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How snacking fits into your weight loss plan

Michele Borboa, MS is a freelance writer and editor specializing in health, fitness, food, lifestyle, and pets. Michele is a health and wellness expert, personal chef, cookbook author, and pet-lover based in Bozeman, Montana. She is also...

Snack more, weigh less

Whether you're striving to lose a substantial amount of weight or those last five pounds, cutting calories -- or exercising them off -- is essential to reaching your weight loss goal. The key, however, is making sure you don't reduce your food intake so much that you power down your metabolism. Though snacking between meals seems an unnecessary (and all too easy) way to consume extra calories, research shows that healthful, well timed snacks actually can help you lose weight. Here's how.

Woman on Scale with Apple

Snacking is a natural way to rev your metabolism

A caffeine and herbal stimulant diet may stoke your metabolic fires, but the effects are temporary and can even be dangerous. A balanced diet that includes strategically timed snacks is a safer, more effective way to keep your metabolism primed. Research shows that eating five to six smaller meals throughout the day is healthier than eating two to three larger meals that are several hours apart. The reason? As a protective mechanism, your metabolism naturally slows down when your body feels starved. Small, healthful snacks between meals ensures that your body feels adequately fueled and will keep your metabolism functioning at its peak.

Sensible snacks can deter overeating

Ignoring those mid-morning or -afternoon hunger pangs in hopes of reducing your daily caloric intake can actually derail your diet and cause you to binge. Once you finally sit down to a substantial meal, you'll probably overeat -- it's hard to resist second or third helpings when you have a ravenous appetite. Noshing a small, sensible snack when your tummy starts grumbling may seem like it's contributing unneeded extra calories to your daily diet, but it may ultimately save you hundreds of calories by warding off a food binge at your next meal.

Snacks that won't wreck your diet

Smart snacking will keep you energized and satisfied

When you hit that eye-drooping, head-nodding 10 a.m. slump or 3 p.m. lull, your body is trying to tell you it needs something (and, no, it doesn't need a triple-shot latte and jumbo muffin). If you are well rested, that lack of elan is due to a dip in your blood sugar levels. Your blood sugar or glucose levels rise in response to food, making you feel up, alert and full. As your body metabolizes your last meal, your blood sugar levels fall and take your energy with them. A healthy snack wards off the caffeine and vending-machine temptation while giving you a sustained energy boost.

Strategically timed snacks will improve your workouts

Having a light snack one to three hours before your workout will give your muscles the fuel to power through exercise and even help you burn more calories (you'll have more energy to put into your fitness moves). Eating a snack within one hour after your workout will raise your blood sugar, replenish your muscles and facilitate recovery, priming your body for your next bout of exercise. A post-exercise snack also will keep you from feeling starved and overeating hours later.

Snacking around workouts: Do's and don'ts

Healthy snacks can improve your diet

Restricting calories can help you lose weight, but it also can result in nutritional deficiencies. Paring down your substantial meals and adding nutrient-rich snacks to your diet will help you meet your daily vitamin and mineral needs. Opt for snacks composed of fruits, vegetables, high-fiber whole grains, lean proteins and healthy fats; these foods are dense in nutrients but lower in calories than junk food.

Snack in moderation

Getting the green light to snack between meals does not mean heading straight to the junk food aisle or eating haphazardly all day. Snacking will help you lose weight only if you approach it in moderation. Listen to your body: If you aren't hungry mid-morning or mid-afternoon, hold off on a snack; you still could be full from your last meal. Additionally, keep your snacks small; they are meant to tide you over until your next substantial meal, not add one or two equally sized meals to your day.

15 Snack ideas under 100 calories

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