Snacking is good for you! But before you race to the vending machine with a license to snack, keep in mind that nibbling can make or break the nutritional quality of your diet, your stamina, and even the quality of your workout if you exercise, depending on what you choose. Healthy snacking curbs hunger and prevents overeating later in the day. It also encourages the body to burn the calories for energy, rather than store them as fat, as well as helps lower blood cholesterol levels and possibly even lower diabetes risk.
The secret is not to add more snacks to your usual diet, but to divide your current food intake into five or six little meals. In other words, have the oatmeal with raisins and a bowl of watermelon for breakfast, but save the glass of milk and banana for the mid-morning snack. Have a sandwich, raw vegetables, and tomato juice for lunch, but save the dessert of yogurt and fruit for the mid-afternoon snack. Dine on spaghetti, salad, and steamed vegetables in the evening, then have the slice of French bread and a cup of nonfat cocoa for a late-night snack.
So how do you snack right? Just follow these four rules:
? Keep it simple. A healthful snack takes little preparation and is always in easy reach.
? Combine carbohydrates with protein. Carbohydrate-rich foods, such as whole grain bread, crackers, and pasta or sweet potatoes, fruit, and cereal, help replenish blood sugar and muscle glycogen that you burn throughout the day and during exercise. Protein helps keep you satiated and curbs swells in blood sugar that sometimes result from eating carbohydrates alone.
? Mix and match. Include at least two of the following at each snack: fresh fruits, vegetables, and/or whole grains. Include one of the following at each snack: nonfat milk, yogurt, or cheese; a slice of extra lean meat, fish, or chicken; cooked dried beans and peas; nuts or nut butters.
? Only minimally-processed foods. Choose foods in their natural states. Snack on oatmeal not a granola bar, a baked potato not potato chips, nonfat yogurt not ice cream, and a slice of whole grain bread not a doughnut.