March was National Nutrition Month, and this year's theme was “Bite Into a Healthy Lifestyle.” The campaign encourages having an eating and physical activity pattern that achieves or maintains a healthy weight, which in turn reduces the risk of chronic disease. Recommended dietary regimens include the DASH dietary pattern, the USDA Food Patterns, and the American Heart Association Diet. Each of these dietary plans recommends consuming calories throughout the day, with three primary meals and up to three snacks.
Snacking does not increase metabolic rate or the number of calories burned each day, but it can help you control hunger and the subsequent secretion of hormones, which regulate your blood glucose.
Recent studies have found that snacking represents as much as 25 percent of our daily calories. Research further suggests that eating frequently throughout the day reduces overeating later in the day (as opposed to skimping on calories throughout the day, which too often leads to overeating later).
Recommended snacks include foods that are nutrient rich, such as fruit, whole grains, milk, nuts, and seeds. Interspersing such snacks after having a light breakfast and/or lunch actually enriches your diet.
Just remember that the total calories provided by snacks must fit into your overall daily calorie goal. If you’re trying to lose weight, that means having no more than two to three snacks of approximately 100 calories each. If you’re maintaining your weight, that means having approximately 200 calories per snack.
Eating nutritious snacks can satisfy cravings for crunchy, sweet, or otherwise unhealthy fare. Look for foods that have at least 3 grams of fiber or protein – or both – to help curb your appetite. Some good snacks to pack are listed below.
- 1 medium peach or nectarine
- 1 small banana
- 3 plums
- 18 grapes (about 3/4 cup)
- 1 cheese stick (about 1 ounce)
- 1/2 cup of plain nonfat yogurt with 1/2 cup of sliced strawberries
- 10 baby carrots with 2 tablespoons of fat-free ranch dressing
- 1 cup of zucchini and pepper strips with 2 tablespoons of hummus
- Edamame (1/2 cup edible portion)
- 1 cup of “light” chicken soup (with no more than 1 gram of saturated fat and 480 mg of sodium)
- 1 medium apple with 1 tablespoon of peanut or almond butter
- 1 snack or protein bar (with no more than 200 calories, 3 grams of saturated fat, 13 grams of sugar, and 20 grams of protein)
- Dry cereal (with no more than 150 calories and 8 grams of sugar) and 1/2 cup of milk (low-fat cow or plant- based at 50 calories)
- 20 sweet potato chips (about 1-1/4 ounce)
- 5 cups of “light” popcorn (with no more than 2 grams of saturated fat and 200 mg of sodium)
- 30 almonds (about 1-1/4 ounce)
- 1 tablespoon of peanut or almond butter on about 6 whole-grain crackers
- 3/4 cup of cottage cheese with a fruit cup (packed in its own juices)
- Yogurt (about 150 calories) with 1 tablespoon of wheat germ
- 2 tablespoons of “light” pimento spread with pepper and zucchini strips
- 1 whole-wheat bagel or thin sandwich with 3 tablespoons of hummus
- Low-fat cow’s milk or unsweetened plant-based milk (1 cup is equal to about 100 calories)
- Unsweetened juice (1 cup is equal to about 100 calories)
- Low-sodium vegetable juices (1/2 cup is equal to about 50 calories)
- Water (calorie-free!)