How many times have you come home after a long day and devoured the first food you find? Despite your best efforts to choose healthy snacks, it can be hard to make reasonable choices when your stomach is sounding its hunger alarm.
Hunger pangs aren’t the only hurdle to healthy snacking patterns: While most people can point out less healthy items—i.e., that family-sized bag of chips or king-size candy bar—what makes a snack better for you in the first place? According to Jaclyn London, MS, RD, CDN, the most nutritious snacks often include at least one unpackaged item without a nutrition label—e.g., a piece of fresh produce. “The closer a food is to its original state, the more nutrient-dense it’s likely to be,” London says.
Another way to determine whether your snack qualifies as healthier? Think about how—and how much of it—you eat. Research suggests that people tend to eat more when mindlessly snacking or when distracted. Double or triple a snack serving, and you might find yourself gobbling up the caloric equivalent of a full meal.
One positive way to look at snacking, according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, is to picture snacks as small meals that serve as a “bridge” to get you from one primary meal to the next.
How healthier snacks may promote weight loss
While whole foods like fruits, vegetables, proteins, and grains provide essential nutrients that your body needs to function, healthier snacks may also help you reach your weight-loss goals because they:
Because snacking between meals fends off hunger, it may help
curb food cravings and reduce the possibility
of overeating at your next meal—particularly when you pair ingredients that are high in protein and fiber, according to a
of studies on snacking published in the journal
Advances in Nutrition
. London also advocates adding fat to the mix.
Curb sugar cravings:
If you tend to reach for sweets when you feel extra hungry, pairing high-fiber and
can potentially help alleviate that urge.
slow the rate
of digestion and absorption in your gastrointestinal tract, London says, while protein requires more “work” to break down and digests at a slower rate. It’s one reason why pairing an apple (for its fiber) and cheese (which serves up protein) rather than choosing one or the other may help you feel fuller for longer.
Your body needs both
(i.e., fat, protein, and carbohydrates) and
(vitamins and minerals) to function. But as it happens, consuming nutrient-dense foods can also help you lose weight in the long run: In a
of 120,000 adults conducted by the Department of Nutrition at Harvard School of Public Health, researchers found that people who ate a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, yogurt, nuts, and whole grains rather than low-quality foods (i.e., potato chips, sugar-sweetened beverages, and processed meats) were more apt to lose weight than gain it over the course of two decades.
For some healthier snacks that can lead to weight loss (and actually taste good), read on:
Go savory: 8 healthy snack ideas
Remember: If your savory snack contains protein, fiber, and healthy fats, it’s most likely a healthy choice. “I typically recommend combos that combine produce, whole grains, starchy veggies, satisfying protein, and fat-containing additions like nuts and nut butters, seeds, spreads—like hummus and tahini—hard boiled eggs, or cheese,” London says. Alternatives may include: