We're well aware that healthy snacking is a proven strategy for eating right and living a better life. In practice, however, the tactic is not always so straight-forward. What exactly does it mean to snack smart? How often should you snack, how big should your snacks be, and what exactly should you be snacking on? All these questions pose complications for someone who is committed to healthy eating, and the internet is full of competing answers. To get to the facts, we reached out to two nutritionists.
"Healthy snacking, ideally when combined with healthy eating overall, can have a variety of benefits from more energy and better focus to clearer skin and better digestion," says Candice Seti, Psy.D, CPT, CNN of The Weight Loss Therapist. Snacking throughout the day also leads to making better choices when you do sit down for a full meal. As Farah Fahad, MS, RD, dietitian and founder of The Farah Effect notes, "when you are more level-headed deciding what to eat you often make better choices." To help us get on track to healthy eating by incorporating nutritious snacks throughout the day, Fahad and Seti answered all our questions on snacking smart. As Seti puts it, "taking care of your body nutritionally always gives back."
Keep scrolling to see nutritionists Fahad and Seti's rules for healthy snacking.
Snacking Isn't a One-Size-Fits-All Formula
The best snacking strategy varies from person to person. "There is really no 'one-size-fits-all' approach to eating and while eating six times a day may be right for one person, it may not be right for everyone," Seti says. She continues that if you're in tune with your body and really listen to it, you'll be able to determine when you need energy throughout the day. "It depends on your own body clock," notes Fahad. "From my experience, some clients work better on three meals a day and no snacking and others suit eating every three to four hours with three main meals and two to three snacks per day." She confirms that both are healthy ways of eating. You have to do what best suits your body. Listen to your hunger signals.
One of the biggest mistakes Seti says she sees people make is believing they have to eat a certain way simply because someone else is doing it that way. "We all have different metabolisms, different activity levels, and different digestive patterns," she explains, "so snacking needs to be different for all of us."
That said, there are a handful of truths that make snacking better for everyone.
Eat When You're Hungry and Stop When You're Full
One of the key components of healthy snacking is listening to your body. When your body is telling you it's hungry, feed it. When you're full, don't keep eating. Fahad says this is her biggest rule. "Hunger is the body's signal you need energy," she says. "If you are eating when the body is not asking for energy, it will be stored for later in the form of fat."
An exception to eating when you might not be hungry is when you start your day. Many find themselves not hungry enough to eat breakfast or just too rushed to find the time. "One universal rule I have is to eat within one hour of waking up," Fahad says. She advises that most of your calories should be consumed earlier in the day. As it gets later, the amount you eat should begin to taper off. Snacking between meals helps to stabilize the body, avoiding "heavy late-night eating because you haven't eaten properly throughout the day," Fahad says.
Diversify Your Nutrients
Even while you're snacking, committing to a balance and diversifying your ingredients is essential to healthy eating. According to Fahad, you want to make sure you get a diverse amount of vitamins, antioxidants, and minerals. "The easiest trick is to always incorporate fruits and vegetables in season," she suggests. Seti recommends snacking on food you love and ensuring you have at least the minimum amount of variety so you don't get sick of your snacks. "If one day you have nuts, another day you have sliced turkey, another day you have yogurt, and another day you have hard boiled eggs, there is enough variety in there that you are unlikely to get sick of those things," she says.
Make Time at Work
Incorporating healthy snacking into your workday can be tricky, especially if you're sitting at a desk at all hours. Seti recommends committing to official snack times (mid-morning and mid-afternoon), and even setting alarms on your phone. She goes on to say it's "not only a chance to put something healthy and nutritious in your body, but an opportunity to take a break, clear your head, and get some blood flow and fresh oxygen."
Prepare On-the-Go Snacks
A big way to ensure smart snacking is to prep your meals in advance. "When people have busy schedules, made-ahead snacks or on-the-go snacks are generally the best option," Seti says. She recommends things that are easy to access and don't require a lot of "in the moment" work like peeled hard-boiled eggs, protein shakes, protein bars, and yogurt and preparing snacks the night before.
Eat After a Workout and Before
Both Fahad and Seti emphasize the importance of snacking not only after your workout but also before. Seti says that "snacking an hour or so before exercise helps provide the fuel for your brain and your muscles to push through." For a before-workout snack, Fahad recommends half a smoothie, a banana, a handful of nuts, green juice, or a tablespoon of nut butter. "After should be something that includes protein to stabilize blood sugar and repair muscles—grilled salmon, organic chicken, grass-fed meat, quinoa, or beans with vegetables or salad," Fahad says. This helps to "restore energy and aid in muscle recovery," according to Seti, making both super beneficial to the overall success of your fitness regimen.
Enjoy "Fun Foods" in Moderation
Committing to a healthy lifestyle doesn't mean you have to completely abandon the foods you love that aren't so healthy for you. Both nutritionists insist that "fun foods," as Fahad coins them, can be enjoyed as long as it's in moderation. Fahad and Seti avoid using the word "cheat" when considering these less-healthy options. "The idea of 'cheating' on your diet is commonly spouted advice from a range of different health professionals but the problem is that this philosophy makes your eating habits seem like a restricted, temporary diet rather than an optimal healthy way of eating," Seti says. Instead, she encourages people to consider the way they eat as a lifestyle they follow to feel their best, indulging in a treat now and then.
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