To snack or not to snack? Depending on which diet book you pick up, you will find a different theory on whether snacking will support or sabotage your health goals. It can be argued that frequent food consumption is likely to contribute to weight gain and obesity. But, research increasingly shows that eating small meals every 3-4 hours is associated with lower body weight and a decreased rate of diabetes and heart disease. While it may seem contradictory, it’s important to note that all snacks are not created equal—a smart snack should be nutrient dense, provide energy and curb hunger until your next meal.
Snacking can be a perfect solution for late night eaters that find themselves ravenous before dinner. This group doesn’t eat a lot during the day and the bulk of their calories are consumed during and post dinner. Once they start eating, they can have a hard time stopping. When there is a six to eight hour gap between meals, you will likely become insatiable, which often this leads to unhealthy meal choices or reaching for second and third helpings to fill up.
Choosing a smart snack can not only curb late night feasting, but also minimize overall daily calorie consumption. If you currently eat between meals, or think it might be a good idea, it is important to make the right choice. Junk food is often confused with snack food, but forget about noshing on chips, cookies, candy bars and other empty calories. These foods will spike your blood sugar, cause an energy crash and can even lead to increased hunger and cravings.
To prevent a trip to the office vending machine or fast-food take-out window when you find yourself starving mid-day, plan ahead. A smart snack should be rich in fiber, protein and healthy fats. Keep a small bag of almonds and raisins, a small turkey sandwich or a portable container of hummus and vegetables to ward off junk food temptations. A whole-food-based snack is more likely to satisfy than processed and packaged convenience foods. If you do find yourself staring down the energy bar aisle, there are good options to be found. Be sure to check the labels and ingredient lists to prevent loading up on additives, chemicals and sugar.
When you begin to reach for a snack, take a moment to think about whether you are eating out of hunger, habit or boredom. We often turn to food to break up our day, avoid stress or procrastinate on our to-do list. When you clue in to what you actually need, you’ll be better equipped to make a choice that will satisfy and nourish.
Remember to slow down before snacking to prevent mindless munching. Be sure to portion out your food, sit down, and eat while unoccupied. When we eat in front of the television, computer, reading a magazine or driving, our bodies don’t always register that we are eating or recognize the quantity consumed. Take time to savor and enjoy every bite and you’ll find yourself snacking your way to optimal health.
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