Ever catch yourself wondering about snacking and ask - “Should I?” If so, you’re not alone and depending on where you look, the answer can be confusing, so let’s clear the air. A recent survey from the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service found that what American’s are snacking on, not snacking itself, may be what’s expanding your waistline. The survey of more than 5,000 adults over the age of 20 found that one-third of empty calorie intake comes from snacks.
Empty calories come from saturated fats and added sugars, with little to no nutritional benefits. Think refined grain products like cookies, cakes, crackers, chips, as well as high fat dairy, and sugar sweetened beverages such as soda. The survey findings show men eating an average of 923 empty calories per day – and women, 624 calories per day. As a reference, the recommended empty calorie limit for a 2,000 calorie diet is about 250 calories!
Snacks vs. Treats
So what does this research mean? To me it means we need to be more vigilant about what we consider a snack. To some a snack just means a small amount of food between meals. Essentially correct, yet I further break down what we eat between meals into two categories- snacks and treats. A snack is a food that provides the essential nutrients our bodies need such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein and dairy sources. On the other hand, a treat is a food that is high in empty calories, AKA: not a snack. It’s best to save empty calories for use in moderation when it fits your empty calorie budget.
So, should you snack?
Listen to your body. If you’re not feeling tried, lethargic, or hungry between meals, then why eat? You may be getting just what you need through your meals. Some people meet their health goals just by eating three meals a day. If you’re the kind of person who needs to eat more often, try not to go more than four hours between meals without having a snack.
How can you build a better snack?
- Learn what counts as a healthy snack. Calories aren’t the only thing you need to think about when having a snack. Though it’s best to keep your snack to 200 calories or less, those calories should come from protein to satiate your hunger and carbohydrate to give you energy. Read: choose snacks with at least 3-5 grams of protein, and 15-30 grams of carbohydrate.
- Be prepared. Creating healthy snacks takes some preparation. When at the grocery store be sure to buy protein sources like low fat yogurt, reduced fat cheese, or nuts, as well as whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. Once home, wash and cut any fruits and vegetables and portion out proteins and grains so that they’re easy to grab-and-go.
Here are some iBeamforLife approved snack ideas – enjoy in good health!
100 calories or less
- 1 medium piece of fruit
- ½ cup whole grain cereal with ½ cup skim milk
- ½ cup non-fat cottage cheese
- 3 cups light popcorn
- ½ cup non-fat yogurt with ¼ cup berries
- ½ turkey sandwich on whole wheat bread
- 1 medium piece of fruit with 1 ounce low fat string cheese
- ½ whole wheat pita with 6 baby carrots, 5 cherry tomatoes, and 2 tablespoons hummus
- 6 whole wheat crackers with 3 tablespoons reduced fat spreadable cheese, and 6 cucumber slices
- 10 raw almonds with ¼ cup dried fruit