When you hear the word “snacks,” fried potato chips, salty pretzels, or buttery popcorn may come to mind. While this variety of snacking doesn’t exactly fit into a diet meant for weight loss, snacking can be a part of a healthy diet. When done correctly, it can actually aid in your weight loss goals. There are certain snacking tips that are essential for maintaining a healthy weight. They just involve a new way of looking at snacking.
Snacking can 100 percent be part of your weight loss strategy, as long as snacking is proactive vs. reactive. Proactive snacks are planned to be nourishing, aka they provide vitamins, minerals, and nutrients and not just calories. They are also satisfying and take the edge off your hunger until you can sit down for your next meal.
To make sure that you stay nourished without sabotaging your diet, read this article!
What is Snacking and Why Do We Snack?
The term “snack foods” is often associated with processed, high-calorie products such as chips, cookies, and fries. However, snacking simply means to eat or drink something between your regular meals, regardless of the food type (1).
While we often eat snacks out of hunger, other factors such as location, time of day, social environment, and food availability may contribute as well. In fact, we often snack when there is tempting food even if we are not hungry. Evidence showed that overweight or obese people tend to choose unhealthy snacks due to temptation, followed by hunger and low energy levels (2).
The desire to snack and its possible effects on health are said to be individualized. Factors such as age and beliefs about whether this practice is healthy or not can greatly influence your snacking behavior (3).
Can Snacking Boost Your Metabolism?
Though it has been greatly suggested that snacking every few hours can help increase your metabolism, scientific studies do not support this. Research showed that meal frequency has less or no significant effect on the number of calories you burn daily (4). People who have consumed the same amount of calories in either 2 or 7 meals showed no difference in calories burned (5).
Another study showed that obese people who followed the same diet for 3 weeks showed similar results in metabolic rate, regardless of whether they consumed 800 calories in 1 or 5 meals per day (6).
Yet, one evidence showed that active young men who had high-carb or high-protein snacks before bedtime experienced a significant increase in their metabolic rate the next morning (7). It’s the type of food you eat during snacks and not the frequency that really matters!
How Does Snacking Affect Your Appetite?
Studies on snacking’s effect on appetite and weight have yielded mixed results. How snacking affects your appetite or food intake is not universally agreed upon. While some studies are suggesting that snacking can either increase your total calorie intake per day or give a neutral effect on your appetite (8, 9, 10), others have shown that it can help reduce hunger (11, 12, 13).
Men who consumed a high-protein, high-fiber snack bar had a decreased level of the hunger hormone ghrelin and increased GLP-1 level, the fullness hormone. It likewise helped them take approximately 425 fewer calories per day (12).
On the other hand, overweight and obese women have benefitted from bedtime snacking, specifically those that are high in protein and carbs. They experienced less hunger and greater feelings of fullness the next day. However, insulin levels were also increased (13).
As suggested by these varied outcomes, it appears that the effect of snacking on appetite may vary per individual and the type of snacks consumed.
Will Snacking Increase or Decrease Your Weight?
While most studies indicate that snacking between regular meals will not affect your weight (14, 15), a few studies still suggest that eating high-fiber and protein-rich snacks can be beneficial for weight loss (16, 17). Diabetic patients have greatly benefitted from munching on high-protein snacks and slow-digesting carbs. They have lost an average of 1 kg in weight within 4 weeks (17).
Some evidence suggests that the timing of snacks may affect weight changes. A study on lean women showed that consuming a 190-calorie snack at 11 p.m. decreased the amount of fat they burned significantly more than eating the same snack at 10 0’clock in the morning (18).
Can Snacking Help Stabilize Your Blood Sugar?
Though a lot of people think that it is necessary to eat more frequently to stabilize blood sugar levels throughout the day, this is not always the case. In fact, one evidence showed that people with diabetes who are eating only 2 large meals daily also had lower fasting blood sugar levels, better insulin sensitivity, and weight loss (19). Other studies found no difference in blood sugar levels when the same amount of food was consumed as regular meals or snacks (16, 17).
It is the type of snack, and the amount consumed that really matters! Low-carb and high-fiber snacks have consistently produced beneficial effects on blood sugar and insulin levels as compared to high-carb snacks in both normal people and diabetics (12, 20, 21, 22). Snacks that are rich in protein have also been shown to improve blood sugar control (23, 24).
Healthy men consuming high-protein and lower-car dairy snacks had lower blood sugar levels before their next meal as compared to having higher-carb dairy snacks or orange juice (24).
Can Snacking Prevent Ravenous Hunger?
While snacking affects people differently, it can certainly help prevent ravenous hunger. When you go too long without eating, you tend to become very hungry that you end up eating more calories than recommended.
Snacking can keep your hunger levels on an even keel, especially during times that your meals are spaced further apart. However, it is very important to make healthy snack choices!
Tips for Healthy Snacking
To get the most out of your snacks, you must follow these general guidelines:
1. Pair nutrients.
When choosing a snack, try to find an option that contains different nutrients, especially a combination of fiber and protein. If you eat snacks high in fiber and protein, you’ll be much less likely to overdo portions later in the day. Protein and fiber both break down slowly, keeping you fuller longer. So you won’t be starving when it’s time to sit down for your next meal. Studies show that snacks like nuts, which are high in both fiber and protein, can help with weight control. This makes them a great snack option.
2. Be conscious of calories.
Although it’s most important to focus on the quality of your snacks, you still want to be aware of the calories. You don’t have to go as low-calorie as possible, but rather be aware of the bigger picture. If your snack packs 350 calories and you’re aiming for 400 calorie meals, you might need to fine-tune the quantities you’re including in your snacks. Try aiming for snacks around 200 calories or less with at least five grams of protein and/or fiber, suggests Casper. Some of her recommended options: a handful of nuts, a hard-boiled egg, half a cup of edamame, two tablespoons of hummus with carrot sticks, or some fruit with Greek yogurt.
