It’s 3 o’clock and despite your best intentions to eat healthy today, the bowl of candy in the mailroom is calling. I’ve been there. Or maybe you think you’re choosing a “healthy” mid-morning snack by noshing on a protein bar—I know a lot of women do—but most aren’t as healthy as you might think—many are full of sugars or artificial sweeteners that leave you craving more, or upset your stomach.
World-wide we spend nearly 350 billion dollars on snacks every year, according to a 2014 Nielson study[i]—but do we really need them?
Most Snacks Miss the Mark
The purpose of a snack, should you choose to incorporate one or two, is to be just enough to keep your blood sugar from dropping too low, and to be right-sized and the right components, so you don’t become overly hungry (or stuffed) at meal times. These carry-over mini-meals are most often made up of sugary soda; sugary and fatty candy, cookies, and cakes; with salty trans-fat-filled chips, crackers, and packaged popcorn making a close second. What is the smallest category—real food! While study participants know that fruits and vegetables are a smart choice—chocolate comes first!
When I first started as an emergency room doctor, I worked irregular shifts, and I fueled myself with endless cups of coffee, cookies, and candy—and my health and complexion mirrored what I was putting in my body. I had cystic acne, my hair was falling out, I was stressed and irritable, I had gained 10 pounds, and I couldn’t sleep despite feeling exhausted. The funny thing was, I didn’t think about what I was eating. Instead, I tried to intensify my workouts and to cut back on calories—but no dice.
Getting Right Sized
When I finally got fed up with my own health, I went back to my roots. I was raised by a wise mother who always used food as a healing fuel, and that’s where I started. At first I started by cutting out the big offenders—processed foods, trans and saturated fats, and refined flours and sugars. Then, I took it further: I went back to school and became a certified nutritionist (knowledge that is lacking in medical school). Besides the composition of snacks, the other big mistake most people make, is size!
If you are trying to lose weight, you might go on a diet that is about 1800 calories per day—if you are maintaining weight you’d be around 2,000 per day. A snack should be around 250 calories, while meals should be 350 to 450 calories—but there’s much more than just a number to be taken into account with snacks.
Compose a Harmonious Snack
Real food and not too much, as author Michael Pollen likes to say, is also my motto. I suggest that my patents go package free as much as possible. That means fruits and vegetables obviously, but that’s not enough. While fruits and vegetables provide the complex carbs, and the bulk you want for a satisfying snack, at a low-calorie cost, they won’t keep you full for long. That’s why I always suggest that you include some hummus, Greek yogurt, a boiled egg, or a small amount of nuts. These foods, made right, have the perfect amount of protein and healthy fat, which makes them harder for your body to digest—in a good way. These slow foods take more time to break down, which keeps you full for longer.
Here are my 5 favorite on-the-go snacks.
- Veggies and Hummus, I like to make my own spread with a simple mix of garbanzo beans (about a ½ cup), a squeeze of lemon, a tsp of olive oil, and a dash of salt—throw it in the blender and put in a small plastic container with a baggie of veggies on the side and you’re set. Garbanzo beans have a great mix of fiber and protein, olive oil is a healthy fat, and lemon is a good for your digestion. Baby carrots and celery are great, but I also like sugar snap peas, red bell peppers, radishes, and jicama to mix it up.
- Berries and Yogurt, Greek yogurt with 2% fat, and raspberries, blueberries, and blackberries is an easy snack and antioxidant-packed snack to throw together. I usually have a bag of frozen, mixed berries in my freezer. In the morning, I’ll put a cup of the frozen fruit in a plastic container, and a half cup of yogurt on top. By snack time, the fruit has thawed, just give it a quick stir and you have a naturally sweetened, protein satisfying mini-meal.
- Whole fruit and Nuts, For the ultimate on-the-go snack, nothing beats a full piece of fruit—banana, nectarine, peach, plums, or an apple—with a small handful of nuts. I make it a total no-brainer, by buying the 100-calorie packs of unsalted almonds. I always keep this combo in my purse, especially when I’m traveling.
- Egg, veggies, and fruit My family loves boiled eggs, and eggs are great for your thyroid hormone—a common deficiency in women. On Sundays, I usually boil up a bunch. Just put the eggs in a pan with cold water, bring the water to a rolling boil, turn off and cover. Let them sit for nine minutes and rinse under cold water. Store in fridge. Have your egg for a high protein snack with some cut up veggies or a piece of fruit.
- Rice cakes with Nut Butter This is a great go-to when you’re hungry. Store these rice cakes in your car or at work to grab when you feel like you’re starving! Spread two organic unsweetened brown rice cakes with one tablespoon of almond butter.