By Brooke Whinnem, R.D., L.D.N., C.N.S.D.
Brigham and Women's Hospital
Many people have been taught to eat three meals a day and to avoid between-meal snacks. But today's busy lifestyles can mean skipped meals and extreme hunger. By following some simple tips, snacking can be part of a healthy and tasty diet. Here's why.
- Snacks can be a good source of energy. These "mini-meals" can provide healthy calories and protein that may be just what you need toward the end of a long afternoon.
- Snacking can help you make smarter choices at mealtime. When you avoid eating for long periods between meals, it's easy to make unhealthy choices because of unsatisfied hunger. Curbing your hunger with a snack can make you less likely to binge before or overeat during lunch or dinner.
- Healthy snacks are a chance to add more phytonutrient-rich foods to your diet. Phytonutrients are natural compounds found in plant-based foods that act as the plant's immune system. Phytonutrients may have many health benefits, including cancer prevention. Snacks are an opportunity you don't want to miss! Aim for 5 to 10 one-cup servings per day of leafy greens, berries or melon chunks or a half-cup of all other fruits and vegetables.
How To Be a Smart Snacker
- Choose foods that satisfy hunger. Include protein and fiber in your snack choices. Foods containing healthy fats, such as nuts or avocado are also a great option.
- Plan ahead. Have snacks ready to go, especially when you are on the run. A small cooler with an ice pack is a great purchase to keep foods such as yogurt and fruit close by.
- Portion control. Snacks have the potential to be a source of excess calories that can lead to weight gain. A good guideline is to keep snacks between 150 and 200 calories each.
- Be wary of pre-packaged snacks. Vending machine treats often lack nutrients and can be high in calories and fat. If this is the only option, consider whole wheat pretzels or a granola bar.
- Drink enough water. It's easy to mistake hunger for thirst, and dehydration can lead to fatigue. Eight glasses a day is good start, but in the summer, you may need more to stay well-hydrated.
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Healthy Choices for Summer Snacks
- One-half cup of carrots, celery or peppers with 2 tablespoons of hummus
- Half of a whole wheat tortilla with two slices of turkey or tomato and one sliver of avocado
- One-half cup of low-fat yogurt with 1/2 cup of blueberries, raspberries or strawberries
- Half an apple sliced with 1 tablespoon of peanut butter or almond butter
- 7 or 8 almonds or hazelnuts and a banana
- Carrot and celery sticks with 1/2 cup low-fat cottage cheese
- 1 ounce low-fat cheese with 1/2 cup grapes
- 18 to 22 walnuts, cashews, peanuts or soy nuts
- Smoothie made with 6 ounces of low-fat yogurt, 1/2 cup skim milk and 1/2 cup fresh or frozen berries
- Homemade trail mix: 10 cashews, 10 pecans, 1 tablespoon of chopped dried fruit
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Brooke Whinnem, R.D., L.D.N., C.N.S.D. is a senior clinical nutritionist at Dana Farber Cancer Institute and Brigham and Women’s Hospital. She received her Bachelor of Science in Nutrition from the University of Connecticut and completed her dietetic internship at The New York Presbyterian Hospital.