Walking can form the core of a health and fitness plan that gets you more energy, improves your physical health and helps maintain a healthy weight. Even without all of the walking that you’re doing, many people feel the urge to snack during the day. Snacking can be a healthy way to maintain your energy levels and prevent you from overeating during meals – if you do it correctly! Snacking can be your best ally or your worst enemy – whether your goal is hitting 10,000 steps a day or burning off stubborn belly fat.
The instinct to snack can be good for many people, as some people don’t feel their best eating 3 meals only during the day. The right kind of snacking can actually reduce the number of calories (especially unhealthy calories) you eat in a day by reducing your overall hunger and extending your energy cycles. A light pre-walking snack can power you through a long walk, or a post-walking snack may help you recover from an intense walking workout. The problem is that most of us snack on the wrong things. And for the wrong reasons.
In this two-part series we’ll cover some important tips on snacking for health and weight loss, followed by a ton of tips on healthy snacks you can easily prepare yourself. Together, these tips can help reduce hunger without ‘using up’ all the calories you’re burning on daily walks.
We’ll Be Exploring
- Why we snack
- What goes wrong with modern snacking
- How to snack for satisfaction and weight loss
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We’re Born to Snack
The urge to snack may go all the way back to our hunter-gatherer ancestors. Before agriculture, our ancestors ate whatever they could find as they went along. This could start with a handful of berries here, a dug-up root vegetable there. Mix in harvested nuts, the occasional fruit, a few bird’s eggs and hunted meat if it was available, you have a hunter-gatherer’s daily diet.
This doesn’t mean that eating this way is the best thing to do now that we have more choice and a more stable food supply. It does mean that we’re born with the urge to snack when snacks are easily available.
It’s also worth noting that our hunter-gather ancestors were much more active than we are today. The act of obtaining food in itself required a lot of walking around, climbing, searching and carrying items. When food became available, it often made sense to eat some of it as it was difficult to carry and there was no guarantee it would be there next time.
How Snacking Goes Wrong
There’s nothing inherently wrong with snacking – eating small meals or small amounts of food during the day. Calories are calories after all – whether you’re eating them all at one time or spread out throughout the day. When combined with a modern, less active lifestyle and the habit of also eating 3 large meals daily, snacking can often be a big impediment to maintaining a healthy weight.
Consider many of the popular modern snack options that are widely available and easy to grab and eat, like potato chips, cookies, soda and sweets. They’re often loaded with salt and sugar, which makes them taste good (at least initially) and often leads people to eat more and more. You probably know many of these snacks are not good for you, but here’s why:
Empty calories, sugars and more
Often, you feel the urge to snack when you start to lose energy. In the morning, it could be your body saying “I’m out of breakfast energy.” Sugary snacks (like candy) or fat/carb-heavy snacks (like chips) might seem like good sources of energy, and in reality they actually are. Sugars are quickly absorbed and used by the body. That’s why sports drinks are basically sugar water. But these snacks have some major drawbacks – they’re high in calories and don’t make you feel full.
The energy burst you get from sugar and refined carbs are temporary. You will usually get a spike of energy that quickly drops off. You may find the “sugar crash” worse than the original figure. If you do feel you need a sugary snack, eating something like a banana or an orange can give you some sugar along with nutrients and fiber that will keep you feeling full longer. Even if you don’t feel the crash, sugary snacks usually don’t keep you feeling full. You could probably eat candy until you feel sick, but how long could you snack on something like broccoli before you had to take a break?
Forgetting to Count Beverage Calories
A common snacking mistake is to forget to account for calories from drinks. Sugary sodas are high in calories and have little nutritional value. That’s relatively common knowledge, but many people don’t consider the calories in things like fruit juices or coffee drinks. A pumpkin spice latte could have up to 500 calories – about the same as a decent-sized burger!
While you may be drinking these beverages for the caffeine or the cold fizzy wake-me-up, check the calories on your favorite drinks. You might be surprised just how many calories you’re drinking in a day. We often add high-calorie drinks to our meals without thinking about them, but they generally don’t decrease the amount that we eat. You’ve probably had something like a burger with a milkshake, but you probably wouldn’t order 2 large burgers!
A major problem with liquid calories is that they usually don’t make you feel full. This has been borne out by studies, but it’s also common sense. Even fat-heavy beverages like milkshakes or blended coffee drinks are easier to get through than their solid food companions. Some drinks, like pulpy orange juice or coconut water do contain some fiber, which can at least make you feel a bit more full.
