DEAR DOCTOR K: I never thought snacking could be part of a healthy diet. Am I wrong? Can you give me suggestions for healthy snacking?
DEAR READER: Snacking is not automatically unhealthy. In fact, it can be very healthy -- but you have to choose the right foods and eat them in the right amounts.
Plenty of healthy foods are quick and easy to eat. Fruits, veggie sticks and moderate amounts of nuts are all good choices. But even healthy snacks can be unhealthful if you eat too much. Try to keep snacks to around 150 calories.
So what should you snack on? To start, keep some fresh fruit on hand. Bring a banana to work. Keep a bowl of grapes or cherries on the kitchen table.
Dried fruit can be a good choice if you keep portion size reasonable. Both fresh and dried fruits contain plenty of vitamins and fiber.
Try small amounts of unsalted or lightly salted nuts. Almonds, walnuts, cashews and other nuts contain many nutrients. And although some are high in fat, the fat is mainly unsaturated "good" fat. Nuts have lots of calories, though, so keep portion sizes small.
I always have small bags of nuts in my desk drawer. Each bag contains about 100 calories. Either in the middle of the morning or afternoon, when I'm between meals and starting to get hungry, I finish off a bag. But my deal with myself is just one bag a day.
Unsalted seeds are also nutritious and healthy -- sunflower or roasted pumpkin seeds, for example.
Try to eat snacks with a combination of protein, fat and carbohydrate. Have a few nuts (protein and fat) and some grapes (carbohydrate). Eat whole-grain crackers (carbohydrate) with some low-fat cheese (protein and fat).
Mix and match healthy items. Try baby carrots with yogurt. Dip wheat crackers in guacamole. Spread a small amount of peanut butter on apple slices or celery sticks.
Whole-grain snacks, such as whole-grain, low-salt pretzels and high-fiber, whole-grain cereals, can give you some energy with staying power. Choose these over snacks made with refined flour.
We have more information on healthy food choices in our Special Health Report, "Healthy Eating: A Guide to the New Nutrition." (Learn more about this report at AskDoctorK.com, or call 877-649-9457 toll-free to order it.)
Finally, always plan ahead. If you think you might get hungry while you're out and about, carry a small bag of healthful snacks with you.
Snacking also helps you from getting hungry between meals. When you're really hungry, you'll eat more than you should. Your hunger can make you eat quickly (like finishing a big meal in 15 minutes). However, it takes time (20 to 30 minutes after you start eating) for your brain to turn down your appetite. You may need only 1,000 calories at a meal, but before you know it, you've eaten 2,000 calories. Healthy snacking can quiet your appetite and lead to smaller, more healthful meals.
Dr. Komaroff is a physician and professor at Harvard Medical School. To send questions, go to AskDoctorK.com, or write: Ask Doctor K, 10 Shattuck St., Second Floor, Boston, MA 02115.
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