Are you continuously snacking? Data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey shows that Americans have gone from eating an average of 3.9 times a day in the 1970s to eating 5.6 times a day in 2010. The percentage of daily calories coming from snacks has doubled, with snacking providing about 500 calories a day. If added to meals already consumed, such a snacking habit could lead to weight gain of a pound a week.
Snacking is not inherently bad. In healthy, normal-weight people, snacking seems to help them meet their daily energy needs and even helps incorporate more nutrients into their day. In contrast, obese children and adults tend to snack on foods that are high in calories but low in nutrients. So what you choose to snack on matters.
Anatomy of the ideal snack
The ideal snack contains three key nutrients: fiber, protein and healthy fat. This snacking trifecta keeps you full longer and stabilizes blood sugar levels, helping to keep cravings at bay.
Ideally, you want to choose a combination of whole foods to check off each nutrient. Yes, a protein bar might have all three nutrients. But prepackaged snacks often contain added sugars, sodium and saturated or trans fats that most of us do not need. Think of energy bars as your backup plan - but if you must keep some on hand, look for those that are have at least 10 grams of protein and two grams of fiber.
Instead of packaged protein bars, I recommend centering your snacks on fresh whole produce. You are likely not eating enough of this produce: According to the Centers for Disease Control, only 9 percent of American adults consume enough vegetables, and 12 percent meet the recommended intake of fruit. By focusing on produce, you will get some fiber along with water, to help you feel full for fewer calories. Vegetables and fruit also contain vitamins, minerals and antioxidants that are essential for your health and well-being. On top of all that, you will probably save money by building your own snacks around minimally processed foods.