Oversized Snack Portions
While some snacks are sold in portion-sized containers, most are sold in large bags or boxes. You’re expected to know what the serving size is, take that much out and stop at that amount. Or, more likely, companies simply use the “serving size” or portion size to make the calorie content of snacks look smaller while understanding full well that people usually eat more than that.
When hunger hits, your body often tells you to eat as much as you can get, or eat until you feel full. That may have made sense when a handful of nuts might be all you could find for the day, but in the modern world it’s a recipe for overeating. It can take up to 20 minutes to feel full from eating, but in that time you can eat a lot of salty or sugary snacks.
Snack Healthy to Support Your Walking Program
So how do you snack healthily in a way that fuels your body without packing on useless fat-building calories? There are a few simple tips that you can use that will help you snack more effectively.
Cut the Calories
If you’re going to snack, it’s better to snack on low-cal items. Often, all your body needs is something to digest so you won’t feel hungry. This means focusing on low-calorie, high-volume snacks like vegetables and fruits.
A good rule of thumb is to look at the serving size of whatever you’re snacking on. Nuts, for example, contain a variety of healthy fats and other nutrients. They are very calorically dense, however, with small serving sizes. Cut vegetables are extremely low in calories, but you might need to add something to make them an attractive snack. If you line up 100 or 200 calories of potential snack options, you’ll have a better sense of whether it’s going to make you feel full.
Protein for Power
Protein takes longer to digest, and packs a major punch in the energy department. Protein is also essential for building muscle, which is important as you walk your way to fitness. You don’t necessarily need to be eating meat to get protein. Beans, tofu and a lot of other foods are high in vegetable protein.
Fiber for Fullness
Fiber is a component in food items that can’t be fully digested by your body. It passes through your digestive system, helping to clean it out and making you feel more full. Fiber is what allows vegetables, many fruits, and whole grains to provide you with a filling meal without stacking on the actual calories. A handful of baby carrots has fewer calories than a credit-card-sized slice of cheese because of fiber.
Choosing snacks higher in fiber can help you feel full longer. They’re also less nutritionally dense, since fiber has less calories than a similar quantity of sugar or fats. Fiber that can be digested also digests more slowly, which means it will take a reasonable amount of time before you feel hungry again.
One of the biggest draws for bad snacks is that they are often conveniently packaged, readily available and easy to grab. You can fight this by preparing your own healthy snacks, and pre-packaging them in serving-sized containers. That makes your healthy snacks easy to grab when you’re hungry, and you won’t have to worry about how many chips you’re supposed to be eating because you’ve already decided!
Making eating unhealthy snacks actually inconvenient is a great way to snack in a healthier way. The best way to do this is to simply not purchase sugary snacks with empty calories. If you know you can’t stop at one cookie, focus your willpower on the supermarket and prepare something healthy instead. Often, your craving for sweets or snacks will go away on its own after a minute or two and won’t be so strong that you’ll actually go out and buy something.
Water – Free and Zero Cal!
Water (and zero-calorie drinks like unsweetened tea) can be your secret weapon against high-calorie snacking. When you feel a craving to snack, you’re often actually just thirsty. Drinking water can make you feel more full, which can help you snack less and eat less when you do snack.
Remember Your Walking Goals
Keeping in mind your walking program can help you avoid going overboard with snacking. Consider the number of calories you burn while walking. You might be more hesitant to drink a 600 calorie coffee drink when you remember that’s 2 hours of walking for someone who burns 300 calories during an hour of walking. This doesn’t mean that you can’t enjoy the food that you love, but it can help you keep things in perspective.
“Snacks Or”, Not “Snacks And”
Snacking often gets people in trouble when they both snack throughout the day and eat large meals in addition to the snacks. If you like to snack, you can simply eat a bit less during your meals to account for the calories from snacking. If you’re eating healthy snacks in small portions, you might only need to skip the appetizer or a side dish at dinner. You can even do this when eating out at restaurants with a little ingenuity. But if you’re eating sugary snacks throughout the day, it’s difficult to realistically make that up from your regular meals. Experiment with the right balance of snack-size and meal size until you feel satisfied during the day!
Join us next time for a comprehensive guide on what to snack on. We’ll be building an entire week of snacks that are delicious, energizing, and interesting to snack on all week long.
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