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Snacks: Fueling Your Metabolism or Adding Unnecessary Calories?

By Monique Richard MS, RDN, LDN

The right snack can keep you on track

Fueling Your MetabolismDo you feel like you are starving when you get home from class, work, or a workout? Do you often grab the first thing you see or overindulge in dinner because you have gone so long in between meals?

Some studies have suggested that Americans consume up to 25% of their daily calories from snacks alone, even more (50%) when sugary beverages are calculated in. When the calories are from soda, candy bars, chips, or other less than stellar nutrient packed processed food-like substances, snacking can be detrimental to your overall diet. However, if you are making the right snacking choices while controlling portions, snacking can be highly beneficial.

Benefits to Snacking
There are many benefits to adding snacks to your well-balanced meal plan. Snacks can:
• keep blood glucose levels steady, allowing mood, energy, and focus to be at optimal levels.
• add vital nutrients that may be lacking from breakfast, lunch, or dinner meals.
• allow for the GI tract to be regulated and promote normal bowel movements. The ease of frequent small meals may be easier to digest and absorb for some people with more sensitive systems.
• enhance memory and brain function, since the brain thrives mainly on glucose (fuel from carbohydrates) you may be more attentive and efficient with processing, assessing, and executing cognitive tasks.
• deter you from making impulsive choices regarding dinner or other meals due to elevated hunger, possibly saving you in the fat and calorie department.

Low calorie power snacks
Here are some ideas for taking down the hunger pangs with an added boost of nutrient-dense  power.  Please  note calorie counts are approximate and may vary slightly depending on source, brand, manufacturers or processing methods, and size of food.

100 calorie pack (packed by you for a more nutritious punch vs. pre-packaged items)
• 1 medium plum, small orange, or small apple + 8 ounce cappuccino with skim milk
(or non-dairy milk alternative)
• Microwave a medium diced apple for 1 minute sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar, stir, and then microwave for 30 more seconds. Top with just a sprinkle of crushed almonds or walnuts.
• 1 mini Lara or Kind Bar
• Snack pack of peanut or almond butter with six celery sticks

150 calories
• Toast a low-fat whole grain waffle, top with 1 tsp low-fat cream cheese or cottage cheese and fruit spread or fresh berries
• 6 ounce non-fat plain Greek yogurt with ½ cup each of strawberries and blueberries, or sprinkle with granola
• 5 whole-grain crackers with 2 Tbsp. hummus
• 1 medium banana with 1 Tbsp. peanut butter

200 calories
• 1/3 cup trail mix (equal parts raisins, nuts, and seeds)
• Smoothie with a banana, ½ cup low-fat regular, soy, or almond milk, 1 Tbsp. each of chocolate whey protein powder and cocoa, and ice. Blend until smooth.
• 1 piece dark chocolate, 6 dried apricots, 1 inch cube of your favorite cheese
• ½ cup old-fashioned oatmeal topped with cinnamon, cranberries, and a dash of honey

A lot of these snack ideas are easily portable and very quick to make. If you keep your snacking calorie quota to about 100-200 calories each time and to two snacks a day, you should still have room for your healthy meals, feel satisfied, and be ready to attack whatever is on the agenda. Of course, meeting with a registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN) will help ensure you are meeting your individual calorie and nutrient needs while modifications related to medical conditions, allergies and environmental factors can be adjusted specifically for you.

Sources:
http://www.realsimple.com/health/nutrition-diet/nutritious-snacks-00000000018150/page3.html
http://www.shape.com/latest-news-trends/new-study-americans-snacking-more-ever
Ventrelle, J. Slayton L, Middleburg, S. RD Munchie Madness, Self, Summer 2010.

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