Snack choices can increase chances of a successful outcome for any diet or throw you completely off track. And . . . if your goal is a healthy lifestyle, smart snacking is critical.
The idea of healthy snacks may seem completely impossible when your goal is to eat healthy, nutritious foods. In fact, healthy snacks may sound like an oxymoron because the word snack immediately brings to mind foods like doughnuts, potato chips, ice cream and cookies. Let’s look at some guidelines for smart snack choices to keep you healthy.
There are many delicious, wonderfully healthy snacks that are a vitally important part of your daily intake especially when your meals are spaced more than four hours apart. A tasty nutritious snack prevents starving yourself for a few hours and then gobbling up anything you can find, which are typically foods that are not good for you and kill your appetite for a healthy meal later.
Healthy snacking requires planning (the same as your meals). The process is much easier if you keep a large selection of nutritious foods on hand in your frig and pantry so you always have healthy options.
The first step to healthy snacking is to understand the types of snacks that are good for you.
Fruits and vegetables provide many delicious alternatives to potato chips and cookies. That may seem too simplistic, but when you replace just one cookie or candy snack with a piece of fruit or vegetables strips, you immediately cut a large number of calories, plus eliminate excess sugar, fat, and sodium from your diet.
Small changes make a huge difference in your diet and your health. The next time you want to reach for a salty bag of chips, try carrot sticks instead. You get the crunch that you crave without the excess salt and fat. If carrots are not your favorite, there are other options such as, celery, broccoli, jicama, and cauliflower. If you do not like them plain, peanut or almond butter are yummy with celery and jicama; and hummus is a great dip for all veggies. These snacks are not only low in fat and calories but they are extremely high in nutrients that many people are lacking in their diets.
Fruits are wonderful for snacking and most come in their own wrapper! In other words, they are easy to pack and carry. An apple, a banana or an orange can be the perfect portable snack for busy people on the go. Fruits contain natural sugars that your body craves when you are hungry, which makes them very satisfying. Eat an orange instead of that morning candy bar and enjoy the same fulfilled feeling without the calories, excess refined sugar, and fat.
If your diet includes a caffeine or salt restriction, fruit is one of your best options for snacking. Even small amounts of chocolate contain caffeine and fat. Oranges, apples, and bananas are completely caffeine free!
My favorite snack replacement for chips is raw nuts. When you buy nuts from the vending machine they are usually salted and often have preservatives added. Avoid those if you can. Buy nuts in bulk (Spouts has the best prices, as a rule). You can buy salted, unsalted, and raw. The best choice for snacking is raw and unsalted; but small amounts of salted nuts are also acceptable in most diets.
When you work long hours with minimal breaks, you probably notice those physical lows when you become very hungry and tired. It is during those times that healthy snacking is important. Your body is telling you that it needs refueling.
Many of us eat breakfast very early before leaving for work or school and lunch may be scheduled six hours later. Six hours is too long to maintain healthy blood sugar levels. On your morning break, it is important to feed your body in order to sustain your energy until lunch.
Eating a healthy snack between three and four hours after breakfast also prevents the desire to eat a huge lunch. Everyone is well aware that a heavy, calorie-filled lunch makes you sleepy a couple of hours later. Always eat a light, healthy lunch; then, have another healthy snack mid-afternoon to sustain your energy until dinner time.
Nutrient-filled snacks between meals are especially important when you work outside or in extreme conditions. They not only keep the body energized, they help to keep you warm.
Good snacking habits are a vital part of a healthy lifestyle. Healthy, nutritious snacks keep your blood sugar steady throughout the day, which is important for the following reasons:
- Hunger can make you grumpy and short tempered. Snacking controls mood swings that come from low blood sugar levels, especially between meals.
- A small snack keeps your blood sugar from dropping and eliminates those sudden feelings of fatigue during your work day.
- Erratic blood sugar levels are one of the main causes of diabetes and other metabolic diseases – conditions you want to avoid if at all possible.
Fruit is one of the best snacking choices to sustain a stable blood sugar level when you have long stretches of time between meals. Freshly-squeezed fruit (and vegetable) juices are another option for delicious snacking. You can either make your own, or find a local “raw” juice establishment to make them for you.
Fruits, vegetables, and nuts are not your only choices. There are plenty of options for healthy snacks.
- Low fat cheeses like mozzarella and cottage cheese.
- String cheese is a portable snack that even children enjoy.
- Sunflower seeds and raisins (or dried cranberries or cherries)
- Sunflower seeds contain healthy fats. Dried fruits are sugary but provide a burst of energy that can pep you up for the rest of the day when eaten after lunch.
- Make your own mix of nuts, seeds and dried fruit (go easy on the fruit because of the sugar content).
- Packaged mixes are not recommended unless you can find a mix that has no additives and sugar added, which can be difficult.
- Green tea and ginger tea – lightly sweetened with local honey.
- Green tea contains caffeine, but it also contains many antioxidants that are beneficial to your skin and overall health.
- Ginger tea is excellent to settle a stomach and decrease bloating that often happens after a large lunch.
Snack foods are available everywhere in vending machines, but BE SMART in your choices. Make healthy decisions when it comes to snack foods. Read labels carefully and avoid anything that has ingredient names that you cannot pronounce – or added sugar or sugar derivatives. A small bag of chips or pretzels is an acceptable snack on occasion – in others words a couple of times month (and choose those without additives).
The biggest problem comes from allowing yourself to become extremely hungry and making unwise choices just to quell the hunger. This can be solved by eating a good healthy breakfast, and carrying nutritious snacks that can satisfy your hunger, energize your body and help you to avoid eating foods that are more harmful than helpful. When you plan your snacking options, you never get to the point that you will need to grab ANYTHING that is handy because you are starving!