What You Always Wanted to Know About Healthy Snacking

What You Always Wanted to Know About Healthy Snacking

Snacking used to have a bad name. It used to mean giving in to a craving, repeating a bad habit, overindulgence. But our culture has changed. Now we have a healthier, broadened perspective about eating between meals. Snacking doesn’t make you guilty of overeating or consuming something that’s low in nutritional value. It’s an opportunity to feel satisfied, get energized, and supplement meals with additional foods that are good for you.

Whether your goal is to lose weight or gain it, or to eat foods that fuel your body or get rid of a grumbling stomach, snacking can be a pathway to good health. For some of us, snacking isn’t eating between meals, it’s a continuation of our daily food intake, eating small mini-meals throughout the day … kind of like grazing. It’s only excessive if you’re adding calories instead of figuring those calories as part of your overall food intake.

How to Snack

Be mindful when you snack. Focus on your snack. Concentrate on the flavors and textures, not on your book, movie or some other activity that has to compete for your attention. You’ll enjoy it more and you’ll know when you’ve had enough.

Age has an effect on snacking. Children snack differently than teens. A young adult’s snacking is probably a little different than that of an older adult, or a senior. At each life stage, our bodies have different needs. Changes take place that make a smart snack for a teen a not-so-smart snack for a 40-year-old.

Body-builders, runners, triathlon athletes, and office workers snack differently and for different purposes. We may snack differently depending on how we spend the majority of our time or change our snacking habits when we change our activity. If we’re an office worker by day and an Olympic swimmer trainee on the weekend we set out different snacking guidelines and goals for each of those times.

Weight watchers have an obvious goal: losing weight. There are snacking tricks for reducing calories like using a small plate, drinking more water, or avoiding places that make us want to eat more.

Even for those trying to lose weight, snacking should be something you enjoy, not a rigid diet. And every now and again … splurge. Have a chocolate sundae (unless you’re a diabetic and fear going into diabetic shock or have other health issues).

Snacking and Psychology

Snacking can be tricky. Our mind can make us feel hungry or full, satisfied or unsatisfied, regardless of how much or what foods we ate earlier. Our mind focuses on something and our body responds … like our nose when we walk past a shop and catch a whiff of vanilla ice cream.

Just thinking about snacking makes you want to put something in your mouth, doesn’t it? Pondering a chocolate bar stimulates the urge to reach for one. It’s our mind teasing us – and our nose. Smelling pot roast simmering in the oven gets our gastric juices flowing. It’s hard to resist wanting some when the buttery scent of popcorn popping away in the microwave oven alerts our nostrils. But that’s not what snacking is about … is it? Think of snacking as a food pause in your day. Derive pleasure from munching on a snack that makes you feel good and gives you energy.

What’s a healthy snack?

Snacks don’t have to be an excuse to eat junk food or food low in nutritional value –donuts, cakes, sugary sodas, deep-fried foods, and desserts. They can still be tasty and satisfying. Nuts, for example, are high in fat but are loaded with nutrients. We don’t have to avoid fat but we want to avoid the unhealthy varieties of fat, such as trans fat. It’s a good thing to avoid or keep refined sugar to a minimum and try snacking on foods that already have sugar built in, or we can add a natural sugar replacement like honey, maple syrup, coconut sugar, stevia. Fresh squeezed orange juice is a good way to sweeten a lot of foods and drinks.

Sometimes the most difficult part of snacking is determining if you’re really hungry. Is your body ready for a snack? If we snack smart, we’ll eat foods that will make us less likely to eat when we’re not hungry. Protein and fiber give our tummies a feeling of fullness. Protein doesn’t have to mean meat. Nuts, seeds, cheese and some vegetables like avocado are protein rich. Sugars and carbohydrates, on the other hand, often bring on cravings for more.

Snacks can be an opportunity to make your eating more balanced, incorporating variety into your snacks. If you eat a salad for one snack, eat something high in protein for the next one. We often do this naturally. If we eat a savory bar for one snack, we may desire a piece of fruit for the next snack. Variety lets us enjoy what we eat more.

Combination snacks are also satisfying: nuts and seeds with a green or fruit smoothie; celery with peanut butter; vegetable juice with a hard-boiled egg or string cheese. Contrasting textures and food groups is the spice of life.

Snacking can be a joy without the Almond Joy when there are intention and creativity behind it.