Find better ways to snack

Where do you fall on the snacking spectrum?

Do you snack often? Sometimes? Not at all? And when you do — what's your pleasure?

Snacking unhealthily can sap your energy and put more bump in your rump, so to speak. Potato chips, brownies and candy bars? Not so good. But snacking on healthy foods, such as almonds, low-fat string cheese, and fruit and vegetable slices isn't bad at all; in fact, some say it's really good. Good for managing your appetite so you're less likely to binge out of hunger; good for keeping your blood sugar — and your mood — on a more even-keel; and even good for promoting a healthy weight (and sometimes, weight loss).

However, there are circumstances under which snacking becomes more of a liability. Mindless snacking. Too frequent snacking. Eating more for a snack than you really need. Eating toffee-coated almonds is different than eating raw almonds; snacking on cheese crackers is different than snacking on low-fat string cheese. What and how much you snack on are critical to snacking well. So, whether you eat more meals than snacks, or snacks than meals, the same bottom line applies: if you're taking in more than you're burning, you're not going to lose weight, and you may even gain weight.

Pack your snacks

Let's start with availability. If your only snack option is what's in the vending machine, we suggest you start bringing your own snacks to keep at your desk or in the company fridge. Having healthier options on hand can prevent you from making a mad dash to the vending machine in a fit of mid-morning or afternoon hunger. Plenty of options don't require refrigeration, and it's a first step toward controlling the kinds of foods you consume throughout your work day.

Portion control

Don't let healthy snacking turn into over-snacking. If you're munching on almonds or pretzels, count or measure out a serving size, put your snack into a bowl and enjoy. Putting the whole bag or container of whatever you're eating onto your desk is asking for trouble, as you're focused on work, not eating, and you're more likely to overdo it.

Tips for optimal snacking

  • Plan ahead. Know what you're going to eat, and portion out accordingly.
  • Drink water first. Water takes up space. And after drinking a glass of water, you'll have less room to fill.
  • Wait. Are you really hungry — or are you nervous or bored? Give yourself some time in between that first impulse to put something in your mouth, and actually doing it. If you're still hungry in, say, 20 minutes, go for it. And if you're not, you've just saved yourself some calories better spent elsewhere, later.
  • Make it protein. Your body burns protein quickly, so choose whole food protein sources: healthy nuts, low-fat cheese, a hard-boiled egg. Protein bars don't count.
  • Slice your fruits and vegetables. Make the snacking last by cutting your fruits and veggies into pieces or slices, which can help satisfy your psychological needs to snack on more for longer, with less damage.
  • Be judicious. If what you crave is chocolate not celery, then go ahead, indulge. But measure your snack against what you eat the rest of the day. Allow yourself the treats while also keeping your overall food intake in balance.
Sources: "The Flex Diet" by James Beckerman, M.D.; American Heart Association; American Diabetes Association; National Institutes of Health

So what's a healthy choice?

Here are some healthy snack ideas to get you started. In general, we suggest you look for snacks that are high-fiber, low-sugar and low-salt. Don't let our short list limit the possibilities — learn what you like, and get creative!
  • One apple, whole or sliced
  • One pear, whole or sliced
  • One banana (also frozen)
  • Melon cubes, balls or slices
  • Frozen grapes
  • Carrot and celery sticks
  • Radishes
  • Broccoli spears
  • Zucchini circles
  • Snap peas
  • Edamame
  • Cherry tomatoes
  • Red, yellow or green pepper slices
  • Avocado slices (or mashed)
  • Dried fruit and nuts
  • Unsalted sunflower seeds
  • Low-fat or fat-free cheese
  • Plain or low-fat yogurt
  • Unsalted almonds, walnuts or other healthy nuts
  • Raisins
  • Microwave popcorn (at home, go for air-popped)
  • Hummus and vegetable slices
  • Any 100-calorie snack pack
  • One oatmeal packet
  • Cooked egg whites
  • Cooked egg whites plus slice of whole wheat toast
  • Five chocolate kisses (dark preferred)