Is snacking good or bad? Growing up, our mothers warned us snacking before dinner would ruin our appetite. Yet now many nutritionists claim that snacking between meals is ideal because it prevents overeating. Which rule should we follow? Dr. Jo, the author of REBOOT—How To Power Up Your Energy, Focus And Productivity set us straight by claiming that both can in fact be true. It all depends on your body’s needs.
“Eating more often doesn’t boost metabolism or make you lose weight,” says Dr. Jo. “The weight equation is still about calories in versus calories out. If eating frequently controls your appetite so you eat less, then frequent eating will help you lose weight—not because you’re eating more often, but because you are eating fewer calories. If you eat a snack when you’re not physically hungry, you will not compensate for the extra calories in that snack. Therefore, snacks are recommended for physically active individuals, those of normal weight, growing children, and elderly who can’t eat enough at one time. For the others (overweight, sedentary individuals—that’s more than half of us), it’s best to adhere to three square meals a day.”
Those that should be snacking, we’ve compiled a simple guide to snacking without the calories piling up.
1. Always keep it small.
This sounds obvious, but how many times have you picked up a bag of pretzels (or chips…), checked the nutritional facts where a serving read 140 calories and then proceeded to eat the entire bag? This can set you back 500 calories. Always pay attention to portion size. “Snacks should be about one-fourth of total daily energy of your daily caloric intake (about 450 calories for a 2000 calorie day),” says nutritionist BS Viktoriya Wolff of Dailynutritionreview.com. “This ends up to be 112-150 calories per snack (3-4 snacks per day). A regular meal should be no less than 350 calories and no more than 480 calories, so if your snack is in this calorie range, it’s too much.”
2. Load up on protein and fiber.
“The role of a snack is to stop the hunger and to last until the bigger meal comes,” says Wolff. “This said, protein and fiber are great at doing that. An apple with a tablespoon of peanut butter is an excellent choice. This can be packed and does not require refrigeration for some hours. Apples contain sugars that will help you to feel full fast, while fiber and protein from peanut butter will help this feeling to last longer.”
3. Choose no-prep-needed options.
The more preparation needed the morning or night before, the less likely you’ll pack them. A candy bar stop at the office vending machine sounds so much easier. Instead, pack ready-to-go options in your bag. Wolff recommends a handful of almonds, an apple (or any ready-to-go fruit) or a protein bar. “Some protein bars can be better than others. Choose the one that has the highest protein and highest fiber in it and is within 150 calories.”
4. Limit your sodium.
“Make sure to limit the sodium in your snacks,” says Raffi Asadourian, the executive chef of Freshology, a national health-focused meal delivery company. “High sodium may cause water retention and will trigger your body to want to continue snacking instead of stopping after you have gotten the snack boost you need.”
5. Go light on sugar and carbs.
“Snacks should have limited sugars or other carbohydrates—under 25 grams,” says Robert Ziltzer MD. “Excess sugar promotes weight gain by spiking insulin, the fat burning hormone.” Instead, he recommends fiber-packed foods that fill you up without the added calories. “Fiber also slows sugar absorption, a plus.”