I love snacking.
Snacking helps me with so many things. It helps me get all of my servings of fruits and vegetables, it helps keep me full between meals and from overeating at my next meal, it is an important part of all my social gatherings, and it is just plain awesome 'cause I love to eat!
The thing about successful snacking is that, like with meals, we tend to succeed in making more nutritious choices when we plan ahead. We snack for many reasons such as boredom or habit, but mainly because we get hungry. By planning our snacks ahead of time and anticipating our inevitable hunger, it helps us live by that oh-so-important principle I talked about last week, "making the healthy choice the easy choice." Packing healthy snacks for work can save us trips to the vending machine, from stopping at our neighbors desk (you know the one that always has a bowl of candy), or from simply becoming so ravenous that we eat 2X our regular portion at dinner.
Also, having healthy snacks that are easily accessible around the house such as cut-up veggies, whole fruit, unsalted nuts, pre-portioned yogurt, or even some boiled eggs can make grabbing a snack both healthy and easy. Perfection! Also, choosing snacks that are packed with protein and fibre ensures that you'll stay full long enough to make it to your next meal!
Many times when we get hungry we crave carbs, which is totally natural. Our body is telling us that it needs energy (or sugar) to keep fueling our brain to concentrate on our work or even to provide fuel for our muscles if our job entails a lot of physical activity. Our body knows that carbs provide an instant rise in blood sugar which explains that why, when our stomach starts to growl, cookies, cake, juice, granola bars, and many other pre-packaged snacks start to look extra appealing. The problem with these types of snacks is that they are often high in calories and low in nutrients. Also, eating a lot of simple carbs for a snack may leave you with a 'crash' feeling later on and do nothing to help you stave off hunger before your next meal. The best kinds of snacks contain foods from at least 2 of the 4 food groups and preferably have a protein source combined with a fruit, vegetable, or whole grain1. When you combine protein with fibre-rich foods, you ensure that your digestive system has to work hard and for a long time to break the food down, resulting in a feeling of long-lasting satiety (or fullness).
Think about your favorite snacks. Are there some snacks that you could swap for something more nutritious? If most of your snacks come out of a box, try thinking about some alternatives that might provide you with some high quality protein and extra fibre (see my Fantastic Fibre post to learn more about the benefits of fibre). In honor of being a savvy snacker, I thought I would put together a list of some common not-so-nutritious snacks and give some ideas for healthier alternatives.
The idea of "swapping" food is not a totally original one. I got a book as a gift one year called "Eat this, Not That" by David Zinczenko and found it totally fascinating the way he compared nutrition information of similar foods in such a visually appealing way. It encouraged people to eat the foods they love, while lessening the negative health consequences by choosing alternatives with less calories, fat, salt, etc. Although I don't love the idea of marketing this as the perfect weight-loss tool since many of the the 'Eat This' options wouldn't exactly be considered 'healthy,' I definitely like the concept and feel it can help people make some savvy swaps when eating out. He also has similar books called "Cook This, Not That", "Drink This, Not That" etc. that follow the same idea and also contain some interesting facts and nutrition information 2.
When my clients come to me looking for ways to improve their eating habits I often approach them with alternatives to their usual choices that will taste great and also satisfy their hunger. Good nutrition is not about 'remove this,' 'can't have that,' and the 'restrict, restrict, restrict' attitude that many of us fall into. If we are avoiding something, in other words eating it less often but not eliminating it completely, we must replace it with something else. If I coached my clients only on what NOT to eat I would be setting them up for failure. Instead, we focus on what other choices they can make so that they can still enjoy a 2 pm snack, but will gain the benefits of fullness and added nutrients that just aren't provided by processed, sugar-packed foods. Give this idea a try! Instead of saying to yourself, "I will not eat past 8 pm" try saying "When I get hungry for an evening snack I will swap up my usual bag of chips for something that will provide me benefits like air-popped popcorn or some nuts." That way, instead of squirming on the couch trying NOT to think about food, enjoy a nutritious snack that will keep you full until morning!
As one wise client once said to me, "We should aim for progress, not perfection." Don't worry about enjoying chips or cake once in a while, but aim to choose more nutritious options MORE often.
2 WHITTY NUTRITION is not affiliated with any of the above mentioned books or their authors. All options are strictly that of the author of this blog.