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Smart snacking can reduce your appetite and weight

November 4, 2008

Your Personal Trainer,
Olivia Rossi, RN, MSN, ACSM

No doubt you’ve heard the admonition to avoid between meal snacks but avoiding snacks can do more harm than good when it comes to healthy weights.  Snacking is a way to maintain weight, lose weight and even help to keep from gaining weight during the holidays because eating a healthy snack may keep you from taking a second or third helping at your next meal. The right kind of snacking can lead to good appetite control and more consistent blood sugars.  Since your stomach empties approximately every three hours, you can anticipate that and plan ahead with a nutritious snack.  This is especially helpful if you have a tendency towards hypoglycemia, low blood sugar, which can manifest itself in feelings of light-headedness, confusion, shaking and sweating.

Snacking takes planning.  Eating a snack that is handy can often be high in refined carbohydrates such as a doughnut or a candy bar and may trigger an insulin response that produces hypoglycemia.  The resultant hunger is typically satisfied by eating other refined carbohydrates which will satisfy your hunger urge only temporarily.  By planning ahead with nutritious snacks, you can avoid the steep declines in blood sugar and its accompanying ravenous hunger.  So what are nutritious snacks?

Nutritionally speaking, snacks should include carbohydrate and protein.  Protein slows digestion and helps to keep blood sugar levels up longer so you don’t feel hungry as quickly.  A little fat also helps to give you that feeling of satiety or satisfaction.  The type of carbohydrate is important and should be complex versus simple, for example, a whole wheat bagel versus a cupcake.  An example of a nutritious snack is a whole wheat mini-bagel with some low fat cream cheese–under 200 calories if you’re counting.  Another is a piece of celery with some crunchy Adam’s peanut butter and a few raisins on top–bugs on a log!  Add a small glass of non-fat milk and you’ll be ahead of your hunger.  This is one of my favorite snacks.  It has high satiety value because of the crunch, the nuttiness and the sweetness of it.  Snacking is also an especially good time to catch up on your calcium intake, so non- or low-fat yogurt is another good choice.  Nut butters, hummus and whole wheat pita bread are some other good choices and don’t forget the old standard, an apple and a slice of cheese.

Recent research has shown that a good ratio of carbohydrate to protein is between 3:1 and 4:1.  The above examples fit into that category.  For instance, the whole wheat mini-bagel contains 22 grams of carbohydrate and about 5 grams of protein, as does the apple and cheese.  For those occasions when you don’t have the time to prepare a snack, I’d like to add a word about nutrition bars and some of the better ones to keep handy.  Many granola bars are high in carbohydrates and sugar with very low levels of protein.  For instance, Quaker Chewy Granola bars have 20 grams of carbohydrate and less than 2 grams of protein, a 10:1 ratio while a Kashi Go Lean Protein and Fiber bar has 28 carbohydrate grams and 8 protein grams, a ratio of about 3:1.  Check the labels and divide the number of carbohydrate grams by the number of protein grams.

The important thing is to eat some protein with your snacks.  Any activity requires fuel and the more active you are, the more fuel your body needs.  A mid-morning snack can help to short-circuit ravenous hunger at noon or later in the day.  Physiologically speaking, eating multiple smaller meals may help to suppress your hunger and keep your blood sugar on an even keel.  Throughout your day, keep your hunger satisfied with smart snacking.  Think of a snack as a mini-meal.  Keep a supply of nutritious snack foods at home and take them with you to work.  That way, you won’t be tempted to snack on what’s there.  Happy snacking!

Yours in fitness,

Olivia Rossi, RN, MSN, ACSM
Certified Clinical Exercise Specialist, ACSM
Certified Personal Trainer, ACSM

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Discuss this article

Kay November 4, 2008

What great information! I’d never heard about the carbo/protein ratio. It makes such sense. I’ll read my labels in a new way from now on! Thanks Olivia!

Elaine November 4, 2008

Thanks for the reminder of eating snacks. I have found that because of my work schedule in the morning it is hard to sit down and eat a breakfast. What if any are good things to eat for breakfast on the run. So far I am eating string cheese, but I feel I need to add something to it. I really enjoy your tips. Thank you.

Evergreen November 4, 2008

Be ahead of your hunger? My hunger leads me. I hate to admit this but I use coffee to quell my hunger. I knwo it is bad, but caffine is an appetitte suppressant and works its goal. It also keeps me awake. I know that coffee brings other issues. Who knows maybe I might try a little smart snacking.

no name November 4, 2008

Do not get me started about granola bars. The good ones are hard to find. Just look at the nutrition label and you will notice that there is no vitamins, no fiber, no calcuim, and maybe a wee bit of protien. Why eat those bars? Not to mention the high sugar/fat in them. The difference between such bars are big. Pay attention.

Olivia November 4, 2008

Elaine, any of the snack ideas I talked about make quick breakfasts. You can also add to your string cheese with one of nature’s best, pre-packaged on the run foods, a banana. A low fat yogurt and a banana is one I take to work with me when I have to be there really early. Another idea: raisins, walnuts and Cheerios in a baggie is a great way to graze through the morning. If you have access to a carton of milk at work drink that along with your “breakfast in a baggie.” Just think about having some carb, protein and a little low fat and breakfast can be any number of things.

Olivia November 4, 2008

To “no name” . . . I totally agree with you on Granola Bars. They shouldn’t be called “nutrition” bars at all. That’s why I talked about looking for some of the better ones. They are usually with nutrition items in the grocery store whereas the Granola bars are usually found in the cereal aisle. Granola cereal is pretty high in sugar, too. I have a recipe for granola that makes a large quantity and lasts awhile. I like to put it into a baggie with nuts and raisins and have it as a handy snack. That way I know what’s in the granola. Thanks for your comment.

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