Snacking: Dietitian's Tips for "Smart" Snacking

Tuesday, October 24, 2006 - 2:26pm

By Dena McDowell, MS, RD

According to the American Heart Association (AHA), snackingor eating smaller, more frequent meals may be healthier for your body than three large meals per day. During recent studies, researchers at the AHA studied the effects of small frequent feedings throughout the day; they learned that following this type of meal plan helps lower cholesterol levels and regulate blood sugar levels. In addition, researchers also believe that eating every few hours can help prevent overeating, which is beneficial for people who are trying to lose weight.

Healthy snacks are best

It’s important to note that healthy snacking is the only way to gain any of these benefits. Unfortunately, when people think of snacks they often think of foods that are high in sugar, salt, and fat (e.g. chips, cookies, candy, crackers, ice cream and soda). Foods such as whole grains, fruits, vegetables and low fat dairy are much better choices. Remember that snacking wisely means selecting healthy options that fuel your body while keeping food portions under control.

Tips for snackers

  • A good rule of thumb is to eat snacks that are 100-200 calories each.
  • Eating foods from different groupssuch as protein and carbohydrates—is also important. (For example, eating an apple with a small amount of peanut butter is much better than eating a handful of pretzels.) This is because eating protein- and carbohydrate-rich foods together slows digestion time, making you feel fuller, longer.
  • Eat smaller portions at meal times so that you can afford the extra calories when you are snacking.

Remember all foods can fit into a healthy diet, as long as they’re used in moderation. So if you eat a sugary, fatty food (like a donut) for a snack, then make sure to choose healthy foods at your meal times to compensate for the extra calories.

Snack recipes

Here are some great snacks to ensure your snacking is healthy and nutritious!

  • Don’t fight your sweet tooth. Try a handful of dried blueberries or cherries instead of cookies. Or put grapes in the freezer for a refreshing treat.
  • Drink your veggies in a glass of tomato juice. It counts as a vegetable and is both low in calories and high in flavor.
  • Try flavored/baked chips or pretzels. Honey mustard, cheddar, garlic and herb, mesquite, and ranch flavors are tasty options.
  • Make your own healthy nachos. Use baked tortilla chips and top them with black beans, salsa, and a sprinkle of low-fat, pepper jack cheese.
  • Choose small items. Grab a low fat granola bar for a quick pick-me-up.
  • Make sweet potato fries. Peel a sweet potato and then cut it lengthwise into strips. Brush with the strips with olive oil, sprinkle with salt, then bake for 20 minutes in the oven.
  • Make a tangy cracker snack. Spread mango chutney on whole wheat crackers.
  • Whip up an icy caffeccino. Blend a cup of coffee with skim milk, sugar substitute, and ice cubes and pour your own frothy coffee drink.
  • Spruce up a boring rice cake. Top it with a slice of low fat cheese, some mustard and a slice of tomato.
  • Try trail mix that contains nuts, dried fruit, pretzels and cereal.
  • Have a real turkey roll. Cover a romaine lettuce leaf with lean, sliced turkey breast, tomato and a spear of cucumber. Roll up and enjoy.
  • Make a fresh fruit salad. Top your salad with vanilla yogurt and granola.
  • Chug a glass of chocolate soy milk. It’s a sweet low fat treat!
  • Rediscover raisin bread. Toast it and spread low-fat cream cheese or jam on top.
  • Enjoy a glass of skim milk with two chocolate wafer cookies.
  • Make homemade cookies-n-cream sandwiches. Spread fat-free ice cream on chocolate wafer cookies and freeze in plastic wrap.
  • Make carrot salad. Go for the gold with grated carrots, tossed with raisins and a bit of orange juice.
  • Eat applesauce with yogurt. Swirl applesauce and cinnamon into a cup of low-fat vanilla yogurt.
  • Make a fruit smoothie. Blend frozen strawberries, a banana, and orange juice.
  • Dip sourdough pretzels or carrot sticks into spicy mustard.
  • Make ants on a log. Spread trans-fat free peanut butter on celery and top with raisins.