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The importance of snacking

Laura Lewis

To nosh or not to nosh — that is the question. Or is it? Surprisingly, most diet and nutrition experts agree that you should snack between meals. Yet, there are rules to the snacking game. Snacking on the wrong foods, snacking on too much food, snacking too often — and at the wrong time in the wrong place — can make you fat. Eating no snacks at all can cause weight gain, too. Confused? Here are all the rules you need to know to snack slim.

Woman eating whole wheat wrap

Reasons to snack


Avoid the starvation switch

Eating a healthful snack between meals prevents the body from switching into starvation mode. If the body goes without food for longer than four to six hours, its metabolic rate may slow down in a
biological response to food deprivation. The body reacts as if it is starving and conserves stored energy for later. This primitive metabolic feature may have been useful during Paleolithic times
when our ancestors hunted for big game, ate a feast and then went for several days without eating again. But for us, it means that the rate at which you burn calories slows down big time — and
anything more than the normal amount of calories you eat gets stored as (gasp!) fat. Umm, yeah.


Avoid the blood sugar roller-coaster ride

Your body converts food to glucose, the simplest form of sugar, which it uses for energy. Blood glucose levels must stay within a normal range so the body doesn’t think it’s starving.
Healthful snacking helps to maintain normal glucose levels( without spikes and dips) and prevents a nasty cycle that goes something like this:

  1. When blood sugar drops too low, food cravings increase — possibly causing emergency visits to the corner store for a giant Hershey’s chocolate bar and a Coke, a combo certain to produce
    a major sugar rush.
  2. In response, your pancreas releases a glut of insulin into the bloodstream; this insulin processes the sugars from your food and helps store the excess as fat.
  3. Lot of sugar means lots of insulin, which drops your blood sugar below normal, triggering — you guessed it — the same cravings that sent you in search of a candy bar in the first place. Plus,
    low blood sugar releases stress hormones, making things more complicated. Symptoms of low blood sugar, which may be subtle or dramatic, include mild depression, shakiness, mild to severe headaches,
    food cravings, impaired memory, blurred vision, violent outbursts, low sex drive, tinnitus (ringing in ears), joint pain, fainting, crying spells, phobias and more.  

Snacking on the right foods, at the right times, in the right amounts can help avoid these symptoms.

The snacking rules


Choose nutrient-dense snacks

Nutrient-dense snacks such as sliced red or green bell peppers, jicama sticks, celery, cucumbers, broccoli, snow peas and green beans can help maintain healthful blood sugar levels and
keep the metabolism revved. Pair them with hummus, fat-free cottage cheese, almond butter or salsa. Roll up a few turkey slices with low-fat provolone and dip in Dijon mustard. Fresh apples are a
great choice, too, as are fresh berries. Pair with slivered almonds, pistachios or walnuts for a balanced snack. Try hard-boiled egg whites stuffed with hummus or mashed fat-free pinto beans on a
low-carb whole-wheat tortilla. Avoid highly processed foods that are primarily refined flour, sugar and corn syrup; these can spike blood sugar, commencing the roller coaster ride. Avoid foods that rank high on the glycemic index


Count the calories

Keep your snack calories to less than those of a typical meal — no more than 150 to 200 calories. Instead of eating snacks straight from the box or bag, split them up into 100-calorie portions.
Learning portion size will help you realize and control the calories you are eating. Counting calories is no fun, but it beats gaining weight.


Timing is everything

Eat a nutritious breakfast. Snack number one should be scheduled for around 10:00 a.m. Eat lunch between noon and 1:00 p.m. Eat snack number two around 2:30 or 3:00 p.m., and dinner no later than
6:00 p.m. Have to have an evening snack? Stick with a healthful one and avoid the Haagen Daz.


Location, location, location

Eat while sitting down. Be conscious of eating your meal or snack. Don’t eat in the car. Don’t eat in front of the television, which can lead to “eating amnesia,” a major cause of
overeating and weight gain. Don’t eat at your desk. Find a quiet place. Sit down, chew slowly, really
taste your food and enjoy the eating experience


Kill old eating habits

Instead of eating ice cream in front of the TV every night, take a walk, read a book or take a long, luxurious bath after the kids go to bed. Make more time for your sweetie in the bedroom. Change
things up. Maintain a food diary and look at your eating patterns. If an activity always involves eating things you shouldn’t, then change the foods or change the activity entirely.

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