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You may have heard that snacking can spoil your dinner, lead to weight gain or destroy your diet. And while all of these things have surely happened to someone at some time, they aren’t inevitable for everyone who snacks.
In fact, snacking can help some people eat healthier meals, maintain their weight or stick to a weight-loss plan, according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
Still, it can be a challenge to snack healthfully when vending machines and store shelves define snacks as chips, soda and candy. Planning ahead and choosing wisely can help you jump over that hurdle.
If you’re hungry, you need to eat. This rule doesn’t change just because you can’t sit down for a meal.
If you’ve had a light breakfast, for instance, your stomach may start growling well before lunchtime. A mid-morning snack can give you energy, prevent hunger pangs and make you less likely to overeat when lunchtime comes.
Snacks are also a great opportunity to fill holes in your diet, according to the academy. For example, if you have trouble getting enough calcium from meals, making low-fat yogurt a regular snack will help you get more of this important nutrient. Fruits, vegetables and fiber meet other important nutrient needs and are easy to fit into a snack habit.
For people who are trying to lose weight, the occasional snack can help them feel like they’re not being deprived. Athletes need snacks to fuel their workouts. And for people with diabetes, snacking may help keep blood sugar levels on an even keel.
To get the benefits of snacking, though, you’ve got to do it right. Learning about common snacking mistakes may help you avoid them.
Some common snacking pitfalls to watch out for include:
High-fat temptations. High-fat, high-salt and low-nutrient foods often win out over healthful snack options, such as fresh fruits and vegetables. This type of snacking can push your fat, calorie and salt intake beyond healthful limits and send the number on your bathroom scale creeping upward.
Distracted snacking. If your mind is occupied by the television or computer while your mouth is chewing, you may not realize how much you’re eating. If you’re eating out of boredom, you’re also at risk for taking in more calories than your body needs.
Lack of variety. Snacks often consist of a single food, while meals are more likely to include choices from a few food groups. If you eat more snacks than meals and you’re not making an effort to vary your food choices, you could miss out on important nutrients.
- Snacking well
You can help yourself avoid snacking pitfalls by following some simple advice:
Keep healthful snacks on hand. Stock up on healthful snacks when you shop and make sure they’re within reach at the times when you tend to look for a snack.
Pay attention to portions. A 600-calorie serving of chips is more like a meal than a snack. To help keep your snack from turning into a meal, put a single serving in a bowl or on a plate instead of eating out of the bag or box.
Snack strategically. Use snacks to fill gaps in your diet. Vary your snack food choices to help provide different nutrients.
Choose carefully. If a vending machine or convenience store is your only snack source, look for the least of the evils. Peanuts, raisins, trail mix or a granola bar are usually better picks than candy or chips.
- Plan for good health
Healthful diets come in many forms. But no matter what structure your diet takes, you’re most likely to succeed at eating right if you plan ahead.
Take some time to create a basic plan for the meals, mini-meals and snacks you need to get the right amounts of the right foods. As long as your diet is balanced, you can eat on nearly any schedule you choose.
For more information on eating well, visit the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics’s website at www.eatright.org.