Snack Attack!

10 Ways to Have That Snack and Lose Weight

By Elaine Magee, MPH, RD
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic - Expert Column

Reviewed By Kathleen Zelman, MPH, RD, LD

Got cookies? How about chips? Chips, cookies, ice cream, candy bars, and crackers are the most popular snack foods. It comes as no surprise that they are generally our higher calorie, higher fat or sugar snack choices.

Do you feel guilty when you get a snack attack? You are not alone. Snacking has gotten a bad rap in the past but it isn't the act of snacking that gets us into trouble, it's the type of foods we tend to snack on that quickly puts us into fat and calorie overload.

Actually, eating smaller, more frequent meals/snacks can be particularly helpful. Small meals/snacks eaten about every 2 1/2 to 3 hours tend to translate into more stable blood sugars throughout the day. When you graze instead of gorge, you avoid extreme hunger and tend not to overeat at any one meal.

Our 2 Biggest Snack Mistakes

Mistake #1
We choose calorie dense, high-fat/sugar snacks that, while they have a lot of calories for a relatively small amount of food, aren't satisfying in the long run (such as candy bars and chips). Aren't we still hungry after we eat a small bag of chips or a 2 ounce candy bar? Was that 320 calories well spent?

Mistake #2
We choose high-carbohydrate snack foods (such as pretzels, bagels, or apples) that go through the digestive tract fairly quickly, staving off hunger for only a short amount of time. If we balance our quick carbs with some protein and some fat, the snack will be more filling and satisfying and will take longer to get through the digestive tract.

To snack and lose weight, it's important to choose snacks that:

  • are higher in fiber and important nutrients. Whole grains, beans, and fruits and vegetables contain fiber plus nutrients, and low-fat dairy and lean meats contain important nutrients, so your snacks aren't just contributing "empty" calories (calories without nutritional value).
  • include carbohydrates with lower glycemic indexes (fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, and nuts) so the energy from the snack won't hit your blood stream quickly and all at once, thus triggering another craving when it wears off.
  • are balanced with small amounts of protein and some of the more heart-helpful fats such as monounsaturated fats and omega-3 fatty acids. These more balanced snacks tend to feel more satisfying and filling, take longer to digest, and supply energy over a longer period of time. Plant foods such as nuts and seeds, soy foods, avocados, and olive and canola oils offer these helpful fats, and the nuts and soy also offer protein to balance carbohydrate-rich foods

The Snack Attack Plan

So, let's make a new Snack Attack Plan, shall we? To do this, we don't necessarily need to trade all of our Chips Ahoys in for carrot sticks or our carton of ice cream for a carton of yogurt. We can start by making smarter snack choices most of the time. Here are my 10 tips on how you can do this each day:

Tip 1: Soluble Fiber to The Rescue!

Foods rich in soluble fiber make for great snacks because soluble fiber leaves the stomach slowly, encouraging better blood sugars and making you feel satisfied longer. Here are some possible snack ingredients that are high in soluble fiber:

  • peas and beans (make a quick bean dip in the microwave with some vegetarian refried beans or have some cooked "edamame" soybean pods ready in the refrigerator)
  • oats and oat bran (make a batch of oatmeal flavored with low-fat milk, a little vanilla extract and cinnamon in the microwave -- or freeze a batch of blueberry oat bran muffins so you can grab one when you need a quick afternoon pickup!)

"We don't necessarily need to trade all of our Chips Ahoys in for carrot sticks or our carton of ice cream for a carton of yogurt. We can start by making smarter snack choices most of the time."

  • some fruits (apples, peaches, citrus, mango, plums, kiwi, pears, berries)
  • some vegetables (artichokes, celery root, sweet potatoes, parsnips, turnips, acorn squash, brussels sprouts, cabbage, green peas, broccoli, carrots, cauliflower, asparagus, beets)

Tip 2: Eat Slow-Release Snack Foods

The following foods, even in large amounts and if eaten alone, are not likely to result in a big rise in blood sugar. (Remember, we don't want food to hit your blood stream quickly, otherwise you're just going to feel hungry again shortly after.)

These are based on the American Journal of Nutrition's international table of glycemic index and glycemic load values. (Glycemic load considers the glycemic index of a food and the grams of carbohydrate that a reasonable serving size of that particular food contains)

  • meat
  • poultry
  • fish
  • avocados
  • salad vegetables
  • cheese
  • eggs
Tip 3: Go Nuts!

