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June 03, 2022

Snacking can become a healthy habit with a little planning

Paying attention to what – and why – you're eating is a critical component to a dietary regimen. There are ways to ensure you're consuming nutritional foods

Men's Health 50-Plus Men
Healthy Snacks Nuts Source/Image licensed from Ingram Image

There are plenty of good-tasting alternatives to store-bought snacks, which tend to be high in sodium, sugar, fat and preservatives. Some options: a handful of roasted almonds or walnuts, Greek yogurt with peach slices or fresh berries, and baked apple crisps sprinkled with cinnamon.

Mastering our daily routines is at the core of maintaining a healthy lifestyle. What we do day-in and day-out – our ability to stay on course – is what defines our success. It is the unglamorous that so often has a major influence on our health and well-being.

One of my personal challenges is responding to the mid-morning and late afternoon hunger that I experience most days. With the regularity of a preschooler, I'm typically looking for something to fill the daily gap until lunch and dinner, preferably, something healthy that fits in the grab and go category. 

Easy? Well, its certainly not impossible, but, in my experience, it takes some time and a little thought.

I've learned that relying on the latest "healthy" power bar on the market isn't necessarily the best response. Based on my informal poll of co-workers, apparently, I'm not alone in the search for a healthy means to bridge the time between meals. Is there such a thing as a "healthy" snack? The experts seem to think so. Let's see what they say.

Highly active people need snacks

I started within my own workplace, Cooper University Health Care, and a conversation with registered dietician Josephine Raum, or Josie, as she's known. She works in Cooper's Bariatric and Metabolic Surgery Center and has more than a decade working in the field. Josie's counsel provided me with a great foundation and strategic direction. 

For starters, Josie said that it's important to understand the reason for snacking, explaining that a highly-active person needs snacks. She distinguished this need from emotional snacking, which can pose problems. So, for those who maintain a regular level of activity, hunger-driven snacking should be expected and can be an important part of your overall dietary regimen. With that established, let's see how other experts view healthy snacking and what they recommend.  

The American Heart Association reinforces Josie's point, saying that if you don't overdo it and choose wisely, snacking doesn't have to be a bad thing. The AHA suggests that "if you're smart about how you snack, you'll feel, and maybe even look, better." Among its recommendations for healthy snacking are apples and pears, whole grain toast with peanut or almond butter, dried fruits like raisins, dates and figs, and sparkling water in lieu of sugary drinks.

The National Institute on Aging notes that simple changes can make a big difference in meeting nutritional needs and reducing the risk of disease. The institute recommend adding sliced or chopped fruits and vegetables to your snacks. Baby carrots and hummus, celery with natural peanut butter, and yogurt are also part of their snack options.

And Sunrise, a Virginia-based organization that specializes in the needs of aging individuals, says two healthy snacks per day can help stabilize blood sugar, sustain energy and ultimately prevent overeating. Confronting the daily temptations we all face, the professionals at Sunrise remind us to avoid the lure of convenience offered by store-bought snacks because they are often high in sodium, fat, sugar, and preservatives. As an alternative, they recommend a handful of roasted almonds or walnuts, Greek yogurt with peach slices or fresh berries, and baked apple crisps sprinkled with cinnamon.

Snack strategically

It's clear from the experts that snacking has its place in your daily dietary habits and can serve an important role in meeting your dietary needs. There are plenty of good-tasting alternatives to store-bought snacks. To further enhance your snacking choices, and achieve your goals, there are some other considerations to bring into your strategy. 

Harvard University's T.H. Chan School of Public Health advises that it's important to identify the snack choices that give you the most satisfaction and get you through to your next meal. To enhance satisfaction, the scientists at T.H. Chan suggest whole foods containing protein, fiber and whole grains (e.g., nuts, yogurt, popcorn). And, if you simply need to subdue your hunger, they recommend something that is high in fiber and water that will fill your stomach quickly. As a guideline, your target should be about 150-250 calories per snack.

Their colleagues at Harvard Medical School offer additional tips such as avoiding mindless eating, carrying a small bag of healthy snacks to prevent the urge to grab calorie-laden cookies or candy at the coffee counter, and not interpreting emotions, such as stress and fatigue, as hunger.

The MD Andersen Cancer Center recommends that you focus on portion control by packaging your own snacks into single-serving containers to avoid overeating. The center pins the calorie count per snack at 200 or less.

And Rutgers University says that by placing healthier selections in the refrigerator or on the kitchen table, you can become accustomed to snacking on these foods.

Your plan

Most recently, I've adopted the use of sparkling water as a major part of my daily dietary strategy. At zero calories, it nails the caloric intake goals, and the bubbles give me the refreshment I've come to enjoy. It simultaneously helps with my hydration needs so it checks a couple of boxes. Nuts are another go-to of mine along with apple chips. When I need to get out from behind my desk and stretch for a few minutes, I'll take the three-minute walk to get fruit and spinach smoothie with almond milk. I still need to do a better job preparing individual bags of fruits, hummus and the like, as the experts recommend.

Like many things in life, the little things collectively make a big difference. Snacking cuts both ways. If you are active, it can help you sustain your positive lifestyle. Conversely, if you're snacking as a means to cope with other issues, think again. Snacking will become an unhealthy practice that can prompt all sorts of problems. The opportunity is yours. Don't overlook the chance to make a positive contribution to your lifestyle. It's no small thing.

Louis Bezich, senior vice president and chief administrative officer at Cooper University Health Care, is author of "Crack The Code: 10 Proven Secrets that Motivate Healthy Behavior and Inspire Fulfillment in Men Over 50." Read more from Louis on his website. 

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