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Smarter Snacking Leads to Healthier Diet

Smarter Snacking Leads to Healthier Diet: Main Image
Keep fruit and vegetables on hand, cut up and ready to go, to promote healthy habits
Despite our familiarity with dieting--up to half of adults report being on a diet in any given year--many of us don't know how best to eat to promote healthy weight loss. Fortunately, we can turn to the research for some answers. It turns out that snacking may be one path to a slimmer physique--but only if we snack smartly.

Snack your way to weight loss

To study how snacking timing and frequency may affect diet quality and weight loss, researchers examined the eating habits of 123 overweight or obese postmenopausal women. The study participants tracked their eating habits, noting when they ate meals and snacks for 12 months. After collecting and analyzing all of the information, the researchers found:

  • Snacking is common: 97% of the women reported eating one or more snacks per day.
  • Women who regularly ate a mid-morning snack lost less weight than women who did not nosh between breakfast and lunch.
  • More women who snacked in the morning ate multiple snacks per day, which may explain why mid-morning snacking led to fewer lost pounds.
  • Women who ate two or more daily snacks consumed more fiber than women who didn't snack or snacked just once per day.
  • Afternoon snackers ate more fruit and vegetables on average compared with women who didn't regularly eat an afternoon snack.

Translating study results into good eating habits

This study uncovered important information about how snacking may affect both what and how much we eat. This, in turn, may impact our weight loss efforts. What does this mean in your daily life? We've translated these findings into some smart snacking tips to help you meet your healthy eating and weight loss goals.

  • Pick plants. To make sure your snacks give you maximum nutrition without excess calories, make plants the center of your snacking strategy. Keep fruit and vegetables on hand, cut up and ready to go, to promote healthy habits.
  • Snack selectively. Mid-morning snacking may hinder weight loss. If you're trying to shed pounds, power yourself through the morning with a well-rounded, hearty breakfast. Try oatmeal with fresh fruit and almonds, a hard-boiled egg, and Greek yogurt. Save your snacking for the afternoon.
  • Chew gum. It sounds silly, but if you aren't truly hungry, a stick of sugarless gum can help you avoid eating out of boredom.
  • Watch energy bars. Many people reach for an energy bar as a snack, which can be a smart choice, but only if you pick the right one. Go for a bar with at least 10 grams of protein and 3 grams of fiber and fewer than 200 calories.
  • Look for healthy ways to unwind. Watching TV can promote unhealthy snacking. The constant advertisements for high-fat and salty snack foods makes these items harder to resist, so limit TV time and step away during commercial breaks.

(J Am Diet Assoc 2011; 111:1898-03)

Suzanne Dixon, MPH, MS, RD, an author, speaker, and internationally recognized expert in chronic disease prevention, epidemiology, and nutrition, has taught medical, nursing, public health, and alternative medicine coursework. She has delivered over 150 invited lectures to health professionals and consumers and is the creator of a nutrition website acclaimed by the New York Times and Time magazine. Suzanne received her training in epidemiology and nutrition at the University of Michigan, School of Public Health at Ann Arbor.
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