BY CAROLYN O’NEIL
Weight control research shows that the best way to distribute calories throughout the day is to eat three meals and a snack or two, depending on your schedule and the size of the meals and snacks, of course.
Snacking in between breakfast, lunch, dinner and bedtime has become a way of life for many Americans. According to a survey conducted by the Consumer Reports National Research Center, 85 percent of women eat between meals, with an average of two snacks per day. Twenty-four percent of snackers said they crave chocolate, while 19 percent preferred something salty, such as chips or pretzels.
Regardless of what you crave, when the snack attack hits, there are lots of choices to satisfy the sweet or salty urges in lower-calorie ways — from frozen chocolate pops made with skim milk to baked chips made with whole grains.
The good news is that snacks are not only OK, they can be a healthy addition to your daily diet.
Registered dietitian Lanier Thompson put her healthy snacking know-how to work to help develop an array of recipes for Good Measure Meals, an Atlanta-based gourmet weight-loss meal-plan program. Because clients enjoy the pre-packaged fresh meals for weeks at a time, variety is critical. Thompson designed them to meet Good Measure Meals’ calorie and nutrition guidelines.
“Snacking can be a healthy habit when kept in moderation,” Thompson said. “When trying to achieve and maintain a healthy weight, it is important to never be too hungry or too full, so snacking is an easy way to always have a little something in your stomach. Having a snack of 100 to 150 calories between meals can help you maintain energy, concentration and prevent overeating at meals.”
Think of snacks as mini-meals. If you’re hungry before dinner and need to nosh, make your choices count toward good nutrition. Thompson says balance protein, carbohydrates and fats.
“This helps keep your hunger at bay longer to help prevent the “crash and burn” an hour after eating the snack, she said. “The combinations that I look for in snacks are carbohydrates, such as crackers, pita chips or apple slices, paired with a protein that contains a small amount of fat such as low-fat cheese, yogurt, hummus or peanut butter.”
Snack to fill nutrient gaps
Snacks may have the reputation for being bit players, but they can play starring roles by providing nutrients you may be missing in meals. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the seven most neglected nutrients are calcium, potassium, fiber, magnesium and vitamins A, C and E. Here’s how to snack your way to total nutrition:
Calcium (supports bone health and healthy blood pressure)
Snack on: Fat-free or low-fat milk, yogurt or frozen desserts, low-fat string cheese or brands such as Laughing Cow cheese, or a handful of almonds.
Potassium (regulates blood pressure)
Snack on: Citrus, cantaloupe or banana.
Fiber (aids digestion; lowers cholesterol; linked to cancer prevention and appetite satiety)
Snack on: Prunes, oatmeal cookie, whole-grain crackers or chips, fresh fruit, veggies.
Vitamin E (supports immune system, healthy skin; works as antioxidant to lower risk of heart disease and cancer)
Snack on: Avocado, nuts.
Magnesium (needed for bone and muscle health, including heart health)
Snack on: Brazil nuts, pumpkin seeds, whole-grain granola bar.
Vitamin A (needed for healthy skin, eyes and immune system)
Snack on: Orange colored fruits and vegetables such as carrots and mango.
Vitamin C (healthy immune system, wound healing and healthy skin)
Snack on: Citrus, kiwi fruit and strawberries.
Carolyn O’Neil is a registered dietitian and co-author of “The Dish on Eating Healthy and Being Fabulous!” E-mail her at carolyn@ carolynoneil.com.