8 Simple Tips To Avoid Late Night Snacking

by | Feb 6, 2013

Photo by xJasonRogersx

Snacking can be a mixed blessing for anyone learning to eat healthy. On one hand, a small healthy snack after a workout or an hour or so before a late meal can help you avoid making bad, hunger-induced food decisions later. On the other hand, snacking can easily grow out of control and be a source of hundreds of excess calories.

Late night snacking almost never falls into the good snacking category and is usually driven by cravings or habit rather than legitimate hunger. Here are a few tips to help you make healthy post-dinner food decisions and break the habit of late night snacking.
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Healthy Snacking 101

by | Jan 14, 2013

Photo by zlakfoto

Americans love to snack. We snack at work, at parties, at the movies, in the car… pretty much anywhere we can get a few fingers free to grab a bite of food. As a nation we’ve elevated snacking to an art form, and on the surface it seems like it has no boundaries.

Of course there’s nothing wrong with snacking. Having a small bite to eat between meals is a great way to give your metabolism a little kick and keep you from becoming ravenously hungry later, which can lead to overeating. Snacking is also fun, and can be a great way to socialize and connect with others.

But there is a difference between snacking and compulsive, emotional or hormonal eating. There is also a difference between snacking and bingeing.

The Purpose of Snacking

Snacking always has a purpose. If we were less emotional beings, it would almost always serve to prevent hunger. But since our motivations for eating tend to be complex, identifying all the reasons we snack is important in helping us decide how to approach it.

1. Regain attention

Being hungry is exceptionally uncomfortable. Knowing it will still be awhile before the next meal, a small snack is a great way to buy a few hours of focus and attention, allowing us to be more productive without disrupting our schedule.

2. Curb overeating

As mentioned above, snacking can also be important in preventing overeating. When you’re starving, your eyes can easily become larger than your stomach. And since it takes at least 20 minutes for your satisfied stomach to communicate to your brain via your bloodstream that you are no longer starving, that time can be the difference between a sensible meal and a binge. It’s best to avoid becoming deliriously hungry in the first place by having a small snack in the interim.

3. Socializing

Between meal eating can be initiated for less utilitarian purposes as well. For instance, snacking is a fabulous epicenter for a social event. As many awesome organizations have discovered, food is a great leveler and platform for fostering interaction and collaboration, a value far greater than the price of a cheese plate.

4. Tasty taste

Sometimes the best reason for a snack is that food just tastes good. Maybe you didn’t anticipate your officemate bringing in samples of her mom’s famous baklava, but some foods are just worth making a little extra room for. This kind of snacking may bring in some extra calories, but it isn’t the end of the world so long as you adjust for it later (a slightly smaller dinner or longer workout).

5. Cravings

Food cravings are the least awesome reason for snacking. They can be caused by nutrient deficiencies, hormone imbalances, mental disquietude, and can seem to come out of nowhere. Though giving into cravings sounds like a bad idea, attempting to ignore them can be distracting and often pointless. (How many of you can actually ignore your cravings if the food you want is available? Yeah, I didn’t think so.) So it is better to have a strategy for dealing with cravings rather than waste your time and energy putting off the inevitable.

Goals of Snacking

No matter what your reason for snacking, the goal should always be satiation. If you are hungry, you want to eat enough to regain your attention and avoid later overeating, and that’s it. If you’re snacking at a social event and aren’t hungry, a few bites should be enough to get you chatting. If a mid-day hors d’oeuvre tastes amazing, a bite or two should satisfy your curiosity. If you’re craving something, you want to stop the craving as quickly and effectively as possible.

Snacking should be a clearly defined occurrence, not something that drags out over the course of hours. It helps if your snacks come in defined quantities to prevent mindless eating. Choose foods that are dense and slowly digesting so you feel like you’ve eaten enough and aren’t tempted to return for round two.

Thinking about foods in terms of their macronutrients is rarely useful, but as a rule of thumb the most filling foods tend to have:

  • protein
  • fat
  • fiber
  • water

Or some combination of these. Foods that have a lot of sugar or refined carbohydrates tend to do the opposite, and encourage continuous eating.

When eating for hunger, it is also a good idea to find snacks that are on the healthier side–nutrient dense, whole and unprocessed foods.

Snacking should be enjoyable and mentally satisfying as well. You should love the food that you eat as much as the clothes you wear and books you read. Eating is one of life’s simple pleasures.

Cravings are a different beast, and can often be alleviated without the specific food you think you need. For cravings, healthy options should be your first resort. Low-calorie beverages such as sparkling water or herbal tea can also be effective.

Healthy Snack Ideas

Here are some snack ideas to get you started, but don’t feel limited by this list. Start with foods you enjoy and work from there.

Fruits

  • Apples
  • Pears
  • Melon
  • Grapefruit
  • Orange

Nuts

  • Pistachios
  • Almonds
  • Cashews
  • Trailmix
  • Nut butters

Preserved meats (highly processed meats aren’t healthy, but small quantities can be useful for curbing your appetite)

  • Smoked salmon
  • Jerky
  • Charcuterie
  • Sardines

Cheeses

  • String cheese
  • Fancy cheeses

Vegetables

  • Kale chips
  • Carrots
  • Avocado
  • Celery
  • Bell pepper
  • Zucchini

Beans/other protein

  • Hummus
  • Edamame
  • Lentils
  • Boiled eggs

Beverages

  • Sparkling water
  • Tea
  • Tisane (herbal tea)

Sweet tooth

  • Dark chocolate
  • Dried fruit
  • Mint/herbal tea
  • Juice spritzer (mixed with sparkling water)
  • Fruits
  • Fruit/nut bars (e.g. KIND)

What are your favorite healthy snacks?

