You look at the clock and realize there are still 2 hours until lunch break and groan “How will I survive?”. Your stomach’s getting noisier by the minute, but then you remember someone brought chocolate chip cookies to share, so you sneak off to grab one (okay, two). But before too long your hunger is back. “What gives? I just ate a snack!”
You’re not alone in wondering why your snack satisfaction just won’t stick, even if you just ate! The secret is in finding balanced snacks.
What is a balanced snack?
A snack can be anything that you nosh on in between meals from a sugary donut with an extra large soda, to a few handfuls of crunchy potato chips.
But a balanced snack? That is a mini meal that leaves you feeling full and satisfied – not sluggish and hungry soon after (1).
Balanced snacks include foods from more than one food group and include complex carbs for energy, plus fats, and/or proteins.
Your body craves carbs for energy, but carbohydrates work best when they come with “friends.”
Your body breaks these foods down more slowly, helping you maintain steady blood sugar levels between meals.
How to make a balanced snack
How about a few examples? Here are just a few of my top balanced snacks. They have more than one food group, and a variety of flavors, and textures. Plus, plenty of them are portable so that you can take them with you to work or as you run errands.
12 examples of balanced snacks:
- Apples (carbs) plus almond butter (protein + fat)
- Peaches (carbs) plus cottage cheese (protein + fat)
- Carrot sticks (carbs) plus guacamole (fat)
- Grapes (carbs) plus cheese slices (protein + fat)
- Dark chocolate (carbs) plus almonds (protein + fat)
- Tomatoes (carbs) plus mozzarella cheese slices (protein + fat)
- Apples (carbs) plus beef jerky (protein + fat)
- Oatmeal (carbs) plus peanut butter (protein + fat)
- Chia seeds (carbs) plus yogurt (protein + fat)
- Dried fruit (carbs) plus cashews (protein + fat)
- Celery sticks (carbs) plus hummus (protein + fat)
- Your favorite fruit (carbs) plus a hard-boiled egg (protein + fat)
How can balanced snacks curb cravings?
Throughout the day, our blood sugar level naturally rises and falls like the ocean’s tides, and it changes with every bite of food we take. When you eat sugary refined snacks like pastries, cookies, or fruit juices, your blood sugar spikes rapidly and then plummets – leaving you with a sugar crash and grumbling stomach not long after eating (2).
On the flip side, if you wait too long between meals, your blood sugar declines slowly and becomes unsteady. When this happens, those pesky cravings start to kick in. Oh yes, you know the ones… when the fudge-striped cookies in the back of the pantry start calling your name, begging you to put some sugar in your body.
The good news is, we can lessen those cravings and quiet the cookie’s call with healthy, balanced snacks by consuming carbs containing fiber and protein or fat for steady fullness!
For example, in one study, men were asked to add a high-fiber snack bar to their diet throughout the day. The results? On average, they ate 425 fewer calories over the day – without changing other daily habits like exercise or usual diet (3).
Adding balanced snacks between meals can stabilize dips in blood sugar, making you less likely to experience unwanted cravings. The perks of not thinking with your stomach? You’ll make more intentional food choices aligned with our health and wellness goals.
Do we need snacks at all?
Snacks can certainly be a great tool to maintain your blood sugar levels and keep cravings at bay. But not everyone feels the need to eat between meals. If the feeling of being tired and hungry between meal times doesn’t resonate with you, there’s no rule forcing you to squeeze snacks into your routine – even the balanced ones!
And if you are a snacker, keep in mind your activity levels change from day to day. You’ll likely be more hungry on a day with extra yard work (trust me, raking leaves feels harder than it looks), but you might be completely content going without snacks on a cozy, rainy day spent inside. Snacks are a great supplement to meals as needed, but they aren’t a strict daily requirement.
To snack or not to snack? That’s a question you’ll have to answer for yourself! It doesn’t hurt to have a few balanced snacks on hand for the days when lunch feels so far away. Just be mindful and intentional before indulging and ask yourself, “Am I hungry right now?” in case hunger is actually a cover for being thirsty or bored.
