“Snacking can be your friend or your enemy,” she says. “If you keep a snack drawer at your desk, it depends on what you have in it and how often you visit it. Even if it’s full of healthful food, you can still gain weight.”
Moore suggests adults have a meal or snack every three to four hours. A snack should provide 100 to 150 calories (200 tops) and should contain protein, carbohydrates and fiber. “That will keep you feeling full and energetic,” she says.
Suggestions for children’s snacks don’t generally include calorie counts but rather focus on providing key nutrients within the daily total calorie requirements, which vary from kid to kid.
Moore urges caution when it comes to liquid snacks. “Liquids are not as satiating as solids, so you go back for more more quickly,” she says. And many drinks contain more calories than you’d think. “If you’re taking in 300 to 400 calories a day from beverages,” she says, “that’s really getting in the way of weight management.”
Weight management aside, today’s constant grazing may pose another danger to our bodies. “You never have hunger control,” Popkin explains. Ideally, people should learn to eat when they’re hungry and refrain when they’re not. But the snacking phenomenon prompts us to eat when the clock tells us to, whether we need food or not. The resulting “disregulation of eating,” as he calls it, disarms our bodies’ ability to produce and follow internal hunger cues. In short, he says, “if you don’t feel hungry and you eat, you’re eating for psychological reasons. That’s where marketing comes in.”
Dietitian Marisa Moore says snacks can help people meet their daily nutrition needs. But last time I checked, the federal government’s 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans didn’t call for more Twizzlers and Mountain Dew.
The best snacks provide a filling mix of protein, carbohydrates and fiber, Moore says. Here are some snacks she suggests:
·Popcorn.Unless you douse it with butter and salt, popcorn – especially the kind popped on the stovetop with olive or canola oil – is a good choice for those who prefer high-volume snacks. Plus, it’s packed with fiber, so it’s filling.
·A banana or apple plus a handful — not a can-full — of peanuts. Better yet, pick pistachios: You can eat 49 of them for 160 calories, and removing the shells “slows down the eating process.
·A small apple and warm peanut butter. Take some natural peanut butter and warm it for a few seconds in the microwave,” then dip apple slices in it. Be mindful that two tablespoons of peanut butter have about 200 calories.
·Vegetables and hummus or mashed-up cooked beans with your choice of spices). Mix it up: Red pepper slices and sugar snap peas, for instance, provide lots of nutrients and fiber but very few calories. Or substitute baked tortilla chips for variety.
·A boiled egg. Plenty of protein.
·Whole-grain toast with almond butter.
·Roasted chickpeas. Drain, rinse and thoroughly dry a can of chickpeas; season with salt, pepper and olive oil and roast until they’re “crunchy and golden.”
·Melons and berries. In the heat, they’re great for hydrating and staying cool.” And 1 ½ cups have less than 100 calories.
·Smoothies. Blend plain or vanilla-flavored yogurt (or milk or tofu) with fresh or frozen fruit. Freeze it on a popsicle stick to “prolong the eating experience.”
·Sparkling water with a twist of citrus — or a few slices of fresh ginger. Or try herbal tea containing licorice, which “imparts a sweet flavor.”
More: For nutrition news, visit The Checkup blog, follow @jhuget on Twitter and subscribe to the Lean & Fit newsletter.
—Jennifer LaRue Huget