Nutrition One Change at a Time

One Change at a Time: Healthy Snacking

Everyone loves a good snack to carry them over until the next meal, but a lot of the options on the grocery store shelves don’t provide a whole lot of nutrition and trick you into eating more than you think. With kids out of school for the summer break, it’s important that they are eating healthy snacks and not too much junk food.

To learn more about what makes a snack healthy and how to develop good habits, we sat down with Sarah Dishman, MS, RD, CSOWM, LD, the Chief Clinical Dietician at the Medical Center of Southeast Texas. Sarah, who has been with the hospital since 2016, is a registered and licensed dietitian and is also board-certified in obesity and weight management. Here’s what she had to say about healthy snacking:

Q: What specifically makes a snack healthy? Why is it important to follow good practices for healthy snacking?

A: No foods are really off limits; we just have to take them into account with our individual calorie goals. For example, if you’re trying to stay under 1,200 calories, you have to fit those snacks in there. A number of things can be considered healthy, but it really depends on your individual goals.

Q: Is snacking overall a good thing? Is it better to consume calories within full meals?

A: It’s actually really individualized. Some people can eat three full meals a day, but many have a hard time getting all of our calories within three different meals, whether it be time constraints or small stomachs. Again, snacking can be good if we allow it in our calorie bank account.

Q: Do you recommend waiting a certain amount of time before and after meals to have a snack?

A: Most snacks should be eaten one to two hours before meals (and that applies to children as well).

Q: What are some examples of healthy snacks that you might recommend?

A: One of the biggest things we have difficulty with is time. If you can prepare snacks beforehand and have them already portioned out, it’s going to make it easier to reach for a better snack. Some of my favorite low-calorie snacks that will keep you full include:

  • Apple or banana slices and peanut butter
  • Fresh cut vegetables with homemade ranch dressing using plain Greek yogurt instead of buttermilk or sour cream
  • Whole-grain crackers and low-fat slices of cheese
  • Quesadillas
  • Deli meat roll-ups with a little bit of cheese and mustard
  • Greek yogurt and granola

Q: What are some examples of unhealthy snacks to avoid?

A: Super-concentrated sweets such as candies, brownies, and cookies are fine as a treat once in a while but should not be consumed consistently. The sugar from these snacks absorbs into the bloodstream very quickly, causing blood sugar levels to spike and shoot back down again. When that happens, you find yourself hungry again after not too long, causing you to overeat.

Q: Is it best to vary the types of snacks you have throughout the day, week, season, or even year?

A: Yes! For fruits and vegetables, you should try to find snacks that are in season. They’ll be fresher, richer, and cost a little less. For example, summer is the best time for berries, stone fruits, and cherries.

Q: How can parents help their children develop healthy snacking habits?

A: Children often mimic their parents’ preferences. If a parent tells a child, “I hate carrots,” then the child is going to avoid carrots, so be careful when discussing foods you don’t like. Otherwise, it’s all about making it fun! A few interactive snacks that are great for children include:

  • “Ants on a log,” or peanut butter with unsweetened raisins on celery sticks
  • Layered yogurt parfait
  • Mini pizzas on an English muffin

Q: Can snacking be addictive? How do you help patients overcome their addiction?

A: Yes. When patients have trouble eating enough, I will help them keep track of their eating habits with a “food diary.” Often, it turns out that all they’re doing is snacking all day. When eating processed foods like Cheetos or Oreos, our brains receive a dopamine hit that encourages us to eat more. It’s easy to end up getting a whole lot of calories from snacks that really don’t offer any nutrition.

We have to be careful about planning out snacks and sticking to no more than two or three snacks a day so that we don’t exceed our calorie goals.

Q: What do you wish more people were aware of about snacking?

A: Food labels! Oftentimes, we think that a single bag of chips, for example, will be equivalent to one serving. However, even small items often include two or three servings in them. Always be sure to properly read the number of servings for each snack and not just the number of calories, because you might need to do some math to get the true number of calories.

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