By Mohit Joshipura, M.D.
Americans are snackers. We consume more snacks than any other country in the world—nearly $30 billion worth of chips, pretzels, nuts, crackers and popcorn every year. And that doesn’t even include cookies and candy! We’re bombarded with ads for crunchy this and gooey that. Colorful displays in grocery stores, zip-in-and-zip-out convenience stores, and fast-food chains make it hard to resist foods that are loaded with too many calories, too much fat and have little nutritional value. Now we’re paying the price.
“As a nation we struggle with obesity,” says Mohit Joshipura, MD, a board-certified internal medicine physician at the USMD Las Colinas Clinic. “I have a good number of patients who are struggling with either being overweight or being obese, and unhealthy snacking can contribute to the problem.”
Snacking doesn’t have to be a bad habit. In fact, it can be a big boost to your health. Just be smart about your choices. The right snack will help you stay energized and focused throughout the day. Plus, it’s a great way to get more fruits and veggies into your daily diet.
Dr. Joshipura has some easy tips to help you snack right.
Avoid prepackaged foods.
“I see three main problems with packaged snacks,” says Dr. Joshipura. “First, they have a lot of preservatives. Fresh foods are always a better option. Secondly, packaged foods are usually more scant when it comes to the nutritional value. When you make your own snack, you have more control over what you’re putting in it and where the ingredients came from. And finally—and this is probably the most overlooked part—when people are eating out of a package or eating out of a bag, they often lose control over the amount of food they’re eating. Even if the food is not that bad for you in limited quantities, it’s too easy to put your fingers in a bag and then put them in your mouth. You end up consuming far more fats, carbs and sugars with packaged snack foods.”
Have a snack strategy.
With a little forethought, you can keep snacking healthy. For example, keep snacks around 200 calories or less. Always have a healthy nibble with you so you don’t cave to cravings for junk. Don’t snack while you are doing something else. Eating while you watch TV, answer emails or work make it easy to lose track of how much you are actually eating. Are you right-handed or lefthanded? Use your non-dominant
hand to help you eat more slowly and eat less.
Use snacks to fuel and nourish your body.
“There are always alternatives and healthy options for snacks,” says Dr. Joshipura. “Giving your body good food is important—especially if you have diabetes or any kind of metabolic syndrome that affects the way your body processes fats or sugars.”
Dr. Joshipura encourages individuals to incorporate the three macros of nutrition into snacks: protein, carbohydrates and fats.
Combine food groups for variety.
Select from at least two food groups to increase nutrients and keep you feeling full longer. Dr. Joshipura does this with two of his favorite snacks. “I like hummus—a Middle-Eastern dish made from cooked, mashed chickpeas blended with tahini, olive oil, lemon juice, salt and garlic,” he admits. “It’s high in protein, fiber, and has a good amount of unsaturated fat. I don’t always make my own, so when I buy it I read the nutritional label to make sure it’s not super high in saturated fat, cholesterol or sodium. Eat hummus with whole grain crackers, or even better, with carrots, celery or broccoli that are higher in vitamins, minerals and protein.”
Dr. Joshipura also likes to make mung bean salad. “It’s perfect when you’re tempted to snack on junk food.” Try his easy recipe:
In a bowl, combine:
– 1 cup whole sprouted mung beans (find them at Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s)
– ½ cup roasted peanuts, almonds or walnuts
– Dash of lime, salt and pepper
– Mix together
Eat fruits and vegetables.
They are full of vitamins, minerals, fiber and other nutrients, yet low in fat and calories.
Don’t forget nuts and seeds.
Although high in calories, nuts and seeds provide protein and healthy fat to keep you feeling full. Just eat them in moderation.
Choose whole grains.
Stick to whole grain versions of crackers, breads and pretzels (not the processed kind) to help keep energy levels up. Look for at least four grams of fiber per serving.
Trim down with these fat-fighting super-duos.
Make munching count with a fat-fighting duo that pairs protein with fiber. Not only does protein boost your metabolic rate so your body burns more calories, it also lowers insulin levels—a major contributor to belly fat! Fiber slows digestion to keep you feeling full longer. Try these easy protein and fiber combos.
1 large apple with 1 cup of low-fat milk
1 hard-boiled egg with a half cup of grapes
1 packet of instant unsweetened oatmeal sprinkled with cinnamon and chopped nuts
1 cup of low-fat Greek yogurt mixed with 1 cup of your favorite berries
1 cup of steamed in-the-pod edamame
1 100-calorie pack of almonds and a kiwi
1 wedge of reduced calorie cheese spread on 2 whole-grain bread crisps. Top with
Say goodbye to soda.
Having a hard time weaning yourself from sugary soft drinks? “I like coconut water, which has a subtle sweetness,” says Dr. Joshipura. “It is relatively low in calories. Unlike the meat of the coconut, which is high in saturated fat, the water of the coconut is not. It’s actually very high in potassium and is good for you in many ways.”
If you drink flavored waters, beware. “Some of them have a ton of sugar in them,” Dr. Joshipura warns. “Others use artificial sweeteners, which mean they have fewer calories, but the jury is really still out on artificial sweeteners.” If you don’t like plain water, add slices of fresh citrus fruits or smashed raspberries, blackberries or blueberries to add flavor.”
Mohit Joshipura, MD is board certified by the American Board of Internal Medicine. He earned his medical degree from Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center and completed an internship and residency at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas.