Between-meal treats that won't blow your diet
By Colette Bouchez
Reviewed By Kathleen Zelman, MPH, RD/LD
It can happen when you least expect it ... or show up at about the same time every day. It's a "snack attack" -- that moment when the munchie monster grabs your appetite and won't let go!
Many people blame these between-meal urges for making it difficult to control their weight. But experts say it's not snacking in itself, but the size of the snacks, that can really do a dieter in.
"We are supersizing everything, but particularly snack foods. So even if you eat just one portion, it can really be like three portions, and that can definitely derail your diet," says Noralyn Wilson, MS, RD, a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association.
One way around the problem: Have your snacks, but keep them to 100 calories or fewer.
"If you focus on the calorie count, it can make it much easier to chose a snack and much easier to stick to your diet, and you can't stray too far if you only allow yourself that 100-calorie limit," says Christine Gerbstadt, MD, RD, a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association.
To keep your appetite in check, make sure those 100 calories contains a bit of protein, fiber, and fat, along with some carbohydrate. While junk food may satisfy your brain, it does little to satiate your hunger, says WebMD Weight Loss Clinic "Recipe Doctor" Elaine Magee, MPH, RD.
"These kinds of balanced snacks -- like some peanut butter on a whole-wheat cracker, for example, or a light cheese with a pear -- will satisfy your appetite as well as help reduce the amount of food you'll eat at the meal that follows," says Magee, author of The Change of Life Diet and Cookbook.
"When snacking becomes bad for a dieter is when you choose empty-calorie foods. If you're trying to keep your calorie count down, you want to make sure that you spend every calorie you have wisely, in terms of both satisfying your hunger and your nutritional needs."
And keep in mind that fat grams do matter. "In general, the snack should be less than 30% fat -- and, when possible, should not be laden with sugar," says Wilson.
And if you're craving something sweet?
"People hate to hear it, but a piece of fruit is really the perfect snack -- it's usually less than 100 calories and it can satisfy your sweet craving without adding too much sugar to your diet," says Wilson.
What to Do When Only a Cookie Will Do
Fruit is great, but let's face it: There are times when it simply won't tame the raging munchie monster. The good news is that experts say it's OK to indulge in a few cookies or chips as long as you eat reasonable portions.
Of course, that's not so easy to do when faced with a big box or bag of your favorite indulgence. So one major food manufacturer is now offering pre-measured, 100-calorie packages of its favorite treats.
Kraft/Nabisco is marketing "100-Calorie Packs" of things like Oreos, Chips Ahoy, Wheat Thins and Cheese Bits. Each grab-and-go package of 15-20 "bites" has 7-9 grams of sugar (except the Cheese Nips, which have 0), less than 3 grams of fat, and no trans fat.
Some say that having such pre-portioned foods at hand could help dieters get over the rough spots.
"Having these 100-calorie snacks can really help some people get through a bad time and still not totally derail, calorie-wise," says Wilson.
At the same time, Gerbstadt points out that these snacks aren't a particularly nutritious choice.
"Two to 2 1/2 teaspoons of sugar in each cookie pack is a lot," says Gerbstadt. "Would you eat that from a spoon, or put it in your coffee? Once in a while it's not going to harm you, but eating these cookies every day or several times a day -- well, the unhealthy effects are going to add up."
New York nutritionist Samantha Heller, MS, RD, says she is concerned because some of these treats contain high-fructose corn syrup. A few studies have indicated a possible link between high-fructose corn syrup and obesity that goes beyond calorie counts.
"More and more studies are starting to look at what high-fructose corn syrup does. It seems to metabolize a little differently than glucose ... so it may have greater consequences than regular table sugar. We just don't know yet," says Heller, a nutritionist at NYU Medical Center.
If price is a concern, these pre-packaged treats might disappoint you. They can be more costly per ounce than a regular box of cookies, which you could divide up into single-serving packets on your own (if you can resist the urge to sneak a few).