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September 25, 2019

Smart Snacking

By Grace Burton, MS, RD, LDN


I frequently get asked questions such as: Should I snack? How many snacks per day is appropriate? What are better snack options? Snacking can be a great way to help manage appetite, weight, mood, and energy levels. Everyone is different and there’s no right answer as far as snacking goes, but here are some good general guidelines to follow:

Snacks help to break up long gaps between meals.

To help maintain stable blood sugar levels and manage weight, aim to eat something every 4-5 hours. Going for long periods of time without food typically leads to food cravings (usually the less nutritious options) and/or overeating when you do finally get to eat. For example, if you’re like me and eat breakfast at 6:30 AM and lunch isn’t until 1:00 PM, always plan for a snack mid-morning.

Are you physically hungry?

You know…a growling stomach and the feeling of low energy? Unless you’re about to eat a meal, have a snack. Listen to your body! Feeling hungry means your body is telling you it is time to eat. The last thing you want to do is try to push past your hunger and wait until the next meal – this goes back to the point previously stated about going too long without eating.

However, try to avoid snacking if you don’t feel hungry. This can be challenging at times, such as at work because break rooms are often full of tasty snacks. It seems that there’s always some type of baked good because it was someone’s birthday or there’s dessert left over from catered lunches. It is hard not to be tempted by all of it, but having healthy snacks packed can really help. However, that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t occasionally treat yourself if there’s something calling your name in the break room. Mindfulness is important here – pause and really think about it. Do you have signs of physical hunger, or are you just bored or stressed? If you’re not actually hungry, try to distract yourself by going outside to walk around the building or go talk to a coworker. If you do feel hungry, think about what your body is craving and prioritize. Is the donut that’s been sitting out all day going to taste good and be worth it, or would you feel better eating one of the more nutrient-dense snacks you packed? Or is the homemade banana pudding going to be more satisfying because it’s one of your favorite desserts? Whichever you decide on, focus on portion control and savor the food.

Pack snacks with you so that if you do get that growling stomach mid-afternoon, you have something nutritious planned. This can help to avoid wandering to the vending machine or into the break room to get a treat or two. Being prepared is key in preventing mindless grazing! For convenience, keep some healthy snacks at work rather than having to think about packing them every day.

As far as what snacks to pack, nutrient-dense snacks combine high-fiber carbohydrates (such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains) with sources of lean proteins or healthy fats. Pairing these together will provide enough energy and nutrients to keep you satisfied for longer. Aim to choose snacks that are about 150-200 calories each. Some ideas include:

  • Fruit paired with nuts, peanut butter, sweet hummus, low-fat cottage cheese, or low-fat string cheese
  • Veggies (carrots, celery, bell peppers, tomatoes, zucchini, etc.) with hummus or guacamole
  • Whole grain crackers (such as Wheat Thins or Triscuits) with hummus, guacamole, or nut butter
  • Low-fat popcorn with nuts or low-fat string cheese
  • Protein or granola bar with less than 10 grams of sugar
  • Roasted chickpeas or edamame
  • Yogurt with less than 12 grams of sugar
  • Dried fruit and nut mix

Try to limit snacks involving refined (low-fiber) carbohydrates or those with a lot of added sugars, such as potato chips, candy, or desserts. They can cause your blood sugar levels to spike and then crash, leading you to seek out something else to eat soon after.

Overall, snacking can be a great way to help to manage hunger and weight. If you need help with choosing the best snack options for you, call to schedule an appointment with an Avance Care registered dietitian by calling (919) 237-1337, option 4.

Grace is a registered dietitian working at the Wake Forest and Northeast Raleigh locations. She enjoys running, and especially likes doing races in other cities because it gives her an excuse to visit new places. She also loves trying new restaurants, spending time with family and friends, and cheering on the NC State Wolfpack at football and basketball games.

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