According to a 2010 study, most Americans eat nearly 600 calories per day (roughly a third of a healthy food intake), in snacks rather than meals. It’s not surprising that snacking can contribute significantly to weight gain.
Some Snacking Can Be Healthy
Of course, not all snacking is bad. Snacking can help you control your appetite, optimize your workout, keep blood sugar steady and add valuable nutrients. It really depends on whether you’re piling on sugary snacks, and snacks with processed grains and starches that your body quickly turns to sugar.
There are also some very devious snacks out there that appear to be healthy, yet are not. A good example of this is fruit-flavored yogurt. Most yogurts containing fruit or fruit flavorings also include 24 or more grams of sugar in a 6 ounce serving. It’s not that yogurt is bad for you. In fact, plain Greek yogurt mixed with a few strawberry slices or blueberries is an excellent and healthy snack.
Some Snacks Can Be Healthy or Unhealthy, Depending on Processing
Nuts can be tricky too. A few nuts, such as three Brazil nuts per day, can add nutrients that are difficult to find elsewhere (Brazil nuts are a good source of selenium). Nuts also contain valuable fiber. Unfortunately, most nuts are roasted with “bad fats”, so reading the label is important.
If you choose a few good quality nuts and keep your serving size small, they are an excellent snack in spite of being very calorie dense. In general, the same applies for seeds. One third of the cup of roasted pumpkin seeds can be an excellent snack.
The Worst Snack of All
You already know that soda (even diet soda) is not a good choice for weight loss. In fact, drinks with artificial sweeteners can contribute to weight gain and other health risks.
- Three or more diet sodas per day increases your risk of tooth decay
- Four or more cans of die soda per day makes you 30% more likely to develop depression
- A single daily diet soda increases heart attack risk by 43%
- Daily diet soda consumption causes a 36% greater risk of metabolic syndrome
- Drinking diet soda daily ups your risk of obesity by 41%
- Drinking two diet sodas per day may double your risk of kidney disease
- If you drink at least one diet soda each day, your risk of type II diabetes may be 67% greater
- Many soda bottles and cans contain the chemical BPA, which may alter hormones
If you’re really craving soda, get some sparkling water and add fruit slices. Another option is chilled herbal or fruit teas. Some are quite delicious. It’s always easier to replace a bad habit with a good one, rather than trying to simply abstain.
Watch Out for Low-Fat Snacks
One of the major confusions about choosing good snacks is that people feel that if snacks are low-calorie, they are good for you. Many people choose low-fat snacks, feeling that as long as they limit fat intake, they won’t gain weight. However, a snack containing some good fats can help control hunger. A snack with no fat often has high amounts of sugar added to increase flavor. Sugar works directly against your goals if you’re trying to get healthy and stay that way.
What’s the Ideal Snack?
It’s much more important to consider the nutritional quality of the snack. The ideal snack has a reasonable number of calories, is low on the glycemic index, and contains some protein and fiber. It’s low in starches and processed grains, because those are always high glycemic foods. If it contains fats, it contains good fats.
Let’s look at a few more snacks that have been recommended in the past for dieting, and why they are problem, given this understanding.
Rice cakes have long been labeled the diet snack, because their fat free and low in calories. While they do have some fiber, their high on the glycemic index, scoring 82 (pure sugar is 100). They’re carb-dense, made of over 80% carbohydrate. That’s always a bad sign. Avoid similar high carb snacks such as cookies, crackers, pasta, cereals, pretzels, bread or bagels.
Better Snacking Choices
A better choice would be a cup of air popped popcorn, at only 31 cal with good fiber, whole grains, and a lower glycemic index (55). You can also add zero calorie spices such as cinnamon or chili powder to make it tastier. Please avoid microwave popcorn, as a UCLA study has shown serious cause for concern about how the microwaving process causes dangerous chemicals from the packaging to enter the food.
Vegetables and some fruits are an excellent snack if you pre-prepare them so that they’re fast and easy to grab. See our list of 29 Foods Under 40 Calories for ideas.
One last snacking tip: soup can be an amazingly effective snack. Eating soup between meals has been proven to reduce the amount of calories consumed at the next meal significantly. It’s a tasty way to pack in nutrition if you find the gap between lunch and dinner to be too long.
A batch of our Fat-Burning Soup is ideal for snacks between meals.