Snacking has a bad reputation in the world of diets. It is often synonymous with "giving in" and attributed to packing on extra pounds through unnecessary calories. We still inevitably find ourselves craving something in between meals, however. Good news: You don't have to feel guilty about this as long as you stay away from the cookies and opt for healthy alternatives instead.
We tracked down two experts: Kathy Kaehler, a celebrity trainer who has worked with Kim Kardashian, Jennifer Aniston and Sarah Jessica Parker; and Dr. Brooke Kalanick, a naturopathic doctor and nutritionist, to break down snacking once and for all. Read on to learn why snacking can be beneficial and their tips on what to eat.
Snacking keeps your metabolism up
"When one goes too long in between meals, the chances of craving an unhealthy snack goes way up," says Kaehler. "Having a snack that is about 100 calories, give or take, will help you add to your intake of essential nutrients, can add fiber that will help you feel full and some snacks—like a handful of nuts—can help protect your heart and brain."
Snacking makes you smarter about how much you eat at meals
"The truth is, meal frequency depends on factors including each person's adrenal status as well as other physiological and psychological factors," explains Dr. Kalanick. That being said, she offers an example of something many of us do: skip a snack after lunch and wait to eat until dinner around 7pm. Doing this could leave you "ravenous and eating everything in sight," she cautions. "This obviously isn’t the best strategy. A little protein and fiber snack around 4pm would have you hungry but not starving come dinnertime and you can make better choices."
Make sure you have balance in each snack
"When I look to choose a snack, I always make sure it is a balance of a good fat, carb and protein," says Kaehler. "Nuts are a good protein and fat snack," adds Dr. Kalanick. "Another fat-based but healthy snack is half an avocado. I personally love filling the hole from the pit with balsamic vinegar and just scooping it out with a spoon with maybe a little sea salt and pepper."
Plan your meals out
"I have always kept the three-hour rule—don’t go longer than that without some fuel, whether it's a meal or a snack," says Kaehler. "Be organized and prep your snacks ahead of time so you don’t find yourself starving and reach for something unhealthy." That being said, there are no steadfast rules and you need to pay close attention to what works for you. If you're someone with low blood sugar issues, for example, or even someone who "gets busy and forgets to eat," you might need to set an alarm for food, according to Dr. Kalanick. "If your cravings are full tilt when you try to go more than four hours without a meal or snack, build that as a supportive nutrition strategy for yourself," she says. "If you feel fine on three meals a day, don’t feel pressured to snack."
To make digesting (pun intended) all this information easier, here's a list of food items hand-picked by both Kaehler and Kalanick: