Daily snackers are less likely to be overweight than those who stick to three squares, but if you snack on sugary, high-calorie fare, you lose the weight loss benefits. Here’s how to keep your metabolism high and weight low.
“A snack should be 100 to 200 calories—stick to the lower end of the range if you’re dieting, the upper end if you’re trying to maintain your weight—and contain complex carbohydrates, protein and a little healthy fat,” Ventrelle says. Carbs offer quick energy; your body digests protein and fat slowly, keeping you full longer.
2Time it right
Going too long without food (five hours or more) slows your metabolism, causing your body to burn less fat than normal, Keast says. It can also lead to surges in the hormone insulin, making you feel hungrier than usual. That’s why Lauren Slayton, R.D., founder of Foodtrainers in New York City, advises clients to have one snack three hours after breakfast, and another three hours after lunch.
3Do the math
People who snacked out of single-serve bags ate nearly twice as much as those who ate from larger ones, a study in the Journal of Consumer Researchfinds. “One hundred calories doesn’t seem like a big deal, so people have two or three packages in a row,” says Bethany Thayer, R.D., spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association. “Plus, the foods that come in snack packs, like cookies and chips, usually aren’t filling.” If you go the 100-calorie pack route, pair it with another, nutrient-rich snack of 100 calories or fewer.
4Mix things up
Most Americans don’t get enough daily servings of fruit, vegetables and whole grains. But studies show that regular snackers consume more fiber and nutrients than nonsnackers do. “Look at snack as the ideal opportunity to fill any gaps in your diet,” says Debra R. Keast, Ph.D., president of Food & Nutrition Database Research in Okemos, Michigan.
“If you try to have at least one serving of fresh fruit, vegetables, whole grains, nuts or lowfat dairy every time you snack, you’ll be giving your body more of what it needs to be healthy.”
5Hide the junk
People eat more candy from a clear jar than from an opaque one, research from Cornell University shows. The reason, say the study authors, is simple: The more we see food, the more we want it, whereas out of sight means out of mind—and mouth. “Use this to your advantage by placing healthy options, such as fruit, vegetables or a clear jar of trail mix, on your counter and stashing not-so-good-for-you munchies in the back of the pantry,” Thayer suggests.
6Trick your belly
When it comes to feeling full, your eyes are as powerful as your stomach. People who snacked on extra-large cheese puffs consumed 21 percent fewer calories than those who ate smaller ones. “The larger the portion, the fuller you expect to be,” says study author Barbara J. Rolls, Ph.D., professor of nutritional sciences at Pennsylvania State University in University Park. “Foods filled with water or air, like snack puffs and soup, let you eat a lot for fewer calories and still feel satisfied.”
Research shows it’s better to scratch your dietary itch once or twice a week than to ignore it. Generally, treats for a snack should be 200 calories or less, but if you know you won’t stop there (it’s nacho night at your favorite bar!), keep your postbreakfast snack to 100 calories to leave yourself 250 to 300 calories for cheesy chip goodness. Or split a snack in two, says Jennifer Ventrelle, R.D., lifestyle program director at the Rush University Prevention Center in Chicago.
“Have 100 calories of something you’re craving, like Fritos, and 50 to 100 calories of something more healthful, such as nuts.”