We’ve become a nation of snackers. Supermarket shelves are lined with snacking options, and many focus on the health-conscious consumer, providing snacks that are gluten-free, sugar-free, organic, vegan, kosher, dairy-free and/or GMO-free. However, you can overdo it even with the healthiest intentions. Here are five snacking mistakes that many folks make and what you can do to prevent them.
Many folks tend to eat small snacks throughout the day, also known as grazing. If this habit is not kept under control, the few hundred calories you’re munching at each snack time can quickly add up and lead to weight gain over time.
Instead: Even if you’re a grazer, snacks and small meals should be scheduled throughout the day. This way you know when you’re eating, so you can have more control over what and how much you eat.
#2: Misconstrued Portions
The 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans stressed the importance of the type of fat consumed. Unsaturated fats from nuts, seeds, avocados and nut butters are all promoted in a varied, balanced diet. However, healthy fats do carry with them a higher calorie tag, so portion control is of utmost importance. For example, 1 ounce of (or 23) almonds is a portion and contains 162 calories, 14 grams of fat, 3 grams of fiber and 6 grams of protein. Many folks dig into their stash of almonds and eat more than 23, which add up to hundreds of calories pretty easily.
Instead: Do your homework. Always read the portion of the foods you are eating. Once you know how much you should eat, portion it out so you know how much you’re truly getting.
#3: Emotional Snacking
Having a tough day at work? Kids driving you crazy? Oftentimes stress and fatigue cause folks to grab the nearest snack food and start munching. Even worse is when you’re having a busy day and don’t even realize you’re shoving food into your mouth.
Instead: Schedule three small meals and two or three snacks of about 150 calories each so you know when it is time to snack. If you find yourself hungry at other times, ask yourself if you are really hungry or whether it’s emotionally driven. If it is, sometimes a quick walk around the block, a cup of tea or even five minutes of “me” time in your bedroom or office is all you need.
#4: Falling for the Health Halo
A snack may be organic and free of every nutrient you wish to avoid. However, that doesn’t mean it’s necessarily healthy for you. Many processed snack foods, like vegetable chips, bars, granola and cookies, are promoted as being better than the rest.
Instead: When choosing snacks, read labels! Think about which good-for-you nutrients a snack food is providing, as opposed to what it’s avoiding. Snacks are opportunities to take in vitamins and minerals you may not be able to get during your regular meals.
#5: Mistaking Thirst for Hunger
If you recently ate something, you really shouldn’t be feeling hungry. If you are, it could be your body’s way of telling you to drink something. Many folks confuse thirst with hunger, which can lead to eating many more calories than needed.
Instead: Drink a glass of water or seltzer and wait 15 minutes to re-evaluate how you feel. If you no longer feel hungry, you were probably thirsty. Keep a water bottle near you to prevent this from happening regularly. If you’re still hungry, then grab a healthy snack.
Toby Amidor, MS, RD, CDN, is a registered dietitian and consultant who specializes in food safety and culinary nutrition. She is the author of The Greek Yogurt Kitchen: More Than 130 Delicious, Healthy Recipes for Every Meal of the Day.