Well, if you still get the urge to snack, take comfort in the fact that snacks are okay. Not only are they enjoyable, but when chosen wisely, snacks keep hunger in check between meals so you’re not starving by the time the next meal rolls around.
Here are a few things to consider next time you reach for that Oreo Double Stuf cookie.
IT DOESN’T MAKE YOU FAT
The Centre for Food Research at Queen Margaret College in Scotland reports that snacking does not necessarily predispose people to becoming overweight. Actually, those individuals who snack throughout the day may have the advantage over those who conform to a rigid pattern of three meals a day, in terms of weight control.
AVOID STRAIGHT UP CARBS — HAVE MINI MEALS
According to Jackie Berning, Ph.D., R.D., nutrition professor at the University of Colorado, a food that primarily contains carbs (e.g., fat-free pretzels) does not make a good snack because it will digest in about two hours. Instead, Berning recommends having “a mini-meal, such as five or six crackers with string cheese.”
Eating protein and fat together increases the likelihood that you will be satisfied for a longer duration. But keep in mind that according to Judith Wurtman, Ph.D., research scientist at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and founder of Harvard University’s TRIAD Weight Management Center, carbohydrates help to increase serotonin levels in the brain, which keeps you happy and satisfied — something you need to stop overeating.
SNACKS DON’T ALWAYS WARD OFF HUNGER
Don’t expect snacks to help you fend off hunger if you weren’t hungry in the first place. A recent study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition showed that snacking when you’re not hungry isn’t successful in staving off hunger pangs later in the day, no matter what kind of foods you eat.
LATE DINNER — EAT PROTEIN
If you’re planning a late dinner and need a snack to tide you over, choose something with additional protein, like nuts or cheese. The scientific journal Appetite reports that consumption of a high-protein snack delayed the request for dinner by 60 minutes — much longer than either a high-fat snack (25-minute delay) or high-carbohydrate snack (34-minute delay). Unfortunately, the snack eaten had no impact on how much food was consumed at dinner.
THROW IT OUT
I know this sounds extreme, but if you’re snacking on something that is high in calories and you don’t love the taste — throw it out. This isn’t the time to be thrifty. Think of it this way — we probably spend more money on diet products, programs, and books than we would spend throwing away snacks that don’t taste good.
Come up with five different snacks you enjoy that are low in calories, and keep them readily available. “You should create snacks that are about 100 to 200 calories, depending on your daily calorie needs,” advises Berning.
According to the British Journal of Medicine, people tend to forget the snacks they eat that are high in calories, fat, and carbs. So pay attention to your snacks, especially if you’re eating them in front of the TV, at the movies, or in front of your computer.
Our snacking desires are closely related to psychological and social cues, rather than actual hunger. Since many of us struggle with portion control, we have a tendency to overeat snacks. This is why it’s critical to pick snacks that “are low in calories to compensate for your overindulgence,” reminds New York City nutritionist Shira Isenberg, R.D. Try low-calorie, low-sugar, and high-fiber cereal that you can eat dry (e.g., Kashi) — it’s great to munch on and can help you avoid putting on pounds. As a rule of thumb, assume you are going to eat as much as 50 percent more than you think you will.
OUT OF SIGHT
Research from the University of Illinois has shown that if a snack is within sight and easy to get to, you are going to eat it. When candy was just six feet away from office workers’ desks (as opposed to right on their desks), the workers ate less of it. The Journal of the American Dietetic Association reports that most snacking is actually done in the home — all the more reason to keep high calorie snacks out of your house and out of sight. If you have a snack attack, and there is only “good” stuff around — well, that’s probably what you’ll eat.
“Don’t worry so much about the morning,” suggests Isenberg. According to the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, afternoon was the most common time for snacking. So in the afternoon, make sure you have low-calorie snacks within reach. Her favorites: soy chips or fat-free yogurt.
SHUT IT OFF
The scientific journal Eating Behavior reports that watching TV induces high-calorie snacking. Results suggest that snacking (but not necessarily eating meals) while watching TV is associated with increased overall caloric intake, as well as increased calories from fat.
JUST A SPRITZ
Although there is no supporting research, some anecdotal evidence exists that simply spraying a “dessert spray” can fend off cravings. The sprays have no calories, fat, or carbs. They are pocket size and contain over 75 sprays! They come in four flavors now — chocolate cake, strawberry cheesecake, mint chocolate, and wedding cake. They’re available at www.dessertsprays.com. I tested them and must admit they’re interesting, but I’m not sure how they would fare up against a doughnut.
Here’s a list of tasty snacks to help you make smarter choices next time you’re grabbing a quick bite on the road or at the local coffee house:
With Your Coffee