Noshing between meals to shed pounds may actually cause you to add a few if you don’t follow these smart (and easy!) rules
Like any savvy woman trying to make the number on the scale go down or stay steady, you snack during the day to keep your energy tank full, boost metabolism, and make sure you don’t stand a chance of overeating. But to reap those benefits, you need to be strategic about what you eat, when you eat, and how much you eat, otherwise you’ll end up packing on pounds. Follow these simple snacking tips, and your munching will never meddle with your weight.
Since most Americans are not eating enough fruits and vegetables or the recommended amount of omega 3s every day, “consider snacking a prime opportunity to work on fulfilling these nutritional needs,” says Elizabeth Somer, R.D., author of Eat Your Way to Sexy. Skip candy, cheese puffs, and other foods without benefits, and instead try to include two food groups at every meal: one fruit or vegetable plus a source of omega-3 fatty acids such as walnuts, flaxseeds, or smoked salmon.
“The most common pitfall when it comes to snacking is mindlessly eating and not paying attention to how much you’ve consumed,” says Connecticut-based nutritionist Ilyse Schapiro, R.D. A handful here and a nibble there, and all of a sudden you’ve got an empty sleeve of cookies—and a whole lot of extra calories in your belly—at the end of the day. Portion out your snacks so you consume enough to keep you from dipping your hand back into the box 20 minutes later.
“No matter what you’re craving, you can typically save calories by finding the most natural form of that food available to snack on,” Somer says. You can still eat packaged foods, just look for those with minimal ingredients and the least amounts of sugar and salt. Think unsweetened oatmeal over granola, plain Greek yogurt with healthy toppings instead of ice cream, air-popped popcorn or a baked potato rather than chips, and almonds before trail mix.
While your body needs fuel to exercise and then to keep your energy high after the gym, you need to be careful not to consume more calories than you burn, Somer says. If you plan to sweat it out for an hour or longer, or are doing an intense (7 to 9 exertion rate on a scale of 1 to 10) workout and it’s been a few hours since you last ate, consume some easily digestible carbs pre-workout. Have a small snack an hour prior to your session, or simply down some juice—which is readily absorbed by your system and won’t cause digestive woes—30 minutes before, Stoler recommends. Post-workout, eat a small snack that contains protein and carbs, such as Greek yogurt with fruit or a smoothie, to help with muscle recovery.
Sometimes when you’re dehydrated, your stomach would have you believe that you need to eat rather than drink. “If you ate recently and shouldn’t be hungry, drink a glass of ice water before you reach for a snack, then wait 15 minutes,” recommends New Jersey-based nutritionist and exercise physiologist Felicia Stoler, R.D. Still peckish? Eat something healthy. No longer hungry? You were probably thirsty, and that’s no longer a problem now.
Once associated with grandmas and Metamucil, fiber may never be “sexy,” but it can help you look sexy. Choose snack foods high in fiber that also contain protein or healthy fat, and you’ll stop that post-snack pre-dinner trip to the vending machine. Aim for at least three grams of fiber, which can be found in one small apple or pear, or a quarter of an avocado. “Legumes can also be a great choice because they offer a natural combination of fiber-rich carbs and protein,” Stoler says. And they increase blood levels of cholecystokinin, a protein that leads to feelings of satiety, so bring on the edamame, peanuts, and white bean dip.
You need to read labels, Schapiro says. Foods that seem to be good for you—such as granola, energy bars, and smoothies, or anything that is gluten-free, all-natural, or organic—can be packing absurd amounts of sugar and calories. “It’s also important not to forget that eating calories is often more satisfying than drinking them,” she adds.
Whenever you leave the house, stash a healthy snack or two in your purse or gym back, Somer recommends. “Otherwise you’ll end up grabbing something that’s convenient—rather than something that’s good for you—when you get hungry later.” Make it easy by keeping your kitchen stocked with fruit, bite-sized vegetables (think baby carrots, snap peas, cherry tomatoes, and the like), single-serving packs of hummus and peanut butter, nuts, and other foods you can pack in a sandwich bag and then toss in your bag.
When your blood sugar level tanks, you become super-starved and are more likely to binge on whatever you can get your hands on, Stoler says. She advises munching on a snack or having a meal every two to three hours so you never reach that ravenous state.
Those little bites and sips can add up fast, so stick to 100- to 200-calorie snacks that offer a mix of good carbs and protein, such as fruit with a handful of almonds, peanut butter on whole-grain crackers, or hummus with veggies, Schapiro says. A day’s worth of snacks should account for no more than 400 to 450 calories of your diet, she adds.