If you’re suddenly, undeniably hungry, it’s easy to wipe out a lot of hard work and discipline around your healthy diet with a few minutes of gorging on the wrong thing.
So, we asked Jennifer Anderson, registered dietitian at Novant Health Heart & Vascular Institute in Charlotte, for advice on between-meal eating. She offered these proven strategies to help you navigate the ins and outs of snacking and ensure 2021 is your healthiest year ever. (And be sure to check out Anderson's list of 10 processed foods you don’t have to apologize for eating, it was one of the most popular Healthy Headlines stories of all time.)
1. Prep healthy snacks ahead of time
Prep healthy snacks for the week on your day off so you’re not raiding the pantry for chips and cookies. You can use this time to wash your produce, cut celery sticks, slice the melon and cube the cheese.
This saves time in the long run and makes it easier to “grab and go” when you want a quick snack.
“When you’re snacking throughout the week, grab the fresh or delicate snacks first,” Anderson said. “For example, eat the cut-up fruit and vegetable slices, which spoil faster, before you reach for the nuts or crackers and cheese.”
2. Practice portion control
It’s wise to package good portions while you’re prepping your snacks...so you don’t finish all the trail mix at once! (We’ve all been there.)
If you buy in bulk from Costco, BJ’s or Sam’s Club, where they sell huge containers of nuts and giant boxes of crackers, Anderson advises separating them into individual portions (in zip-style bags or leftover containers) as soon as possible.
3. Lean on whole grains
Whole grain snacks (like Triscuits and whole-wheat English muffins) boost your energy, contain important nutrients and provide dietary fiber. Fiber not only makes you feel full, it also plays a key role in balancing your blood sugar and lowering your cholesterol.
To ensure you’re buying the healthiest options, look at the ingredient lists. The first ingredient should be whole: whole wheat, whole oats, etc. Good whole-grain snack options include high-fiber cereal, whole-grain tortilla chips, and even a bowl of old-fashioned oatmeal.
4. Add (a little) healthy fat
Adding a little healthy fat (such as nuts and seeds, natural nut butters or avocados) can provide energy, satisfy your appetite and keep you full longer. When substituted for saturated fats (like those in animal products) they may also lower your chances of developing cardiovascular disease. Plus, they’re delicious!
5. Have snack, will travel
Carrying a healthy snack with you ensures you won’t fall back on convenience-store options like chips or candy bars when you’re away from home. Go for foods that don’t require refrigeration, like pre-measured portions of nuts, dried fruit and crackers. Pop them in a baggie, and you can carry them with you anywhere.
6. Choose satisfying combinations
Mixing different macronutrients (protein, fat and carbs) in your snacks helps you feel and stay more satisfied, and boosts nutrition, too. For example: almond butter on whole-wheat crackers, strawberries with a serving of string cheese or whole-grain cereal with reduced-fat milk.