. Set out a portion of your snack—two tablespoons of nuts, a tablespoon of all-natural nut butter with an apple, baby carrots and three to four tablespoons of hummus—and don’t go back for seconds once you’ve finished it.
- Wash snacks down with water. It’s important to stay hydrated throughout the day, and snack time is no different. Adding a glass of water to each snack break will help you to feel fuller, lessening the temptation to overeat. It’s also a great way to keep you on track toward getting your recommended 8 glasses a day, so drink up!
- Eat a smart snack before heading to bed. You may think of eating before bedtime as a big no-no, but new evidence suggests that certain snacks can actually help you drift off to dreamland. Carbohydrate- and calcium-rich snacks, like a small bowl of cereal with low-fat dairy or a piece of whole grain toast and a small glass of calcium-fortified almond milk, increase the amount of sleep-inducing tryptophan in your bloodstream, helping to promote a more restful sleep. But don’t overdo it–too much snacking before bedtime can result in indigestion and keep you from snoozing comfortably.