If a perfect world, you would only get hungry at breakfast, lunch, and dinner. In a real world, your body processes food at it’s own pace and gets hungry when it needs more fuel. You need fuel to stay alert and functioning well. When you don’t eat enough, your body will remind you with hunger pains. Rather than ignoring them, have a snack.
Before You Snack
There are things to consider when you’re going to have a snack. The most important one is are you actually hungry? A lot of health and fitness goals can get sidetracked by distracted, mindless, emotional, or overeating. Listen to your body, and see if you can feel the hunger in your stomach. If you can feel the hunger pains, reach for the snack. If your stomach doesn’t really feel hungry, drink a glass or water or go for a quick walk to take a break.
Sometimes when we feel hungry, we could just be dehydrated. If you’re still not sure if you’re hungry, start by drinking a glass of water and waiting 5-10 minutes. If you’re still feeling hungry, grab the snack.
What to Snack On
Once you know you’re hungry, it’s time to think about how you can snack smart. Snacking smart means choosing healthy foods that will keep you full and sustained. Go for nutrient-dense foods that are high in fiber, healthy fats, or protein. You can go with one food, or you can pair two foods together that, combined, are more nutrient dense.
Like with your other healthy foods, go for minimally processed and refined, low to no preservative snacks. Processed and highly-refined foods will digest quickly in your body, leaving you hungrier faster and with little nutritional benefits.
Here are some flexible and customizable suggestions for smart snacking. First, we’ll start with smart snacks that work well on their own.
Nuts are an easy way to get some healthy fats and protein to keep you full and going through the day. And, with so many different kinds, you won’t get in a snacking slump! Go for unsalted varieties to keep your sodium intake at a good level, especially if you have health and fitness goals.
Buying roasted varieties will add some extra fat (from the oil it’s roasted in), so decide if you’re okay with some more fat or if you prefer unroasted varieties. Portion control will be important here—regardless of if it’s good or bad fat, too much fat in your diet isn’t ideal. Start with a small handful and check in with your hunger after 20 minutes and a glass of water.
This is a great, all-in-one snacking option. Just have a hard-boiled egg (and maybe some pepper or other spices for fun and added flavor) for a snack and you’ll be getting a good shot of monounsaturated fats, omega-3s, and protein to keep you going for the rest of the day.
If you like eating hard-boiled eggs as a snack, pick one day a week to hard-boil all of the eggs you’ll need for the week, so you can just grab and go when you need them.
Trail mix comes with a little bit of everything and is easy to travel with and have on-the-go, in the office, or at home. Not all trail mixes are created equal and can often be loaded with more sugar and salt then you need. Look for trail mixes that are made of unsalted nuts and dried fruit with minimal amounts of added sugars or colorings. If you’re really excited by healthy snacking, you can make your own trail mix with your favorite dried fruit and nuts.
There are also a lot of great snack pairings you can try that you can adapt for you.
Bean Dip with Vegetables:
Any bean dip (hummus included) is a great snacking option. Filled with fiber and protein, bean dip can easily help curb any hunger. Enjoy the dip with any dippable vegetables: cherry tomatoes, carrots, celery, endive leaves, cucumber sticks or slices, bell peppers, snap peas… The options are endless. You can buy premade bean dip or make your own by combining a can of drained beans in the food processor with some olive oil, garlic, and any spices and herbs you have on hand. Portion your dip and veggies out when you’re snacking to prevent mindless overeating.
Like nuts, the options are endless with fruit as a snack, and most fruit is great for snacking on the go. When you’re shopping, go for the whole fruit rather than pre-cut or packaged fruit to get the most nutrients. Try the fruit that’s in season in your area, and bring enough with you. One small fruit the size of a golf ball probably won’t keep you full for very long, but two or three could.
Experiment with the amount and size of your fruit to see what your body needs.
Fruit and Nut Butter:
If you want a little more excitement and fullness with your fruit, try pairing your fruit with a nut butter (peanut, almond, cashew, sunflower to name a few). The nut butter will give you a great serving of healthy fats and protein. Like with whole nuts, go for unsalted options of nut butter and bring small portions to prevent overeating. Some nut butter companies sell single use packages that are perfect for on-the-go snacking.
Fruit and Yogurt:
This combo isn’t just for breakfast. The yogurt’s fat and protein will keep you satisfied and the fruit adds flavor as well as more nutrients. To have the most control over your sugar intake, buy an unflavored yogurt and add your own fresh fruit. Fruit pre-mixed in yogurt has added sugar and preservatives for a longer shelf-life and longer-lasting flavor. If you buy a lot of non-fat yogurt, try a full-fat, antibiotic-free (organic is best if you can afford it) variety. That will keep you fuller longer and give your body the fat it needs to function.
Fruit and Nuts:
If you’re not a big fan of trail mix, try this “fresh” version. Pair one fruit with a handful of nuts. The healthy fats from the nuts will give you more satiety without needing to eat more than one fruit. The nuts also bring some crunch and texture to your snack.
Try one to two of these smart snacks over the week and see what you think of them. Do they keep you full for at least an hour or two? If not, consider a slightly larger portion or drinking more water with your snack. Experiment with these snacks and find combinations that you really love and enjoy. Snacking can be just as fun as a great meal.
Healthy Eating 101 continues with tips and tricks on how to give a health upgrade to what’s on your dinner plate.
Aimée Suen is a Nutritional Therapy Practitioner who shares nourishing, gluten-free recipes and nutrition wisdom at Small Eats. She is driven to help others enjoy whole foods and empower them to find their own healthy in all aspects of life, one small step at a time. When she’s not in the kitchen, she’s practicing yoga, in the gym, or learning something new. You can find Aimée on Instagram, Twitter and Pinterest.
Second Photo Credit: Margouillat Photo/shutterstock.com; Third Photo Credit: Brent Hofacker/shutterstock.com; Fourth Photo Credit: leonori/shutterstock.com; Fifth Photo Credit: Africa Studio/shutterstock.com