How to Turn a Snack Habit Into a Health Plan

If you were raised to believe that eating between meals was a bad habit that would make you fat and spoil your dinner, time to reboot. Snacks between meals can be part of a healthy a healthy eating plan.

A well-planned snack can decrease your hunger, which keeps you from getting desperate and then wolfing down your food when dinner finally arrives. It can also give you an extra burst of energy in the middle of the day to keep you going.  

A snack may also help supplement a diet lacking in healthful calories, proteins, vitamins, and other nutrients you need. It all comes down to making the right choices.

What turns a snack into a detrimental choice?  

The place to start is with the question, “Why?” Address that question and you will have an idea what kind of snacking is good for you.

According to research, snacking is motivated by various factors, including hunger, social/food culture, distracted eating, boredom, and indulgence.

The other big question is “what to snack on?” All snacks are not equal.

Fruit, cookies, chips, ice cream, candy, popcorn, soft drinks, crackers, cake, milk, nuts and seeds, tea, and yogurt are among the most popular snacks in the United States. Most of them areassociated with habits and indulgence rather than fulfilling a vital nutritional role. But we can improve that.

I Eat Because…

We all know that too many calories causes weight gain. But according to the American Heart Association, eating too many refined or sugar-rich foods can also raise blood triglycerides and lower healthy HDL cholesterol. Overeating also contributes to inflammation and oxidative stress in the body. 

So why do we snack? It’s not from a need for more calories. Devastating hunger is rare in Western Europe, Canada, and America. Through thousands of years of human history, people ate meals—breakfast in the morning and dinner at dinnertime—and never expected a snack between them. Even lunch was not part of the average person’s diet until the 1600’s.

But that has changed. Wealth and leisure time are part of it. But the main reason snacks are always on our minds is that snacking is big business. Snack foods are cheap and highly profitable, so they get alot of marketing push.

In the United States, the food and beverage sector spends over $11 billion annually on advertising to assist you in purchasing fast food, sugary beverages, candy, and other unhealthy foods.

That means that control begins at the supermarket!  Try to keep the number of unhealthy foods you bring into the house to a minimum.  The likelihood of making unhealthy choices decreases when unhealthy foods and snacks are not readily accessible, especially when you are drawn to indulging.

Depending on your family's needs, you may do well to shop around the perimeters of the grocery store. That's where the healthy produce, meats,and dairy products live. You will still need to watch what you put in the basket. A pint of blueberries from the produce section and a quart of plain yogurt are better for everyone than a "blueberry"yogurt that is actually a large serving of sugary jelly in a small container of sweetened yogurt.

What Motivates You?

So to return to the question, “Why do we snack?”the answer you give could help you snack correctly.

Are you hungry? That’s good because according to research, snacking that is not motivated by hunger is linked with greater total calorie consumption leads to eating more calories.

Are you nervous, sad or worried? It has been shown that emotional eaters and those under psychological stress consume more detrimental snacks, particularly those rich in sugar and high in calories.

Or is it a habit?   

The International Food Information Council's 2020 Food & Health Survey provided many interesting insights into how Americans snack.

One-third of the people surveyed said that they regularly snacked at least once per day.

  • A quarter of them snackedmore than once a day.
  • Among the most frequent motivations for snacking were hunger and thirst. These were followed by a desire to indulge in a sweet or salty pleasure while knowing that the snack item was readily available.
  • Four out of ten people said theysometimes substitutedsnacking for meals (lunch being the most often swapped), while a quarter occasionally skipped mealsentirely.

Swapping snacks for mealshas become a trend.According to The Hartman Group, which surveys eating habits for the food industry three times a year, more and more people are using snacks to replace one or more meals. Some are in a hurry to go to work. Others forego lunch in favor of work or exercise. And others are rushing to events for themselves or their children in the evening.

Some people choose to "graze" rather than eat full meals in the hope of increasing metabolism and assisting with weight loss. The intent is good, but this it doesn’t work. Many studies have shown that grazers often gain weight over time because this eating style is too much like snacking all day.

