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Forget your mother's advice not to snack between meals. Studies show that snacking can help you get and stay slim. (Losing even 5-10 pounds also can help reduce your total cholesterol.)
So follow the next four steps when choosing prepackaged or assembled snacks:
1. Snacks should be about 100-200 calories. If you are petite, older, or less active, stay on the lower end of the calorie range. If you are larger, younger, or very active, you can move to the upper end of the calorie range.
2. Snacks should have less than 10 percent saturated fat (less than 1 gram per 100 calories) and less than 35 percent total fat (4 grams or less per 100 calories). Snacks that include nuts or nut butter can contain more total fat, but make sure you watch the portion size.
3. Snacks should contain less than 35 percent added sugar (fewer than 9 grams per 100 calories).
4. Choose nutrient-dense snacks. They should have at least 10 percent of the Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) of one or more of these six important nutrients whenever possible: potassium, which lowers blood pressure; fiber, which may help lower cholesterol; vitamin A, which is important for vision; vitamin C, an antioxidant; vitamin D, for cardiovascular health; and calcium, for bone health.
Read on for seven tasty snack suggestions that incorporate key elements of our four steps to healthful snacking.
The snack: 1 cup fat-free Greek yogurt with a dash of Splenda and 1 tablespoon sliced or chopped nuts
The nutrition: 165 calories, 3.75 g fat (0.25 g saturated fat), 9 g sugar, 1 g fiber, 17% calcium
Tip: Don't sabotage yourself by choosing healthful snacks that don't taste good to you. "I often find that when patients eat snacks that don't satisfy their taste buds -- I call it 'eating around their cravings,' -- they end up eating more overall," says Melina Jampolis, M.D.
The snack: 14 carrot sticks (or baby carrots) with 3 tablespoons of Athenos Original Hummus
The nutrition: 105 calories, 4.5 g fat (0 g saturated fat), 6.5 g sugar, 3.5 g fiber, 110% vitamin A, 13% vitamin C, 2% calcium
The snack: A Thomas Light Multigrain English Muffin with 1 slice low-fat melted cheese
The nutrition: 165 calories, 3.5 g fat (1.5 g saturated fat), 3 g sugar, 4% vitamin A, 10% vitamin D, 28% calcium
The snack: One Blue Diamond 100-calorie almond pack along with a small apple
The nutrition: 180 calories, 9 g fat (0.5 g saturated fat), 17 g sugar, 170 mg potassium, 7 g fiber, 2% vitamin A, 8% vitamin C, 4% calcium
Tip: A 59-person study presented at the 2008 Obesity Society meeting suggests that pre-portioned 100-calorie snack packs not only help you cut calories significantly, they can also help retrain your eye to recognize correct portion sizes.
Bonus: Apples are one of the Cleveland Clinic's Top 40 food picks!
The snack: 3 Ak-Mak 100% Whole Wheat crackers and 1 triangle of Laughing Cow Light Swiss Original Cheese
The nutrition: 104 calories, 3 g fat (1 g saturated fat), 1.4 g sugar, 2.5 g fiber, 2% vitamin A, 6% calcium
Tip: Our eyes, as much as our stomachs, influence how much we eat. If you eat directly from a large container, you'll eat more.
The snack: EAS AdvantEDGE Carb Control chocolate drink
The nutrition: 110 calories, 17 g protein, 3 g fat (0 g saturated fat), 3 g fiber, 20% vitamin A, 45% vitamin C, 20% calcium
The snack: Kashi GOLEAN Roll! bar
The nutrition: 190 calories, 5 g fat (1.5 g saturated fat), 14 g sugar, 6 g fiber, 12 g protein, 20% calcium
Tip: When buying nutrition bars, aim for at least 10 grams of protein and 3 grams of fiber.
You want to feel satisfied, rather than wanting more after your snack. Foods that are high in water, fiber, or air have fewer calories per bite, so you feel full despite their low calorie count.
Water: Because water is calorie-free, foods that are higher in water, such as broth-base soup (pick low-sodium varieties), dairy (go for low-fat), fruits, and vegetables, can fill you up with fewer calories.
High-water-content food recommendations: yogurt, grapes, watermelon, and celery.
Fiber: Fiber is a type of carbohydrate that slows food digestion and absorption, so it will make you feel full longer. When choosing high-fiber foods, aim for about 2-3 grams of fiber per 100 calories.
High-fiber food recommendations: whole grain crackers, bread, cereal, apples, and berries.
Air: We respond to both visual and physical cues when it comes to feeling full. Because air-filled snacks take up more room with fewer calories, we often feel fuller.
High-air-content food recommendations: reduced-fat or air-popped popcorn without oil and whole wheat English muffins.