4 Tricks For Healthier Snacking

Ask yourself these five questions to determine whether your between-meal habits are beneficial -- or detrimental.

Back in the 1980s, my snack might have been a granola bar mom stuck in my backpack or an Oh Henry! candy bar dispensed from my high school's vending machine. Now, 35 years later, we have become a nation with far more snacking options. How many snack bars do you have stuffed in your purse or stashed in your desk? But through all the snack food craziness, there are healthy and no-so-healthy ways to munch between meals. What you choose to snack on and when you choose to snack make a big difference. Here are five questions to ask yourself to determine if you're really a healthy snacker:

1. Do you really need that snack?
you snacking because you are truly hungry or for an emotional reason like boredom, excitement or stress? Are you snacking at an inappropriate time? If you just ate breakfast an hour ago or are going to eat dinner shortly, it's probably best to pass on the snack.

Make it count: Plan one to three snack times daily. Someone who only needs 1,500 calories each day may need only one snack, while someone who has higher calorie needs or is very active should include two or three snacks a day. The best time to schedule a snack in your day is when you find yourself going five or more hours without eating. Also, if you find you tend to be hungry at the same time each day, that may be the perfect time for a snack.

2. Is this a snack or a treat?
A snack is food that provides nutrients (such as protein, fiber and calcium) that your body needs to keep you healthy. A treat is a food that does not provide (or provides minimal) nutrients to your body. Think junk food. Snack foods can include Greek yogurt, nuts and fresh fruit, while treats can include doughnuts, cookies and cakes. Which are you munching on?

Make it count: Make sure to choose foods that contain calcium (such as milk and yogurt), protein (like peanut butter), healthy fat (such as nuts and avocado) and fiber (such as fruits, vegetables and whole-grain crackers).

3. Do you overload on carbs?
Although whole-grain crackers and fresh fruit are healthy snack choices, they are more satisfying when combined with protein or healthy fats. Protein and healthy fats help slow down how quickly your body absorbs sugar from the carbs, which helps keep you feeling satiated longer.

Make it count: Try to combine a few types of foods in your daily snack. Top whole-grain crackers with peanut butter or mashed avocado, or add sliced strawberries to nonfat plain Greek yogurt.

4. Are you eating the right portions?
There are many healthy foods to snack on, but if you don't eat them in reasonable portions, you can be taking in more calories than you bargain for. A great example is almonds. If you eat three handfuls of almonds, you consume close to 500 calories and 42 grams of fat. Snacks should be around 125 to 250 calories, so those seemingly innocent handfuls dish out two to four times the calories you need.

Make it count: Measure out your snacks. Almonds are a fabulous choice, but a serving is only 1/2 to 1 ounce. One ounce of almonds (or 23 almonds) has 162 calories, 14 grams of fat, 6 grams of protein and 3 grams of fiber. It's also an excellent source of vitamin E and contains flavonoids linked to cancer prevention and decreased risk of heart disease. If you choose to eat only 12 almonds (that's about 80 calories), complement them with a piece of fruit or a slice of cheese.

5. Are you a mindless snacker?
Do you find yourself sitting in front of the television or laptop with an endless bag of tortilla chips and guacamole? You may not be aware of how much you are actually eating. You may be shoving down chip after chip and not even be aware of the flavor of the food you're eating!

Make it count: Set the exact amount you want to eat on a plate or bowl. Enjoy your snack in a relaxed environment without any outside "noise" like your cell phone, laptop, television or any other electronic device. Take a few minutes to savor every bite and enjoy your food.

Are You A Healthy Snacker? was originally published on U.S. News & World Report.

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