By Elizabeth M. Ward, MS, RD
Our snacking habits have taken it on the chin lately, and with good reason. We’re a nation of “serial snackers” who appear to give little thought to what we nibble between meals.
Many adults eat nearly a meal’s worth of calories from snacks every day. According to government research, snacks contribute up to 650 calories a day for men and about 465 calories a day for many women. That wouldn’t be so bad, except that most snacks are rich in added sugars and solid fats.
Kids don’t do fare much better. A recent International Quarterly of Community Health Education study found that fourth and fifth graders took in, on average, 302 calories a day from snacks such as cookies, chips, and candy.
If you’re hungry, eating between meals is fine. Here’s the problem: snacking has become synonymous with low-nutrient foods that may also contribute to weight control problems in kids and adults.
The snacking solution
When done right, snacks help fill in nutritional gaps, head off between-meal energy slumps, and help you to fuel up before exercise.
Snacking may actually lead to eating less. Research recently presented at the Canadian Nutrition Society Annual Meeting in Vancouver, B.C., found that munching on raisins increased feelings of fullness in children and prevented excessive calorie intake.
You may snack once a day or five times. No matter, as long as you maximize nutrition within your personal calorie “salary,” the number of daily calories you need to lose, maintain, or gain weight.
When you fail to tally the calories snacks supply, noshing can easily sabotage weight control efforts. Mindless munching not only risks packing on pounds, it can also produce nutrient deficiencies, especially when your meals are not balanced.
Snacking is here to stay, especially during the summer when we’re more often on the go. For better nutrition and easier weight control, think of snacks as mini-meals not meal wreckers, and plan snacks into your day.
Snack only when you’re hungry. “Spend” no more than about 200 calories on snacks. Always include foods with protein and fiber to keep you fuller for longer, and keeps snacks low-sugar.
The following examples fit my idea of super summer snacks:
• Hard cooked egg + 6 whole grain crackers
• KIND Nuts & Spices Bar
• 1 ½ cups edamame in the pod
• 6-ounce container of fat-free fruit Greek yogurt
• 1 ounce of pistachios in the shell
• String cheese + a peach or nectarine
• ¼ cup hummus + 10 baby carrots
• Banana Berry Smoothie: Place ½ cup fat-free milk, ½ banana, 1 cup mixed berries, and 1-2 ice cubes in a blender or food processor and blend until smooth. Pour into a tall glass. Serve immediately. (Makes one serving).