Story by Sarah Gold, TSET Healthy Living Program Specialist
I love snacking and am a sucker for snack foods; and research shows, so are most people. According to a survey done by the International Food Information Council, 97% of those surveyed snack at least once per week, and 57% of respondents have a snack each day. I usually have a snack break each afternoon, and I find myself looking forward to these times. Some of my go-to snacks are popcorn, fresh fruit, or a granola bar. Usually, I have this mid-afternoon snack sitting at my desk while catching up on emails or working on other tasks. However, in the midst of the COVID-19 epidemic, while I’m working at home and finding myself a bit more stressed than usual, my one mid-afternoon snack has turned into a full day of grazing on random foods that I find in the kitchen.
While there is nothing wrong with this, it’s not ideal for me when I have specific nutrition and fitness goals that I’m working to achieve. I’m usually a very routine eater. Snacking much more frequently has thrown off my meal schedule that normally works very well for how I function best. However, having a healthy snack can be beneficial. We live busy lives, and it’s completely normal to feel hungry between meals. Although our lives and routines might be a bit more relaxed right now, honor your body’s hunger cues and know that a snack can cause your energy levels to increase and your mind to be more alert. See below for tips and tricks on how to use healthy snacking to your advantage.
First, it’s important to be prepared. Anticipate that you will be hungry between meals and have healthy snacks planned out and take them with you if you are not at home. Harvard School of Medicine recommends taking healthy snacks with you so that you won’t succumb to the unhealthy snacks that may be in your office breakroom, at a store or coffee shop, or in a vending machine. The key to this is preparing healthy options ahead of time. The USDA recommends easy wins like fruit (fresh or dried), pre-sliced or chopped vegetables, low-fat string cheese, a single serving container of yogurt, and to-go packs of nuts.
Second, pick nutritiously dense foods that are lower in sugar and less processed in order to be full for longer. Whole foods such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains are your best choices. However, these don’t have to be boring. Try a new seasonal fruit or vegetable, make your own popcorn at home, use nuts and dried fruits to make your own trail mix or try roasted and seasoned chickpeas. If you pick a processed or prepackaged snack, the American Heart Association recommends checking the nutrition label for foods that are low in sodium and added sugar. Or, try to make a healthier version of your favorite packaged snacks at home.
Third, be mindful of why and when you are snacking. An article published by the Harvard School of Medicine recommends not snacking while doing another activity, such as watching TV, browsing the internet or playing on your phone. Snacking mindlessly can cause you to overeat, even if you have picked a healthy option. Additionally, try to assess why you are having a snack. Are you bored, anxious, or stressed? Try another activity such as yoga, going for a walk, reading, journaling, or calling a friend instead.
Lastly, drink more water. It’s easy to load up on sugar-sweetened beverages such as soda, coffee drinks, smoothies, or juices throughout the day, especially when we need a quick pick me up. Unfortunately, these drinks are often high in calories and added sugar. Instead, the USDA recommends drinking carbonated water, low-fat milk, or small amounts of 100% fruit juice. Ultimately, moderation is always key. For example, try cutting out one sugary drink per day, or even cutting out one per week. Little changes can make a big difference.
Ultimately, be kind to yourself and give yourself grace, especially considering we are living through a time period that can be very stressful and anxiety-provoking. If you would like to practice healthy snacking, try adopting one of the tips listed above, and see how it goes for a week or two. And at the end of the day, still feel the freedom to eat that cookie or bag of chips when you really want to. Food is not a moral issue, you are not a bad person for eating your favorite foods, and eating the things you love can be imperative for creating a healthy relationship with food.