An ounce of nuts is a perfect healthy snack. An ounce of most nuts will add about 170 calories, 7 grams of carbs, 6 grams of protein, and 15 grams fat. (The higher amount of fat in nuts will take longer to digest and will help the snack seem more satisfying.)

  • hazelnuts and almonds are lowest in saturated fat
  • macadamia and hazelnuts are highest in monounsaturated fat (this is a very good thing)
  • pistachios and macadamia nuts are highest in fiber (about 3 grams per ounce)
  • walnuts have the most omega-3 fatty acids (also a very good thing).

Tip 4: Calling All Yogurt Fans

A container of light fruit yogurt (low fat and with artificial sweeteners) is a great snack at work or on the go. A 7-ounce container has about 13 grams of available carbohydrate and a glycemic index of 20, adding up to a glycemic load of only 2! Remember Tip #2 about the benefits of slow-release foods? Add some fresh fruit, ground flaxseed, or reduced-fat granola to yogurt to make a fun snack parfait!

Tip 5: Portable Fruit

Fruit can travel well in your car or briefcase and come in handy for a quick pick-me-up, many offering just enough carbohydrates with a nice dose of fiber. You can make a more balanced snack by enjoying your fruit with cottage cheese, yogurt, or some cereal and milk.

The following fruits have a low glycemic load (5 or less per serving):

  • Cherries, glycemic load of 3 per (4 1/4 ounce) serving
  • Grapefruit, glycemic load of 3 per (4 1/4 ounce) serving
  • Kiwi fruit, glycemic load of 5 per (4 1/4 ounce) serving
  • Oranges, glycemic load of 5 per (4 1/4 ounce) serving
  • Peaches (fresh or canned in juice), glycemic load of 4 per (4 1/4 ounce) serving
  • Pears, glycemic load of 4 per (4 1/4 ounce) serving
  • Plums, glycemic load of 3 per (4 1/4 ounce) serving
  • Cantaloupe, glycemic load of 4 per (4 1/4 ounce) serving
  • Strawberries, glycemic load of 1 per (4 1/4 ounce) serving

Tip 6: Get Your Whole Grain Snacks

The latest research suggests that people who eat whole grains have the lowest incidence of diabetes. They appear to increase the efficiency of insulin so that less is required to metabolize the sugar. (Lower levels of circulating insulin are believed to help discourage weight gain.) Use snack time as a time to work in some whole grains!

Tip 7: Eat Your Veggies

Cut up fresh, raw vegetables and serve them with a light ranch dressing, or with peanut butter, reduced fat cheese, or cottage cheese. Look past the basic salad greens and baby carrots and try jicama sticks (a refreshing, crispy white root), zucchini coins, bell pepper rings, or lightly cooked and chilled snow pea pods or green beans.

Tip 8: Try Trail Mix

The dried fruits in trail mix give you some fiber and carbohydrate calories, but the nuts help round the snack off with protein, fat, and some more fiber. (Tip: Stay away from those that include ingredients such as sesame sticks or dried banana chips that may contain trans-containing hydrogenated oils. If you choose a trail mix with chocolate chips or M&Ms, just make sure there is just a sprinkling).

Tip 9: Don't Shovel Down Your Snack

Snacks need to be eaten slowly, too, just like meals. Don't forget that it takes 20 minutes for your brain to get the message that you are full. Give that message time to work before you decide the snack didn't do the trick. Make a point of enjoying a flavored mineral water (the unsweetened, no-calorie kind) at the same time. This will help you eat the snack slower, too.

Tip 10: Don't Make Your Snack a Meal

Snacks should be around 150-200 calories -- just enough energy to tide you over until your next meal but not so much that it contributes as many calories as a meal.

Try half of a whole-wheat bagel toasted with a slice of reduced fat cheddar instead of the whole bagel (160 calories vs. 300). Or try a cup of minestrone soup instead of a big bowl for a snack (150 calories vs. 300)

And Finally

Be sure to join me on my Snack Attack message board. Every week, we have a new set of snack attack ideas for you, with such fun titles as Microwave Snack Mondays, Wacky Snack Wednesdays, and my favorite -- Sinful Snack Saturday!

Originally published Jan. 10, 2003.


According to the USDA, there is no difference between a “portion” and a “serving.” See Answer

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