Your stomach is growling, but lunch is hours away. You're eyeing the cookies on the counter, but know that you'll feel guilty if you indulge. If you think your best option is to avoid a snack altogether and wait for lunch, think again. A wide variety of snacks can fit into a healthy diet, so you don't need to avoid snacks. Rather, plan them with variety, moderation and balance in mind.
The benefits of snacks:
You may feel guilty about snacking, but snacks aren't necessarily bad. In fact, mini meals several times a day can be beneficial. Here's how:
- Binge control - If eating several low-fat whole-grain crackers, a few pretzels, a piece of fruit or some raw vegetables keeps you from taking second or third helpings at your next meal, you may actually consume fewer total calories for the day.
- Extra energy and nutrients -Traditional, made-at-home meals often lose out to busy schedules. A grab-and-go snack can be the difference between some nourishment and none at all.
- Satisfaction for small appetites - Young children tiny stomachs can hold only small portions of food at one time. Older adults who are less active and who burn fewer calories also may feel more comfortable eating smaller meals more frequently.
Choose healthy snacks:
Select foods that can satisfy your hunger, supply your body with energy and provide important nutrients. Choose a wide variety of these foods to ensure that you get all the necessary nutrients and to make your snacks more interesting. Here are some of your best snack picks:
- Whole grains - Whole-grain snacks are rich in fiber and complex carbohydrates, which give you energy that has some staying power. Look for items such as low-fat whole-grain crackers, whole-grain pretzels and whole-grain crispbreads.
- Fruits and vegetables - Eating fruits and vegetables provides a feeling of fullness with no fat and only a small number of calories. They also provide vitamins, minerals, fiber and other nutrients.
- Nuts and seeds - Nuts and seeds provide protein, which helps keep you feeling fuller longer. Nuts and seeds contain mostly monounsaturated fat, a healthy kind of fat. Nuts and seeds are high in calories, however, so don't eat them in large quantities.
- Low-fat dairy products - Cheese, yogurt and other dairy products are good sources of calcium and protein, plus a variety of other vitamins and minerals. Dairy products can be high in fat, so choose the low-fat versions. Some yogurts have a lot of added sugar, so consider "light" yogurt if you want to limit your calorie intake.