By Susan Bowerman, M.S., RD, CSSD, CSOWM, FAND, Senior Director, Worldwide Nutrition Education & Training, Herbalife Nutrition
Most of us are making more trips to the kitchen these days. In addition to simply being home more, there are a few reasons we may be eating more often—boredom, in need of a distraction, or perhaps to deal with something a little deeper, like anxiety or depression. In any case, the temptations to eat while stuck at home are heightened for all of us, which can create the potential for unhealthy consequences if we stray too far from our usual diets.
One reason snacking has such a bad rap is because so many common “snack foods” are high in fat, sugar, salt, and calories. Prior to the coronavirus pandemic, many health-conscious consumers already stayed away from these types of products; however, now people are stocking up on whatever is available at the grocery stores—changing the way we all eat. Even with these limitations, the important thing to remember is that choosing the right foods—even when we’re snacking—will allow us to maintain our health during these uncertain times.
While some people think all snacking is bad—probably because they equate “snacking” with “snack foods”—but I’ve always been solidly in the pro-snacking camp. For one thing, a small nutritious, balanced snack can help keep you energized between meals, and help control your hunger at mealtimes. When the foods you choose are appropriate, if you are truly hungry, and if you’re able to maintain healthy snacking habits, that’s one less thing to worry about during this pandemic. If you’re worried about how much you’re eating throughout the day, here are five tips to help you snack smartly:
You may actually be dehydrated
Many of us will mindlessly walk to the cupboard and find something to nosh on thinking we need to feed a food craving. The truth is that you may actually be mildly dehydrated, and your body is really just craving fluids. Before you reach for the snack pour yourself a glass of water, or a sports drink with electrolytes, to see if that will help tide you over a little longer, or try a light watery snack, like a piece of fruit.
Healthy snacking can help you to work more nutritious foods into your day
Think of it this way: the more often you eat, the easier it will be to work in your daily servings of healthy foods like vegetables, fruits, and calcium-rich dairy products. Use this opportunity to turn snacking into a healthy practice by preparing snacks that provide a mix of low-fat protein (like nuts, soy protein products or nonfat dairy foods) and healthy carbohydrates (like fruit, veggies and whole grains). The carbs will get digested first and satisfy your hunger right away and the protein will give your snack a bit more staying power.
Snacks can fuel your physical and mental energy
It’s actually normal to get hungry about every three to four hours. When you eat regular meals and snacks, it can help keep your blood sugar more stable throughout the day. That’s a good defense against between-meal dips in blood sugar that can sap your mental and physical energy.
Have that second lunch
A substantial afternoon snack can help control portions at dinner. Many people manage to control their eating pretty well during the day but when the day’s over and it’s time to relax, end up eating a huge dinner. For those folks, a larger afternoon snack—almost a small second lunch—makes it much easier to cut back at the evening meal. The afternoon stretch between lunch and dinner can be a difficult time, so having something a little more substantial like a protein shake, a cup of cottage cheese with some fruit, or even a low-calorie frozen meal. Then you can do your cutting back at dinner time. And, if after-dinner snacking is a problem for you, try brushing your teeth after dinner. It works as a great signal to stop eating.
Rethink your snacking habits
If you’re eating unhealthy, high-calorie foods like sweets, chips, and sodas keep in mind that these high-calorie snack foods can contribute to weight gain and they offer little if any, nutritional value. You also should think about the reasons you’re eating and identify whether it’s something other than hunger. If you tend to snack when you’re not hungry (maybe you’re bored, stressed, angry or tired), it’s a habit you might want to think about breaking. Think of other ways to deal with your emotions—take a walk, call a friend, write in a journal or spend a few minutes meditating. Taking a break for a few minutes will give you time to evaluate whether you’re truly hungry or not.