3. Avoid getting too hungry.
Don’t wait until you’re starving to decide what you’re going to eat for a snack. Research shows that people reach for more high-calorie foods when they haven’t eaten all afternoon. Avoid a snack attack when hunger hits, especially if it’s been a while since you last ate. Aim to refuel your body with a small satisfying snack every three to four hours.”
4. Incorporate fruits and vegetables.
Ditch those packaged, processed products. Incorporate more whole foods into your snacking. Use snacks as a way to get ‘Five-A-Day.’ If you’re like most Americans you’re likely not getting enough servings of fruits and vegetables day to day. Use snacks as a way to increase your intake of produce, whether fresh, frozen, canned, or dried. They’re naturally fat-free, lower in calories, and full of fiber.
5. Take your time eating.
It’s important to look at how you’re snacking, not just what you’re eating. For instance, how quickly you eat matters. Just because you’re eating a snack in between a meal doesn’t mean that you should rush through it. Take your time to enjoy the snack, as research shows that people who eat more quickly, eat more calories and gain more weight. How can you slow down? Put your fork down between bites, take a sip of water, sit down instead of eating on the move, and turn off the TV and other gadgets. Eating more slowly and mindfully will help you tune into cues that you are full. Enjoying your food will make you less likely to jones for more later.
6. Carry snacks around at all times.
Making sure that you’re prepared is one of the most important snacking tips. If you don’t have healthy snacks on hand, you’re more likely to turn to the vending machine or some fast food. Always carry a nutritious snack with you. Whether you’re heading to the movie theater or [are] on the run, having a healthy snack with you, like a portioned bag of nuts, will make you much more likely to make a healthy choice.
8 Healthy Snacks and Recipes to Eat
Listed below are some of the tastiest, healthiest, and most portable snacks you can pack for work or travel to help you feel full and eat fewer calories to lose weight:
1. Nuts and Dried Fruits
Who doesn’t love nuts and dried fruits? These make for a healthy, non-perishable mix that you can bring just about anywhere! This filling combo offers a great balance of all three macronutrients! Nuts contain healthy fats and protein, while dried fruits are rich in carbs. Both foods are also loaded with fiber to help keep you full between regular meals (25, 26).
2. Bell Peppers and Guacamole
While not everyone enjoys eating bell pepper slices and other veggies raw, dipping them in guacamole, which is made from avocados, cilantro, lime, and onions may just change the game!
3. Greek Yogurt and Mixed Berries
These nutrient-dense snacks are always a favorite! A lot of people can eat plain Greek yogurt or berries! Aside from being an excellent source of calcium of potassium, Greek yogurt is loaded with protein (29). Berries, on the other hand, contain high amounts of antioxidants. Get a good mix of different berries to get an array of these powerful compounds (30).
A single serving of 100 grams of plain, full-fat Greek yogurt with 50 grams of mixed berries can offer you 10 grams of protein in less than 150 calories.
4. Apple Slices with Peanut Butter
Have you ever tried eating apples with peanut butter? They taste great together! Apples are known to have fiber and polyphenol antioxidants, which are good for the heart and the gut (31, 32). Peanut butter may also add benefits to your heart health as it increases good cholesterol levels while decreasing triglycerides and bad cholesterol (33).
5. Whole Eggs
You have surely once feared whole eggs for being high in cholesterol, but they have been making a comeback! Although an increased intake of eggs may raise the levels of bad cholesterol in some people, they remain to be one of the best foods you can eat for weight loss. You just have to eat it in moderation! They are rich in protein and fat, and are extremely satiating (34, 35).
Substituting bagels with eggs for breakfast can help you lose weight! Overweight women who ate eggs for breakfast instead of bagels experienced increased feelings of fullness, which made them eat less for the next 36 hours (36). Another evidence showed that eggs instead of bagels for breakfast could help increase weight loss on a calorie-restricted diet (37).
6. Boiled Potatoes
While white potatoes have fallen out of favor for some reason, they should still be included in your snack list for weight loss and optimal health. They contain a wide range of nutrients, which is a little bit of almost everything you need!
They are rich in potassium, which can help control blood pressure. Also, on a scale called the Satiety Index, which measures how filling different foods are, white, boiled potatoes top the list (38)! Allowing your potatoes to cool for a while after boiling can also increase the amount of resistant starch. This fiber-like substance offers several health benefits, including weight loss (39).
7. Roasted Chickpeas
This is yet another healthy snack that is rich in fiber, protein, and several vitamins and minerals.
A half-cup of chickpeas contains 5 grams of fiber and 10 grams of protein. They also have amino acids, which makes their protein content better than that of other legumes (40, 41). Evidence showed that eating legumes with high-quality protein can help increase feelings of fullness and weight loss (42).
Even if you are not a pro in cooking, there’s no need to worry! This snack is effortless to prepare! You just have to toss a can of drained and dried chickpeas in olive oil, sea salt, and seasonings of your choice, then bake on a lined baking sheet at 350 °F or 180 °C for 40 minutes.
8. Tuna Pouches
Vacuum-sealed tuna pouches make excellent snacks that can be stored and eaten at work! They are widely available in stores and online!
Tuna is loaded with protein and omega-3 fatty acids, which are known to help control inflammation and decrease your risk of heart disease (43, 44). Search for varieties that contain light skipjack tuna, which has less mercury than other types.
The secret of weight loss lies in choosing the right type of food and amount to eat. While snacking is allowed in between regular meals, this does not mean that you should exaggerate. Keep your portion sizes healthy, just enough to help you fight hunger until the next meal. Choose healthy snacks always, and try making them yourself at home!