Want to upgrade your nutrition in a big way? Your snack habits offer a major opportunity for positive change.
Although our meal intake is about the same as it was some 20 years ago, our snacking habits today mean we’re consuming many more calories. In fact, snacks make up nearly one-third of our daily calories, according to the USDA.
Many processed and prepackaged snacks are loaded with salt, sugar and fat, which make them irresistible to your taste buds but destructive to your waistline and nutrition. Instead of getting vital nutrients from our snacks, Americans are simply consuming more empty calories.
We asked Kritikaa Agnani, a registered dietitian and nutritionist at Gold’s Gym, to explain what we should be getting from snacks and to share a few healthy alternatives.
What snacks are for
“The main purpose of snacks is to tide you over,” Agnani says. “If you go more than four hours without food, your blood sugar is dropping, and it’s going to create a problem.”
Healthy snacking keeps your blood sugar more stable and helps give your body enough fuel for the day, Agnani says. “When you’re starving, you’re going to make poor food choices.”
To develop healthier habits, make over your snack drawer or shelf by ditching processed foods packed with salt, sugar and fat. Your new plan should be centered around snacks made with whole foods that haven’t been refined or processed with additives.
Agnani recommends using a mental hunger scale to control your habits. If you feel hungry, think of your hunger on a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 means you’re too hungry and will eat whatever food is in front of you, and 10 means you’re completely full.
“Even when you’re at a 2, you might go for the chocolate or the cookies. But if you have something healthy on hand, hopefully you won’t be tempted.”
The ideal range before eating is 3 to 5 — you’ll be in a better position to make smart decisions. To get into that range, don’t go too long (four hours or more) between eating. And once you’re in that sweet spot, make sure you have good choices available to you.
“You want to plan because unplanned snacks lead to grazing, eating whatever is in front of you and overeating,” says Agnani, adding that good preparation involves making sure you have a mix of healthy foods. “The main thing is to have protein or fiber in your snacks and not just carbs.”
Check out Agnani’s simple healthy snacks below.
7 healthy snacks
Try these easy, wholesome snacks for home, work and school. They taste great and will fill you up.
Freezer-ready smoothie mix
How-to: Mix handfuls of berries and spinach with protein powder and keep in the freezer until you blend.
Benefits: Great mix of carbs, fiber and protein
Banana and peanut butter
How-to: Yes, just spread peanut butter on the banana. But be sure to get peanut butter without added sugars or oils.
Benefits: Protein, fiber, potassium, vitamin C
Salt and vinegar edamame
How-to: Toss a cup of edamame with a tablespoon of rice vinegar and a pinch of sea salt.
Benefits: Protein, vitamin K1, folate, manganese
Apple slices with lime
How-to: Cut an apple and squeeze half a lime over slices. The lime will prevent the apple from browning and cut some of the sweetness.
Benefits: Fiber, vitamin C
How-to: In a pan, cover eggs with enough water so they’re completely immersed. On medium-high heat, cover and boil for 6 minutes. Transfer eggs to cold water to stop them cooking.
Benefits: Protein, B vitamins
Frozen fruit pops
How-to: Blend fruit and put in popsicle molds. Try strawberries, blueberries, kiwi, watermelon or pineapple. Mix and match!
Benefits: Fiber, vitamin C, vitamin A, potassium
How-to: Purchase or see easy recipe below. Serve with carrots, pita or peppers.
Benefits: Protein, manganese
BONUS! Kritikaa Agnani’s hummus recipe: