Should I snack to lose weight? What are some healthy snacks?
Clients frequently ask: “Does a snack help or hinder weight loss?” Similarly, I’m asked if 6 small meals is better for weight loss than 3 larger meals.
Let’s take a look at what the research really says about snacking and weight loss. I’ll toss in some of my professional experience too.
Americans snack a lot!
Too much? Probably. In fact, the calories from snacks is the equivalent of a 4th meal. We consume more calories today than we did a few decades ago. And the majority of those extra calories come from between-meal noshing – not from meals. As calories increased, so did our rates of overweight and obesity. That tells me that this snacking thing is a bit out of control. But I treat each client and reader as an individual, and a snack might be good for you.
Does snacking boost metabolic rate?
Only sort of. Every time you eat, your metabolic rate jumps a little because you have to burn calories to digest, absorb and assimilate nutrients from your food. This is called the thermic effect of food (TEF) and it contributes approximately 10% of your metabolic rate. The TEF is why some people recommend snacking to lose weight or to “keep your metabolism humming.” Though the theory sounds good, it’s flawed.
The TEF is related to what you eat, not how frequently you eat. If, for example, you eat 1600 calories in 3 meals per day or eat the same food in 3 meals and 3 snacks per day, your 24-hour metabolic rate will not differ. So, in reality, snacking does not boost metabolic rate.
Does snacking help manage diabetes?
Find out in my post about diabetes myths.
Does eating more often help control appetite?
Yes, sometimes. Research suggests that eating at least 3 times daily is better for appetite control than eating fewer than 3 times daily. Whether or not you need to eat more frequently than 3 times each day depends on you. And it probably depends on the day. You’ll likely be hungrier on days in which you’re more active. Of course, you should eat if you’re hungry. To me, being more than just a little hungry is painful. So I’m going to snack when I’m hungry to avoid painful hunger later on.
Here are a few questions to ask yourself when deciding to snack or not to snack.
- Do I like to snack?
- Does it help me manage my hunger?
- Does it fit into my day and my routine?
- Does it contribute to a nutritious diet?
To snack or not to snack?
- Enjoy a planned snack if it helps you tame appetite and rein in out of control eating later on. If a piece of fruit on your afternoon commute keeps you from raiding the refrigerator when you get home, a snack is a smart idea.
- Don’t snack to boost your metabolic rate. It doesn’t help. Want to know what else doesn’t help and what might help a little? Here’s a post on metabolism boosters.
- Snack when you’re hungry and a meal is more than a short time away. Regardless of what you’ve heard, however, being hungry doesn’t mean that you’re starving, wasting muscle, digesting your stomach lining or suffering blood sugar swings. It simply means that you haven’t eaten for awhile. It’s nature’s way of reminding you to get some nourishment.
- Don’t snack because others are eating, because you’re bored or because it’s your habit. None of these is a smart reason to eat.
- Eat a planned snack to fit in wholesome foods. Ask yourself what you’re not getting enough of at meals. The answer is a good snack choice.
- Snack if you need to fuel a workout or replenish after a hard workout. There’s often no need to snack before or after a light or short workout.
13 Healthy Snacks
If snacks are right for you, create a list of healthy snack ideas. This list will help you make smart decisions instead of leaving you scrambling when you’re hungry. Strategies, not willpower! Research doesn’t support that snacking often is required for weight loss, but the quality of your snack sure does matter. Here are 13 healthy snacks to help you get started on your list.
- Any fresh, frozen, or canned fruit, preferably without added sugars
- ½ peanut butter sandwich on whole grain bread (I like Dave’s Killer Bread – any variety of whole grain thin sliced)
- Apple and peanut butter or almond butter
- Avocado toast
- Hummus and veggies or hummus and whole grain crackers (I like Wasa and Triscuit Thin Crisps)
- Strained yogurt (Greek or Icelandic) with fresh or frozen berries
- Lowfat cottage cheese (My favorite is Daisy brand) with diced tomatoes, black pepper and fresh basil leaves
- Lowfat cottage cheese and fruit
- Smashed hard-boiled egg on cucumber rounds
- 1 ounce roasted chickpeas (Biena is delicious) and 1/8 cup dried fruit
- One ounce of nuts, about ¼ cup
- Fruit and nuts, such as a small pear and 1/8 cup walnuts
- Vegetable juice (like V8*) and reduced-fat cheese (I like Cabot and BabyBel) *In full disclosure, V8 was a client in 2017.
For a more in depth article about the benefits and myths about snacking, check out my article in Food & Nutrition magazine.
Cheers to happy, healthy, planned snacking!
What are some of your favorite snacks?