By Rebecca Toutant, MA, RDN, LDN, CDE, cPT
People are designed to eat every three to four hours. When you go more than four hours without eating, you tend to get overly hungry. When you get really hungry, you’re more likely to overeat. You’re also most likely to crave “junk food.” Snacks keep your hunger in check however, not all snacks are created equal.
What is a snack…
- A “snack” is a small amount of food – usually 100-300 calories to help you maintain your energy/sugar until the next time you eat.
- The purpose of a snack is to keep you full and satisfied until your next instance of eating (whether it’s a meal or a snack). If a snack only holds off your hunger for an hour, it’s not working.
- A snack does not refer to a “type” of food like chips or crackers. It is the amount that you eat. Traditional “snack foods” are often not filling or satisfying and lead to overeating.
The snack formula…
- Step 1: Start with a fruit or a grain for fast energy. Be careful filling up on starch (cereal, crackers, cookies, chips, etc). While these foods taste amazing, it takes a large portion to fill your stomach. They are also digested quickly, so you’ll be hungry soon! Enjoy them in small portions along with a fruit/vegetable and protein/fat combo.
- Step 2: Add a healthy fat (avocado, nuts, seeds, tuna) and/or protein (eggs, chicken, turkey, yogurt, cottage cheese) to keep hunger controlled until the next time you get to eat.
- Step 3: “Fill up” on vegetables. However, vegetables alone won’t keep you full for long because they are digested within an hour.
There is no “right” number of meals and snacks to have in a day. The need for a snack depends on the length of your day and timing of your meals. Most people eat 3 meals (breakfast, lunch, dinner). They may have a snack in the morning and/or afternoon if there are four or more hours between meals.
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