7 Snacking Habits You Just Need to Stop Already
First things first—I love snacks. I typically eat two or three snacks a day and think they're a great way to calm down my hunger, add nutrients to my diet and generally keep me in a good mood (no one likes me when I'm hangry). Despite the myths that persist around snacks, snacking can absolutely be a part of a healthy diet.
Read more: 10 High-Protein Snacks to Keep You Full
But I continually see people making lots of snacking mistakes. Here are some of the big ones and how to course-correct.
1. Filling up on unsatisfying low-cal foods
I'm looking at you, rice cakes (or carrot sticks or celery). I'm not saying don't eat those foods if you like them. But choosing a snack solely based on its calorie profile means it's probably not going to be all that satisfying. If you're eating what's essentially air, you're going to be hungry in a few.
Don't fear calories when it comes to your snacks—you need them to stay full. Fat, which is higher in calories than protein and carbs, fills you up because it takes longer to digest (don't forget about these 4 foods to eat full-fat versions of). Protein and fiber also help slow down digestion, so you're not ready for another snack as soon as you finish your first one. Nuts are a great snack option. They've got healthy fats, protein and fiber to keep you satisfied. Yogurt with berries and an apple with cheese also make great options.
2. Not getting protein
Not every snack has to have protein, but lots of snacky foods—crackers, chips, fruit—don't have much. Since protein adds staying power, it's important to consider it when you choose your snack (especially if your snack needs to hold you over for a few hours or if you're eating after a workout). It's not impossible to get high-protein snacks; you may just need to be a little more mindful. Hard-boiled eggs, dry-roasted edamame or chickpeas, jerky and cottage cheese all fit the bill.
3. Waiting until you're super hungry
I've never understood people who "forget to eat" a meal (like, how is that possible?). If that describes you, maybe you genuinely aren't in tune with your hunger or you're super busy. If it's the latter, and you're go, go, going all day, this is where portable snacks (think energy bars, nuts, dried fruit) come in very handy. It's important to remember that you don't need to feel starving to give yourself permission to have a snack. You can be mildly hungry, or just recognize that you need to eat now if you're about to have three hours of meetings and won't be able to eat for a while. If you let yourself get too hungry, you're likely to overeat at your next snack or meal. Best to just tame your hunger beast before it gets too savage.
4. Skipping snacks for fear of eating too many calories
This is not only unnecessary, it will backfire on you in a big way. You're more likely to overeat at your next meal. Which equals you being less satisfied with your eats and still eating more food than you intended. Smart snacks can have a place in any diet. If you're hungry, you should eat something. Choose foods that are satisfying, and don't deny your hunger just because it happens to fall in between your normal mealtimes.
5. Neglecting carbs altogether
Oh carbs. I love you. So many people hate you and that makes me sad. Protein is an important nutrient, but so are carbs. That's where you'll add fiber and lots of nutrition to your diet. And while a doughnut and a bowl of oatmeal may have the same amount of carbohydrates, they'll obviously make you feel different. Choosing whole grains, fruits, vegetables and dairy will help add nutrients to your diet and give you more sustained energy. Carbs paired with protein, fat or fiber won't spike your blood sugar the same way as eating simple carbs (learn more about carbs and how to add them to your diet). Choosing cake, candy or muffins will taste great but won't give you that same long-lasting energy. Most of the time, add some healthy carbs to your snacks and you'll feel more satisfied.
6. Drinking juice
Pictured recipe: Chocolate-Banana Protein Smoothie
I'm not saying you can't drink juice. Of course you can. It doesn't have the fiber of whole fruit (or smoothies), but it's fine to drink. However, it's not going to fill you up and it certainly shouldn't be replacing a meal or snack (looking at you green juice trend). If you think of celery juice as a snack, you'll be missing out on filling nutrients. Want to drink your snack? Enjoy a smoothie. You'll get fiber (and plenty of nutrition from fruits, vegetables, yogurt, nut butters ... whatever you add) that will actually help you stay satiated between meals.
7. Not packing snacks
I'm one of those people who always has a bar or a little bag of dried fruit in my purse. You just never know when hunger is going to strike. It's a rookie move to not pack snacks, especially if you're out and about all day. Whether you make a snack stash at your office or throw some in your bag when you're running errands, packing your own snacks helps save you money (and keeps you from having a snack meltdown). Energy bars (Kind bars and Larabars are two favorites), fresh or dried fruit and nuts are some of my favorite packable snacks. Because, let's face it—there's a very good chance we're going to get hungry at some point.
Welcome to The Beet. A weekly column where nutrition editor and registered dietitian Lisa Valente tackles buzzy nutrition topics and tells you what you need to know, with science and a little bit of sass.