It's 3 p.m. and you're miles away from dinner, but that salad at lunch didn't quite fill you up. What should you snack on? And should you snack in the first place? We asked some of our favorite nutrition experts for their take on the biggest snacking mistakes we all make -- and what we can do to make better choices when it comes to noshing between meals.
Snacking in the first place
Do you really need that snack? Heather Bauer, R.D. isn't so sure. "Only about 50 percent of people need to snack," she tells HuffPost. For some, a snack can help maintain metabolic health, regulate blood sugar and lead to better, healthier meal choices and greater portion control during lunch or dinner. But for others? "It's just an added source of calories," she says.
Ask yourself this question: When you snack, do you eat less or more healthfully at your next meal? If the answer is no -- and you don't have an underlying health condition that requires regular snacking, like hypoglycemia or diabetes -- it might make sense to eschew the extra bites and wait for a big meal.
Confusing the terms "snack" and "treat"
It's hard to tell: those office cookies, a can of soda or even a handful of pretzels can seem like a small enough dose of guilty pleasure calories -- especially if you're careful to eat healthful meals. But not only is that bad-for-you treat contributing to excess calories, it won't do much to satiate your hunger.
Some foods can be confusing -- how can you tell if that chocolate-y energy bar or super sweet smoothie is really a good idea? Keep track of your fullness, advises Dawn Jackson Blatner, R.D.
"Snacks offer nutrition and fullness to help bridge one meal to the next," Blatner says. "Treats don't give either."
Having 'healthy' carbs alone
"So many people think that an apple or orange (alone) is a healthy snack," writes Cheryl Forberg, R.D in an email to HuffPost. "While they are both great, they are so much better with protein (add a mozzarella cheese stick, a few slices turkey or almond butter on your sliced apple)."
That's because the protein helps to slow the release of sugar into the blood stream, which in turn prevents a big insulin spike, she explains. That spike can cause an energy crash and send you searching for more food to nibble on. And protein is also more likely to keep you feeling full.
Skipping fruits and veggies
But it's important not to go all-protein either: "Produce gives hydration, fiber and nutrients to between-meal nibbles," Blatner says.
Many of us snack while we're working, which might help us get through our tasks faster -- but it also helps us power through that bag of chips with great speed.
"Don't eat standing at the fridge, watching TV or answering emails," Blatner says. "Multi-tasking snacking (not being present) is a big no-no because the snacks will never satisfy!"
'Health halo' grazing
Even if you've got the right idea when it comes to what kind of food to snack on, portion control can still be a problem. Blatner calls this "health halo" snacking. So-called "health halo" snacks include foods that are healthier than their alternatives -- think: granola bars instead of candy bars, multigrain chips instead of potato chips -- but can still rack up the calories, added sugars and saturated fats because their health profiles make snackers feel at liberty to simply eat more.
"There are really healthy snacks out there, but you need to eat the right amount," says Heather Bauer, RD. She recommends finding single-serving packages or creating your own portions with small bags.