As with anything, there is an art to smart snacking, meaning finding foods that will cure your hunger, leave you satisfied, and give you the motivation you need to tackle your to-do list.
“There is absolutely nothing wrong with snacking,” says Amy Lee, MD, a board-certified physician specializing in internal medicine, member of the National Board of Physician Nutrition Specialists and the American Board of Obesity Medicine, and head of nutrition for Nucific.
“It is the type of foods you snack on that can help you maintain your mood, mental clarity, and metabolism — or break them.” For starters, Lee recommends avoiding processed snack foods packed with simple sugars. “It’s about being smart with your snacks and making every little thing you eat count,” she says.
Here are Lee’s top tips for smarter snacking.
1. Understand why you’re snacking.
According to Lee, most times people snack because of boredom — or simply the need to do something with their hands. “Next time, before grabbing that snack, stop and question if you really need the snack … or are you just bored or anxious?” she says.
2. Choose snack foods with protein.
Once you’ve determined that you truly need a snack, try to eat something that will leave you feeling satisfied and energized. “If you’re hungry and your body needs a quick pick-me-up, focus on foods that are satiating or at least hold you over until your next meal without all the drowsiness-inducing sugar.” Protein is a great choice. Try hard-boiled eggs, veggies with hummus, or a small protein bar containing the essential amino acids.
3. Give grazing a go.
“The act of eating little bits can help extend the time of snacking, which can also reinforce the idea to the brain that you are eating,” explains Lee. “Don’t ‘inhale’ your food in one big gulp, because your brain takes time to register that you are putting food into the body (this can take up to 20 minutes!) to make that connection.”
As an example of grazing-worthy snacks, Lee recommends making a healthy version of trail mix by combining variations of nuts, dark chocolate chips, and dried fruits. “Even cutting up a protein bar into smaller bite-size pieces to make it last longer works,” she says.
4. Fruits and vegetables are great snacks.
Use cucumber slices in place of potato chips to dip into your favorite things such as guacamole and hummus, or try celery and carrots with a couple of tablespoons of nut butter. Why not add a little fiber and good fats when you snack?
5. Schedule your snack time.
It may seem silly, but if you set a time to allow yourself to snack, you can save yourself from unintentionally overeating or snacking on junk. “Also, by scheduling, you won’t lose track of time and find yourself ravenously hungry, which can result in bad choices,” Lee explains.
6. Stock your pantry — and plan ahead.
Replace unhealthy options (cookies, chips, crackers, candies) with fresh fruits and veggies, protein bars, and nuts so you won’t give in to your thoughts when it’s time to snack. Meal-prep your heart out: cook up a batch of hard-boiled eggs for yourself on Sunday so you can snack on them all week, slice and dice veggies, or make cheese and fruit snack packs ahead of time.