6 Ways to Snack Smarter
To Munch or Not to Munch?
Are little bites throughout the day good or bad for your waistline? Nutrition gurus just can't make up their minds. On the one hand, even healthy snacks could be a major contributor to rising levels of obesity (we eat twice as many a day as we did 30 years ago). But on the other, nutritious nibbles are one of the top ways to stave off hunger and help you make better food choices all day. Who knew that baby carrots could be so darn controversial? To cut through the confusion, we ID six strategies of smart snackers so you can have your midday munchies and eat them, too.They Plan Snacks
Although you wouldn't sit down to an extra lunch or dinner, an extra snack seems harmless. Beware: A day's worth of noshes can add up to a meal's worth of calories. If you have an apple with two tablespoons of nut butter midmorning, scarf down a handful of pretzels after lunch, grab a cup of low-fat yogurt to power through a long afternoon, and munch on a bowl of popcorn at 9:00 p.m., you've eaten an extra 600 calories (hello, that's dinner!). Two snacks -- one midmorning and one midafternoon -- are probably all you need, says Susan B. Roberts, PhD, a professor of nutrition at Tufts University and a coauthor of The "I" Diet.
So instead of grazing willy-nilly, map out your snacks in advance. "Take your total daily calories and divide them into three equal-calorie meals and one or two 200-calorie snacks," says Julie Upton, RD, a coauthor of The Real Skinny. For a 2,000-calorie diet -- what the typical active woman needs -- that's 533 calories each for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, plus two 200-calorie extras. (If you eat lightly in the a.m., steal 150 calories from breakfast and tack them onto supper, so you have 383 for breakfast, 533 for lunch, and 683 for dinner.)They Don't Eat Like Clockwork
There's a fine line between planning healthy snacks and eating on autopilot. We've all heard that you should eat every two or three hours to keep your metabolism revved and make sure you never feel desperate for food. But if you're not hungry, you're taking in unnecessary calories and screwing up your system's satiety signals. "If you graze all day, you never really experience the right degree of hunger," Upton says. "Instead of eating just because it's time, watch for your body's hunger cues: a preoccupation with food, an empty sensation in your stomach, lightheadedness, or extreme tiredness."
Exposure to round-the-clock snack foods can also activate the reward center in your brain, according to research from the University of Exeter in England. The result? You end up wanting to eat more, even though your physical appetite is satisfied. Next time you think you're hungry between meals, try the apple test. If you're really hungry, a Granny Smith will sound good, and you should eat something (get ideas from "Make Over Your Munchies," on page 3). If a candy bar is the only thing that sounds appealing, you're probably just bored or tired. Get a pick-me-up from a walk around the block or a glass of H2O. "When my energy is low and I'm craving junk but not hungry, I reach for seltzer. It rehydrates me, so I'm more energized, plus the bubbles are filling," says Georgie Stergakos, 25, a FITNESS reader in New York City.
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