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Lynn Little: Stop those snack attacks

April 14, 2010|By LYNN LITTLE / Special to The Herald-Mail

Whether it is mid-morning, mid-afternoon, evening or late at night, the craving for a snack happens and our minds focus on food.

This is not necessarily a bad thing. The right snack can be a great energy booster, provide a good source of nutrients and help us to stay focused. Snacks can even be part of a healthy weight loss plan if we are careful not to engage in unhealthy snacking practices.

What is unhealthy snacking? Unhealthy snacking includes the consumption of high-calorie, high-fat or high-sugar foods that may lead to health problems when eaten too often. Unhealthy snacking also includes eating when we are not really hungry. A box of doughnuts at the office or a full candy jar on your co-worker's desk can be hard to resist. To combat this problem we need to pay more attention to what our bodies are telling us.

Many times, we may think that we are hungry but, in reality, we are thirsty. Drink plenty of water throughout the day and make snacking a conscious activity rather than eating while we do something else such as watching television, talking on the phone or surfing the Web.

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Overeating can also be an unhealthy snacking practice. A snack is not a meal, and should only have about 200 calories. This is where planning becomes important. If you don't buy snacks in single-serving portions, then spend time pre-portioning snacks yourself. If you eat a small snack two to three hours before a meal, it should not spoil your appetite and can help you avoid overeating at that next meal.

Plan ahead so that you have healthy foods on hand. Fruits and vegetables are good choices because they are rich in nutrients without a lot of calories.

Other options include whole grain crackers with low fat cheese, an apple with a thin layer of peanut butter or sugar-free pudding with graham crackers.

Beware of snacks that sound nutritious but fall short of being healthful. For instance, some granola bars may have just as many calories and as much fat as a candy bar.

Many fruit drinks have very little fruit juice in them, and microwave popcorn can be heavy in butter and salt, making it a not-so-healthful option.

Read the nutrition facts label so that you can choose the healthier versions of these products. That way, you will be well prepared when your next snack attack occurs.

Lynn Little is a family and consumer sciences educator with University of Maryland Cooperative Extension in Washington County.

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