You may be wondering…are there risks of snacking, such as weight gain?
Do snacks cause weight gain?
The answer to this question isn’t a simple “yes” or “no.” Many factors affect weight gain, including the kinds of food we eat, our exercise levels, and our unique genetic makeup.
It’s important to note a person can consume more calories than the body uses in a day whether they eat snacks or not. And either scenario can lead to weight gain. But adding snacks to your diet doesn’t automatically cause weight gain.
Remember those guys we mentioned earlier who added a high-fiber bar to their diet? Adding a snack actually caused them to eat fewer calories throughout the day and lowered their hunger hormone levels. This is a perfect example of how balanced snacks can help you achieve your health and wellness goals when used as a tool to help you on your journey.
That’s not to say you can’t overdo it on snacks – even balanced snacks. Just be mindful of how much you’re eating and how often. It’s easy to get carried away and keep eating without realizing it with a phone in your hand or the TV playing. If you’re worried about eating too much, pre-portion your snacks in a little container. That way you’ll have a cutoff and won’t risk ruining your appetite for an upcoming meal!
The goal of introducing balanced snacks is to maintain blood sugar levels throughout the day so you can calm the urge to eat high-calorie, low-nutrient foods when hunger strikes. They also keep you from going too long between meals. When hunger builds up, it can be easy to overeat and consume more calories than intended.
“Yes” or “no” answers sure make things simple! But the truth is, pointing fingers at snacking and declaring it’s the sole cause of weight gain would be a pretty serious accusation. Other factors play a role like genetics, exercise, what/how much you eat during meal times, and even some medications (4).
Balanced snack success
How to put these tips into action for consistent energy? Here are my top 3 tips for consistent fueling throughout the day.
Plan to eat every few hours
If you wait much longer, it’s very likely you’re ignoring some hunger pangs and setting yourself up to overeat during your next mealtime.
While you don’t need to set a timer, it’s a good rule of thumb to remember to check in with yourself – and your hunger – every 3 or 4 hours.
For example, if you eat lunch at 12 pm but know you won’t eat dinner until 6 pm, you’ll likely need a balanced snack in between!
Eat snacks with 2+ food groups
Our bodies need carbs and are great at using them for energy, but they pair best with slow-to-digest protein, fiber, or fats!
By enjoying carbs with friends (fats and/or protein) you can prevent the sugar crash. You’ll enjoy having longer-lasting energy between meals. Plus, you’ll have fewer cravings that make you feel out of control around food.
Enjoy treats (with a nutrient-rich companion)
Sometimes you’re going to crave a sweet treat – me too! We’re human beings after all and there’s nothing wrong with eating something sweet by itself occasionally. But, if we choose to enjoy a sugary treat with something more nourishing, we can have more stable blood sugars.
For example, when I’m in the mood for a cookie, sometimes I’ll crush it up and sprinkle it into some Greek yogurt. This way I stay full for longer and my cookie becomes a balanced, more sustainable option.
Don’t seek perfection
It’s helpful to aim for balanced snacks most of the time – but hey, we’re human! When you have a snack that isn’t the most balanced choice, use the experience to learn about your body! Notice how long you stay full after a bag of chips or a quick cookie. You might find yourself searching for something else not long after, or needing a full meal sooner. It’s ok to have a not-so-balanced snack every now and again! Enjoy every bite and move on.
All this talk about snacks is making me hungry! How about you? If you’re ready to add some balanced snacks into your life, check out my free Conquer Your Cravings Crash Course with the Ultimate Balanced Snack Guide! You’ll learn more about why cravings happen and get guidance on meal time. But the best part is the balanced snack ideas and my Balanced Snack Formula so you can plan successful snacks every time.
[…] (Psst: check out my full blog about building balanced snacks here: Balanced Snacks to Fuel your Health Goals (RD Approved!)) […]
[…] is to simply eat something! Even if you know it’s not real hunger, I recommend prioritizing a balanced snack if you can. It will help you listen to your fullness faster and prevent overeating. Remember, […]
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