We have become a snacking nation, but that doesn’t mean everyone snacks healthfully. Snacking on high calorie foods with few nutrients can lead to weight gain and unhealthy eating habits. And mindlessly munching on a bag of chips (yes, even veggie chips!) in front of the TV at night is not a healthy habit either. So how can you tell if you’re a healthy snacker? See how you answer the following 5 questions.
1. Are you having a snack or a treat?
A snack is a mini meal that provides nutrients you may not be getting enough of during regular meals, such as fiber, calcium, vitamin D and potassium. A treat is a food that provides very little (if any) nutrition, but contains a lot of calories such as a doughnut or bag of potato chips.
To become a healthy snacker: Think before eating. If it’s a snack, then enjoy it! If it’s a treat, ask yourself if you really need it and if not, swap it for a healthier choice.
2.Do you really need the snack?
Snacks shouldn’t be eaten just for the sake of having something in your mouth or to alleviate boredom. They should be eaten if you are truly hungry, like if you go five or more hours between meals without food (not counting sleep time).
To become a healthy snacker: Pre-plan snack times one to two times per day when you find yourself the hungriest
3. Are you carb-overloading?
Although whole grain pretzels or crackers sound like a healthy snack, they’re more satisfying when combined with a protein or healthy fat which helps slow down digestion and keep you satisfied for longer.
To become a healthy snacker: Combine carbs with protein or healthy fat such as Greek yogurt topped with berries, or whole grain crackers topped with peanut butter.
4. Are you controlling your portions?
Having the right foods and the right time is important, but you also need to eat these foods in appropriate portions. Some foods are very healthy, but when eaten in large quantities can add hundreds of unnecessary calories to your day.
To become a healthy snacker: Aim to have snacks between 125 to 200 calories each. Review the nutrition facts panel of packaged foods for recommended serving sizes and calories per serving.
5. Are you a packaged food snacker?
Many packaged foods aren’t as healthy as they seem. Some may contain few calories…but few vitamins and minerals too. Other can be laden with artery clogging fat and loads of calories.
To become a healthy snacker: Control the ingredients by preparing a few snacks at home. Here are DIY snack recipes to try:
Toby Amidor, MS, RD, CDN, is a registered dietitian and consultant who specializes in food safety and culinary nutrition. She is the author of The Greek Yogurt Kitchen: More Than 130 Delicious, Healthy Recipes for Every Meal of the Day.
*This article was written and/or reviewed by an independent registered dietitian nutritionist.