Ask the Dietitian: Should You Snack?

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Snacking can be a simple and effective way to promote weight loss and muscle growth — if done smartly. Unlike processed options (found in many vending machines), a healthy whole foods-based snack helps regulate blood sugar, sustains your metabolism, elevates mood and provides important nutrients.

Here’s how to determine if eating between meals is right for you and tips for picking the best option:

HOW TO TELL IF YOU SHOULD SNACK?

Start by listening to your body. If your first meal of the day is at 5 or 6 a.m., followed by a workout, chances are you may need a few bites of fuel (sometimes referred to as second breakfast) before lunchtime. If lunch for you is small and always on-the-go, you’ll likely need a pick-me-up by mid-afternoon. And, if dinner happens around 6 p.m. but you’re a night owl, then a smart bedtime snack could help you sleep better. All of these situations are OK. The same is true for those who follow a habitual three-squares-a-day.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR

Not all snacks are created equal. Here’s what to keep an eye out for:

  • Fiber
    Dietary fiber regulates blood sugar and helps keep you feeling full longer. Aim to get at least 3 grams per serving in a snack. Whenever possible, look for 100% whole grains.
  • Protein
    Look for at least 5 grams of protein. Your body takes longer to digest the macronutrient, which helps keep energy levels consistent and “hanger” at bay.
  • Smarter Portions
    Snacks should be roughly 200 calories of something satisfying. The best snacks are those that don’t come in bags and boxes with bottomless entry points.
  • Healthy Fats
    Another important macro, fat provides quality energy to your cells and helps your body absorb essential nutrients. When you substitute fat for processed carbohydrates, insulin levels are likely to be lowered and remain more stable.

WHAT TO AVOID

Here are a few things to steer clear of when choosing a snack:

  • Added Sugars
    Unlike natural sugar (found in foods like fruit), added sugar, which gets incorporated during processing, can cause blood sugar levels to spike, leading to crashes and weight gain.
  • Refined Carbohydrates
    Skip the white flour and opt for whole grains instead. They have more protein and fiber than their refined counterparts and come packaged with essential vitamins and minerals to better help fuel your body.
  • Processed Foods
    Most processed foods are loaded with salt, sugar, preservatives and unhealthy fats. They are often quickly digested and upset stable blood sugars, which, over time, can lead to high blood pressure, weight gain and cardiovascular disease.

THE BOTTOM LINE

Because everyone’s body, activity level and schedule is different, there’s no hard-and-fast rule on whether or not to snack. However, snacking can be helpful for achieving your goals provided you choose wisely. That’s why it’s important to plan ahead. Stock your pantry and desk drawer with healthy make-ahead snacks so you won’t be caught unprepared.

To read more about healthy snack prep, click here.

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