Written By: Elizabeth Fay, MS, RD, CNSC
Registered Dietitian, Certified Nutrition Support Clinician
When it comes to snacks, there is a wide range of connotations associated with them. It’s difficult to keep up with the latest trends on snacking, especially in the midst of diet trends, such as intermittent fasting. We’re here to shed some accurate, evidence-based recommendations about snacking.
Snacks are a wonderful way to support your nutrition throughout the day. Snacks are typically smaller in size than a meal, but the nutrition can be jam-packed. Eating snacks to supplement our meals helps to maintain steady blood sugar control and curbs those feelings of starvation and hunger pains. Eating snacks in-between meals helps to avoid blood sugars from dropping too low. Many people who have experienced low blood sugar have symptoms such as feeling shaky, lightheaded, sweaty, and/or irritable. By avoiding these sensations of deep hunger, we are able to make better nutrition choices at our next meal, including the nutrient quality and portion size of the food. For example, if you skip lunch and are running on a granola bar from breakfast, then by the time dinner rolls around, you begin to feel intense hunger. The temptation to grab a bag of chips or cookies from the pantry feels much more desirable because we often think, “Well, I didn’t eat lunch! I’m ravenous!” Then, after scarfing down large portions of lesser quality nutrition (i.e. chips and cookies), we then turn to make dinner or order something for delivery. You may then find yourself serving larger-than-usual portions for yourself at dinner because you are still very hungry, and the feeling of satiety or fullness has not yet kicked in.
Snacks also serve as a wonderful supplement. If mealtimes were bricks, I like to think of snacks as the mortar in between. These mini nutritious meals help to supplement your diet with the nutrition you need to keep going and be your best self. Snacks can provide additional vitamins, minerals, and nutrients to supplement your diet. In addition, snacks can also serve as mini nutrition boosters if avoiding a larger meal is desired. For example, during times of nausea or gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), small, frequent snacks/meals are encouraged to maintain adequate nutrient intake, but also help tolerance. Those who are about to exercise may avoid eating a full meal before working out, but instead may choose a snack to boost their carbohydrate and protein intake.
Although many snack foods are packaged and processed today, there are just as many snack foods and recipes that include whole, unprocessed foods to maximize your nutrition. In order to maximize the nutrition of your snack, aim to include at least two foods from two different food groups to make up your snack. For example, pair a vegetable with a protein food or a fruit with a dairy food. Here are a few nutritious snack examples that incorporate different food groups:
Slice of toast + almond butter
Yogurt + sliced dates
Cheese stick + whole grain crackers
Banana + almonds
Spinach + berry smoothie
Cereal + milk
Celery + hummus
In order to stay full longer, choose at least some protein in the snack on most occasions. Protein can be found in foods from all five food groups, with some foods offering more protein than others. Below is a very brief list of protein-rich foods from each food group.
Grains– quinoa, oats, barley, farro, whole wheat
Protein– beans, fish, nuts, chicken, tofu, seitan, pork, beef
Dairy– cow’s milk, soy milk, kefir, cheese, yogurt, soy yogurt
Fruits– avocado, apricots, blackberries
Vegetables– beans, peas, corn, spinach
Snacks don’t have to be limited to two-ingredient recipes either! Be adventurous and mix up your routine. Heat up leftover side dishes for a quick snack or plan to incorporate more food groups into your snack. More whole food ingredients from different food groups help to provide balanced nutrition by providing a variety of vitamins, minerals, fiber, and phytonutrients. Check out these multi-ingredient snacks to try:
Heat up leftovers: 1 cup stir-fry brown rice with vegetables
Ants on a log: Top 5 celery sticks with 1 Tablespoon peanut butter and 1/4 cup raisins
Protein-packed yogurt parfait: 1 cup yogurt topped with 1 Tablespoon chia seeds and 1 Tablespoon low fat granola
Sweet and savory mix: Slice an apple with 1 ounce cheddar cheese slices with 1/4 cup peanuts
Tex-Mex side dish: Layer and heat 1/2 cup refried beans and 1/2 cup corn, top with 1 cup baby spinach leaves
Movie Trail Mix: Popcorn, dried cranberries, peanuts
Packing snacks and planning ahead is one of the biggest time and money saving tips when it comes to snacking and a busy schedule. Planning and preparing snacks can be done ahead of time and stored in the refrigerator or pantry. If you are available on the weekends to prep for the week, use this time to plan your snacks, use up leftovers, and prep as many snacks as possible to have on hand. Plan easy-to-travel snacks if you will be out of the home, between meetings, running errands, or traveling long distances. Easy-to-travel snacks may include those that require few utensils and do not require refrigeration. If needed, pack a small cooler with an ice pack(s) for those snacks that need to stay cold during your day. Examples of on-the-go snacks include:
Movie Trail Mix: Popcorn, dried fruit, nuts
Whole grain crackers (1 ounce) with a low-fat cheese stick
One (1) rice cake with 1 Tablespoons peanut butter, top with dried fruit such as raisins
Banana with 1/4 cup pecans
Roasted chickpeas (1/2 cup) with 2 clementines
Hardboiled egg with 1/4 cups almonds
Whole grain, low fat granola bar with an apple
Try implementing these smart snacking tips to boost your nutrition, maintain good blood sugar control, keep yourself full, and maintain appropriate portions at meals.