Snacks have earned a bad reputation in recent years with the growing acknowledgment of a link between mindless snacking and excess weight. But this doesn’t mean snacks are the enemy of calorie counting; in fact, if you are strategic, snacks can help you lose weight or maintain a healthy weight.
Calorie Counting: Curbing Hunger With Snacks
Whether you have a lot of weight to lose or just a little, scheduling snacks is helpful when hunger strikes. Of course, your snack calories have to be included in your overall calorie plan. If you were to eat an additional 100 calories per day as a snack, that could add up to one pound over the course of a month.
On the other hand, strategic snacking that is included within your daily calorie counting helps control hunger and keeps you on track with your weight-loss goals, says Gail Curtis, assistant professor, at Wake Forest University Health Sciences in Winston-Salem, N.C. Curtis is the former director of the university weight-management program for people with a BMI of 27 and higher and continues to work with people who are trying to lose 100 or more pounds.
Here are many options for making snacks a satisfying and nutritionally smart part of counting calories; for variety, try a different idea each day:
- Prepare snacks for when you’re on the run. “If you travel a lot or are on the go, we talk about having ‘car foods’ — good 100-calorie snacks in your car, because if you get hungry and have something healthy available, you’re going to eat it,” says Curtis. You can buy 100-calorie snack packs to keep on hand or save money by making your own. For example, 100 calories equals about 2 tablespoons of hummus and 14 baby carrots, one medium apple, or three wheat crackers with peanut butter.
- Squelch hunger with protein-rich snacks. “When snacking, one thing that is helpful is to include a little bit of protein,” says Emily Banes, RD, clinical dietitian at the Houston Northwest Medical Center in Houston, Texas. “Cheese and crackers, string cheese, apple and peanut butter — the protein will take some of the edge off the hunger pain.”
- Use snack portions to satisfy a food urge. Depending on what you are craving, Banes recommends picking from among these yummy snacks:
- Low-calorie yogurt or frozen yogurt
- Sugar-free pudding with a graham cracker to dip
- Hummus and pita bread or veggies to dip
- A handful of pretzels
- A small square of dark chocolate
- Pick “water-based” snacks to give you more volume. The biggest bang for your calorie buck are foods with high water content because they will fill you up with fewer calories — fruits, vegetables, and soups are all filling, low-calorie options.
- Try snacks that boost your fiber intake. Dietitian Donna L. Weihofen, RD, MS, a nutritionist at the University of Wisconsin Hospital & Clinics in Madison, recommends high-fiber snack bars. “You have to read labels because some are really high in calories and fat,” cautions Weihofen. She suggests whipping up your own high-fiber homemade bar cookies for snacks if possible.
- Use vending machine savvy. If you find yourself caught without snacks when unexpectedly working late, for example, you may come face-to-face with a vending machine. There are still good options for snacking in these circumstances. Says Banes, “Look for pretzels, cheese, or peanut butter and crackers. One of these would be a better option than the M&Ms or the Kit Kat.” Failing that, look for snacks that have more air, such as cheese puffs or popcorn. According to one study, people who eat snacks with more air in them end up eating about 20 percent fewer calories.
Snacks can be a satisfying part of any diet. Like all other aspects of calorie counting, snacks just need to be carefully thought out and factored into your overall plan.