It's not just for preschoolers! Snack time is important for adults, too, because it can satiate hunger between meals to prevent overeating and help you lose weight. Snacks can also be a way to get valuable nutrients you're missing from meals alone. But not all snacks are good ones. We've enlisted the expertise of two nutritionists — Stephanie Clarke, RD, and Willow Jarosh, RD, of C&J Nutrition — to share the perfect equation for how to choose a delicious and filling snack that will help you reach your weight-loss goals. Follow their advice below to start seeing results.
Aim for two 150-calorie snacks each day. Think of them as ways to fill nutrition holes in your diet, such as getting your fill of fiber or a boost of calcium.
Anywhere from 40 to 50 percent of your calories at snack time should come from carbs, which works out to 14 to 20 grams. Choose high-fiber carbs such as fruit, whole grains, and starchy veggies like peas, corn, sweet potato, pumpkin, and Winter squash. Carbohydrates that are naturally high in fiber tend to be less refined and processed and also typically yield a larger portion size for fewer calories, making them more satisfying.
Go for six to 10 grams of protein, which is 15 to 20 percent of your total snack calories. Protein is essential in order to make what you nosh on feel more satisfying. Protein also helps to even out the rate that carbohydrates enter your bloodstream, so if you eat a snack that's low in protein, a spike in your blood sugar levels could result in stronger cravings and the need to munch on more.
Far should constitute 30 to 40 percent of your snack's calories, which works out to between six and 10 grams. Including healthy fats also adds to the "I feel satisfied" feeling. The one thing to watch out for is portion size, since fats like nuts, seeds, and avocado tend to be high in calories.
Getting enough fiber in your snack — at least three grams — is a must to not only help you feel satiated for longer, but to also help you reach your daily goal of 25 grams. Getting your fill of fiber will ensure you stay regular, which can help you avoid that bloated feeling, making you feel more energetic. It can also help maintain stable blood sugar levels, which keeps cravings at bay.
Aim for no more than 10 grams of total sugar and no more than four grams of added sugar (one teaspoon of honey, sugar, or maple syrup).
Most people like to include their two 150-calorie snacks between their three main meals, so one in the late morning and one in the late afternoon. A good rule of thumb is to eat every couple of hours, so find the schedule that works for you. Maybe you eat a later lunch and an earlier dinner so an afternoon snack isn't necessary but a bedtime snack is. Remember that experiencing a little hunger is OK, but snacking can prevent that famished feeling that makes people overeat. And eating late at night won't cause weight gain, but overdoing it on your daily calorie intake will. If you know you like to eat a little something before bed, make sure you save 150 calories in order to stick to your daily limit.
Eating and Working Out
If you're grabbing a pre-workout snack, aim for a 3:1 ratio of carbs to protein. After a workout, go for a 2:1 ratio of carbs to protein. A banana with some nut butter or a small smoothie is a great option. For workouts that are an hour or shorter, don't stress too much about getting the exact amount. As long as your snack includes a combo of carbs, protein, and healthy fats, and is under 150 calories, you're good! Generally it's good to enjoy a pre-workout snack 30 to 90 minutes before a workout, but eating beforehand isn't a necessity. Some people prefer working out on an empty stomach, so do what's right for you. Then refuel with a post-workout snack within 30 to 60 minutes.
A Few Examples of Snacks
The above info would make an ideal snack, but if you can't meet all the requirements, it's OK to fall short of one of these — fats, carbs, fiber, or protein — just make sure your snack meets the other three.
Avocado Toast: Take half a slice of whole wheat bread, smear with one tablespoon avocado, and top with sliced or mashed hard-boiled egg, two slices of tomato, and an eighth-teaspoon sprinkling of chia seeds.
Total fat: 8.2 g
Saturated fat: 2.2 g
Carbs: 13.6 g
Fiber: 4.3 g
Sugars: 2.7 g
Protein: 9.3 g
Greek Yogurt With Apple and Walnuts: Enjoy a quarter-cup plain nonfat Greek yogurt with half an apple, four teaspoons chopped walnuts, half a teaspoon raisins, and a dash of cinnamon.
Total fat: 6.2 g
Saturated fat: 0.4 g
Carbs: 17.3 g
Fiber: 3.1 g
Sugars: 12.7 g
Protein: 8.3 g
High-Protein Banana and Peanut Butter: Mix half a tablespoon of peanut butter with half an ounce of protein powder and half an ounce of water. Cut half a banana in half lengthwise. Smear the peanut butter mixture on half and then top with the other half of the banana.
Total fat: 4 g
Saturated fat: 0.8 g
Carbs: 17.4 g
Fiber: 4.1 g
Sugars: 7.8 g
Roasted Edamame: Toss two cups frozen edamame with two teaspoons olive oil, one teaspoon sea salt, and one tablespoon black sesame seeds. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes at 450° F. Enjoy a quarter of the batch, and save the rest for later.
Total fat: 8.3 g
Saturated fat: 1.1 g
Carbs: 10.5 g
Fiber: 4 g
Sugars: 8.3 g
Protein: 4 g
Snack Mistakes to Avoid
- Not enough variety: While a cheese stick seems like a healthy snack, it's only offering you protein, so you'll soon feel hungry afterward. To feel satiated, make sure your snack has at least two of these — carbohydrate, protein, and fat — or, better yet, aim for all three.
- Skipping: If you head into lunch and dinner completely starving, you know all too well how easy it is to eat way more calories than normal. Snacking between meals controls hunger, which controls cravings and can help you consume fewer daily calories.
- Not counting calories: A snack is just that — a snack. It's not a minimeal, so stick to that 150-calorie amount. Be mindful that prepackaged snacks like granola bars, protein bars, smoothies, or bags of crackers can offer almost 200 calories or more. On the same token, mindlessly reaching into a bag can result in devouring more than one portion without you even realizing it. So measure out your portion and put the bag away!