Have you replaced sit-down meals with snacks? If so, you're not alone. A recent survey found that 40% of Americans prefer snacking throughout the day over three square meals. Snacks are great -- when they help you stay slim (or even lose weight) rather than add belly fat. The key to smart snacking is knowing when and what to nibble. Here are 5 tips to revamp your snack habits:
- Skip mid-morning snacks. A recent study of women on diets found that those who didn't have a mid-morning snack lost 4% more weight than morning noshers. Why? The gap between breakfast and lunch typically isn't long, and you're probably not really hungry for something by mid-morning (but someone brought in doughnuts and . . . well, you know how that story ends), which brings us to our next strategy.
- Follow the 5-hour rule. If there's more than 5 hours between meals, go ahead and have a snack. The break between lunch and dinner often is longer than 5 hours, and a late-afternoon snack will satisfy your appetite so you're less likely to overeat at dinner. The same study also found that afternoon nibblers tend to eat more fruits and vegetables compared to those who skip an afternoon snack, so well-planned afternoon snacks can help boost your nutritional bottom line, too.
- Add some protein. It helps you stay satisfied. Plus, protein helps you build muscle so you burn more calories and lose more weight. Good protein candidates include plain, fat-free Greek yogurt with walnuts, a hard-boiled egg, or peanut butter on celery or whole-grain crackers.
- Revamp your snack lineup. Clean out your pantry, fridge, and desk drawer at work. Toss out anything that has more than 4 grams of sugar per serving. Restock with healthy snacks, such as nuts, whole-grain crackers, fat-free yogurt, fruit, and cut-up veggies. If healthy stuff is on hand, you're less likely to visit the vending machine. (Pistachios vs. Pretzels: Which is the best snack?)
- Eat the same snack every day. Variety may be the spice of life, but it can spell trouble for your bottom line. A new study from Cornell University finds that the greater the variety of foods we eat, the more calories we gobble, so find your favorite healthy snack combo and stick to that.