Oh, the late afternoon slump, how we dread you so. Lunch is but a distant memory and another three hours stand between us and dinnertime, so it’s off to the corner store for a jolt in the form of a sugary treat, right? Not so fast.
Snacking may have a bad rap thanks to reputation-smearers like chips, cookies, and chocolate bars, but nutrition expert and co-author of A Recipe For Life by The Doctor’s Dietitian, Susan Dopart, recommends we ditch the strict three-meal-a-day regimen in exchange for a little in-between munching. But that doesn’t mean we have the green light to fill up on junk food; it’s about identifying and satisfying your cravings by making smart, healthy choices.
Whether you’re trying to eat healthier in time for the holidays or you’re just sick of that all-too-familiar bloated feeling, we got the skinny on which guilt-free snacks will fill us up, how long we should go between meals, and which snacks we should try and avoid.
Is it better to snack throughout the day or to stick to a three-meal regimen?
“Neither! You should have three meals and a couple snacks. Try to eat within the first hour of getting up, and never go more than four hours without food. It varies drastically from person to person, but the most important thing is that you don’t go too long between meals. A lot of trainers have their own regimen of eating every two hours or taking in calories at a certain time, but I don’t think there’s a set formula. Plus, that doesn’t necessarily work for everyone’s lifestyle.”
Sometimes, we’ve been known to skip the most important meal of the day. Are there any tricks to making sure you eat breakfast?
“You should be hungry in the morning because you just went so long without food, but if you find you’re not, make sure you’re going to to bed either comfortably full or a little hungry, (no midnight snacking, folks), so that you look to eat when you wake up. Make sure you’re getting your protein in, because it gets your metabolism going and keeps your feeling fuller longer.”
How many calories should a snack be?
“I think it’s so individual, because 200 calories should be okay for one person, but it could go up to 300 or 400 calories depending on the person, her activity level, and her size. Having one serving of protein with a healthy carb like fresh fruit is a good size to go off of. As a general rule of thumb, stay away from anything processed and packaged like chips, pretzels, or even crackers."
Photo: Courtesy of Benefit Your Life
“I’m not a fan of liquid snacks. I know there’s a range, in terms of pressed juices and Naked Juices, but they’re just as bad as soda. Richard Mattes’ research at Purdue University found that liquid calories aren’t as satiating as solid calories. A smoothie could be okay if it has things like protein powder, ground flaxseed, and real fruit — not just juice. Here’s my favorite recipe.
1/2 cup 1% milk (or unsweetened almond milk if you’re lactose intolerant)
1/2 cup plain 2% greek yogurt
1 scoop of whey protein powder
1 tbsp of ground flax seed
1/2 cup of frozen berries
1/2 medium banana
Also, most granola and protein are just junk in a package! There are some protein bars — like the Kind bars — that have fewer than seven or eight ingredients, with some protein and not a lot of carbs, but there are so few bars that hit those criteria. Most of them are just glorified candy bars with lots of sugar, carbs, trans fat or omega-6 oils, and the protein source is usually genetically modified soy, which isn’t a great source anyway.
I don’t recommend dried fruit as a snack unless you’re exercising and drinking a lot of water every day. Dried fruit is highly caloric and you can eat a ton of it at one time, absentmindedly ignoring the serving size. Ten or 15 grapes is a serving of fruit, but how many raisins can you eat in one sitting? If you’re willing to stick to a serving, it’s okay, but if you’re watching your weight or calories, dried fruit is a bad choice.“
What are some great snack options?
"Raw or dry-roasted, unsalted nuts are great, but if you’re craving a bit of salt, don’t be afraid to buy one package of salted dry-roasted nuts, two packages of unsalted nuts, and mix them to get your fix without turning to chips. Even kalamata olives are great if you’re craving salt, even though they’re not easy to keep at your desk. Sunflower seeds and pumpkin seeds are also good options.
Good-quality European artisan cheese like ricotta or feta is great if you can stick to the serving size because it’s really satisfying. I also recommend natural peanut, almond, or cashew butter and a square or two of dark chocolate with over 70% cocoa when you need a boost. Homemade guacamole has good fats, so it’s a great option, but the calories can add up fast. Most fruits are great, but they’re not always accessible, so one option I like is to get freeze-dried berries. They’re not nearly as caloric as dried fruit, and you can get them out of season."
Do you have a favorite gluten-free snack option?
"I love Skinny Crisps, which are available at Whole Foods. Made of almonds and chickpea flower and they have flaxseeds, and they’re made with olive oil instead of processed soybean oil."
Do you have any useful diet tips for women on the go?
"I try to tell women to throw bags of Trader Joe’s prepackaged one-ounce dry-roasted, unsalted nuts in your purse. You should never get over-hungry, which can result in binging. Don’t eat in your car or in transit. Even if you don’t have very much time, sit down for 10 minutes and really savor your food. Let your body connect that you ate. It’s kind of like when you eat popcorn and watch TV, and the bowl is empty in what seems like seconds. Chew it, enjoy it, and savor it. You’ll end up eating less because you’re more satiated from eating slowly."