Make It An Opportunity to Be Healthy

Consuming a healthy snack can help you meet your daily nutritional requirements.

For instance, fruits and vegetables have significant concentrations of vitamins A and C.

Meat and dairy snacks can boost yourprotein consumptionhelp you feel fuller for a longer period of time.

Whole-grain crackers are a good source of complex carbohydrates, as well as fiber and antioxidant protection.

You can also use your snack to ensure you get enough calcium, which your body needs forhealthy bones, cell signaling, blood coagulation, muscular contraction, and neuron function.Fruits rich in calcium include prickly pears,tangerines, oranges, kiwifruit, mulberries, and blackberries.  Calcium-fortified orange juice is available at most grocery stores.

Snacking on nuts and seeds can boost your intake of healthy omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. Thus they have multiple health benefits:   

Decrease your LDL (bad) cholesterol and triglycerides, which may contribute to plaque formation in your arteries.

  • Reducing the likelihood of forming blood clots, which may result in a heart attack and death.
  • Enhance the health of the artery lining.
  • Decreased inflammation associated with heart disease.

More Healthy Snack Foods:

But let’s pin those ideas down a bit, because you probably won’t want a bowl of succotash for a snack even if there is some in the refrigerator. A few easy suggestions for you that can elevate your snacking into a wholesome habit:

  • Yogurt
  • Berries and melons
  • Celery sticks
  • Bell pepper slices
  • Zucchini or cucumber circles
  • Roasted chickpeas
  • Broccoli and cauliflower florets
  • Olives
  • Whole-grain crackers
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Whole-grain toast with peanut or almond butter

The good thing about these choices is that if you are following a Mediterranean or keto diet these snacks will keep you on track.

Guidelines for Making the Right Choices

And if that list doesn’t excite you, you can invent your own snack list.  Just look for the kinds of snacks that truly satisfy you and do you some nutritional good:  

  • Your snackshouldsatisfy your immediate appetite and keep you from eating till your next meal.
  • It should make you feel satisfied when you finish. If you feel hungry or tempted to consume other food soon afterward, cross that snack off your wise foods list.
  • It should rank high in protein, fiber and whole grains (e.g., almonds, celery sticks with cream cheese, whole wheat crackers)
  • It should be rich in fiber and water. Because if it is, it will rapidly fill your stomach. This is especially importantif you are attempting to eat a quick snack to avoidgetting too hungry before the next meal.

Healthy Snacking Takes Forethought

Now Take Action….Which may involve more than a food list.

Pause: For instance, if you find that you snack out of emotional distress, try practicing mindfulness techniques, meditation, or going for a walk before indulging uncontrollably next time.

Prepare for temptation: If high-calorie foods are constantly whispering your name, do two things. One—get the offenders out of the house. You can't quickly grab a handful of potato chips when there aren't any in the house. Instead, bepreparedahead of time: Fill your cupboards and refrigerator with better choices. Keep a portion of frozen fruit in the freezer or have a hard-boiled egg or buffalo-wing-flavored cauliflower on hand.

Give boredom its due: If you eat from boredom, make your snack choices very nutritious and chewy so you won't be able to scoff them down rapidly. Raw veggies are great for this kind of eating.

Extend your smart meals to smart snacks: If you eat wisely at mealtimes and not so wiselyat snack time, consider what meal choices could make great snacks. Leftover steak? Slice it thin and eat it cold with horseradish for a snack. There's no reason a meatball can't go on a cracker the next day.

Snacking does not have to undo your reasonablehealth goals. Approach it right,and you could improve your nutrition in those small, tasty moments.

Pay attention to your hunger signals: Listen to your body's signals that it isgettinghungry. Those include a rumbling stomach, a headache, or fatigue and your next meal is hours away, have a nutritious snack to avoid overeating at dinner. A few nuts will go a long way to satisfying you until it’s time to eat.

Manage portion sizes: Snacks are meant to be small. Eat them slowly, paying attention so you don’t gobble. Never snack while doing something else like answering emails. To further prevent overeating, package your own food in single-serving containersor have 100-calorie snack packs available.   


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