If you’re hungry, there is most likely a snack within reach. Whether you’re on the road, at the mall, or even in your own home, food temptation is everywhere. Too much snacking can lead to weight gain or obesity, so it’s extremely important to be smart when you feel a craving coming on, as discussed in a recent ABC News article by Leslie Goldman.
According to a study published in The Journal of Nutrition, roughly a quarter of the calories in the American diet come from snacks, and that figure has jumped 41 percent in the past 20 years. Additionally, snacks in general have more calories than ever before. This could explain why the obesity rate among adults has increased from 15 percent to 34 percent over the last 30 years.
One big mistake that a lot of people make is snacking too much between meals. We’ve heard from nutritionists that five or six “mini meals” can help you to lose weight, however, too many people add two or three smaller meals to their regular-sized meals and end up consuming many more calories than necessary.
People are also fooled by the names of some snacks that sound much healthier than they are. According to a study in the Journal of Consumer Research conducted earlier this year, researchers found that people tended to consume more when a food had a description such as “fruit chews” than when the identical snack was called “candy chews.” And then there is the snack-size packaging, which was supposedly introduced to help us manage our eating. Instead, it causes consumers to not feel satisfied after just one pack, so they eat multiple packs, which leads to overeating.
Many people also see snacks as a reward because they tend to be sugary, fatty, or salty. They also trigger the release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that elicits feelings of euphoria. These kids of feelings won’t come from a salad.
According to Women’s Health weight loss columnist Keri Glassman, the secret is simple: you have to rethink what a snack is- or isn’t. For example, dessert is not a snack. “It can be real food, like a packet of oatmeal with 10 walnut halves sprinkled on top,” she says.
A 2010 Journal of the American Dietetic Association study found that people who were given the same snack, either whole or cut into halves, consumed half as much when eating the latter, possibly because they considered only the number of items (not the size of the items), they ate. This information can be useful for anyone following a portion-controlled weight loss diet.
Women’s Health advisor Susan Albers, Psy.D., has a few tricks she uses to avoid mindless snacking. Do not eat from a serving bowl, out of a big bag, or while standing at the kitchen counter. “Everything I eat goes onto a dish, which helps me keep portion control in mind,” she says.
Chewing also plays an important role in snacking (and eating in general). Besides helping you feel full, chewy foods may brighten your mood also. A 2009 study in Physiology & Behavior suggests that the act of chewing can decrease the level of stress hormones in the body. The mechanism may be physiological or psychological.
Maura Scott, Ph.D. recommends making your own snack packs by putting small portions of your favorite snacks into plastic Ziploc bags. Scott believes that homemade servings don’t trigger the same overeating of store-bought packs because the size of the food isn’t deceptively smaller. The amount you’re allowing yourself to eat is limited, preferably to a portion that satisfies you.
For some homemade snack pack ideas, eat these foods without limits: air-popped popcorn, raw veggies, and fresh fruit. Enjoy these snacks, with some limit: one hardboiled egg with sea salt and black pepper (70 calories), a one-ounce chunk of Parmesan (110 calories), or three slices of turkey breast wrapped in lettuce with mustard (70 calories). Portion control is key with these nutritious but high-calorie snacks: half an avocado with lemon and sea salt (160 calories), a quarter cup of raisins or other dried fruit (123 calories), about 15 nuts or one tablespoon of all-natural nut butter (100 calories), or two tablespoons of hummus (50 calories).
So next time a snack craving hits, be smart about what you eat! Calories can really add up quickly, so it is important to choose your food carefully.