Originally published December 1, 2010.

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Healthy Snacks For After Your Workout

by | Nov 5, 2012
Delicious Nuts

Delicious Nuts

“When I work out at the gym, I am there for a couple of hours and by the end of the first hour, I am still energized but start getting hungry. I read your article on packing food for lunch but wanted to specifically ask if you recommend any specific store bought bars.”

I frequently get questions about different nutrition and energy bars. Generally I think they are a bad idea, since they are usually just processed food with added vitamins and/or other trendy diet ingredients—a hallmark of food from the Matrix.

Energy and meal replacement bars serve only one purpose: convenience. Some may be better than others (check the ingredients to be sure), but don’t fool yourself into thinking these are health foods.

That said, I understand that quick calories can be incredibly useful, particularly when intense workouts are a regular part of your day. If you get hungry and don’t have anything around to eat, the chances of you breaking down and eating something you’ll really regret increase substantially. But I think there are better things to carry around than energy bars.

My quick snack of choice is nuts or trail mix. I always have a small stash of nuts hidden somewhere in my gym bag (which comes with me everywhere). My personal favorites are almonds, pistachios, cashews and macadamia nuts. When I’m feeling ambitious I’ll combine a few different kinds together in a plastic zipper bag along with some dried fruit, just to mix things up.

One of the only drawbacks of snacking on nuts is if you are really hungry it is easy to eat too many and ruin your appetite for dinner. Too many nuts can also be difficult to digest. To avoid this I recommend getting into the habit of counting the nuts you eat, drinking water and waiting 20 minutes before eating more. The protein and fat in nuts can be very satisfying, but it takes awhile for the satiety signals to reach your brain.

For almonds, cashews and macadamia nuts 10 is a good number to start with. For shelled pistachios and peanuts, 15-20 nuts is more realistic. You are aiming for a single serving size of 1/4 cup. After some practice, eating the proper amount will come naturally to you. But at the beginning you should either count the nuts or measure them out in advance so it is easier to make good decisions.

There are a few other easily transportable foods that can serve as good substitutes for energy bars. Fruit is a great option, particularly filling fruits with lots of fiber like apples and oranges. Be careful with soft fruits, however, or you may end up with a gym bag filled with goo. Yes, I’m speaking from experience.

(Read: How to transport soft fruits and vegetables)

Another option that I don’t often use but am not opposed to is jerky. Beef and turkey jerky are generally high in protein and very satisfying. Just be careful about the teriyaki flavor that is often high in added sugar.

As a final thought, I wonder if you are maybe spending too much time in the gym? For weight loss and fat burning, more than an hour is really overkill and may actually work against you. If you are training for a specific athletic event, you’ve gotta do what you gotta do. But for the rest of us mortals one hour in the gym is more than enough to accomplish our goals. Maybe your hunger is a signal to you that it’s time to shower up and head home?

One of the most essential aspects of a great healthstyle is planning for moments of hunger throughout your day, but processed foods are hardly ever the answer, no matter how convenient.

What are your favorite post-workout snacks?

Originally published November 16, 2009.

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How Healthy Is Deli Meat?

by | Apr 18, 2011

Photo by Daryl Marquardt

People trying to cut calories and refined carbohydrates out of their diet often turn to deli meats as a high protein, low fat alternative. But is this really a good idea?

While refined carbohydrates increase your risk of diabetes and heart disease, so do processed meats including sausage, bacon and deli meats. It is unlikely to be the fat (or even the saturated fat) in these products that do the damage, since processed meats are consistently shown to be more dangerous than saturated fat alone.

In fact, what the food manufacturers replace the fat with often ends up being much more risky.

What’s in them?

Take a quick look at the ingredients of a Louis Rich turkey variety pack:

Smoked White Turkey: White Turkey, Water, Salt, Contains less than 2% of Modified Corn Starch, Sodium Lactate, Sugar, Sodium Phosphates, Sodium Erythorbate (Made From Sugar), Sodium Diacetate, Sodium Nitrite, Garlic Powder.

Smoked Turkey Ham: Turkey Thigh Meat, Water, Contains less than 2% of Salt, Sodium Lactate, Sugar, Sodium Phosphates, Sodium Erythorbate (Made From Sugar), Sodium Diacetate, Sodium Nitrite, Flavor.

Turkey Bologna: Turkey Ingredients (Mechanically Separated Turkey, Turkey), Water, Modified Corn Starch, Contains less than 2% of Salt, Sodium Lactate, Corn Syrup, Dextrose, Flavor, Enzyme Modified Skim Milk, Sodium Phosphates, Sodium Erythorbate (Made From Sugar), Sodium Diacetate, Sodium Nitrite, Extractives of Paprika.

Turkey Cotto Salami: Turkey Ingredients (Turkey, Mechanically Separated Turkey), Water, Turkey Hearts, Contains less than 2% of Salt, Sodium Lactate, Sugar, Sodium Phosphates, Spice, Sodium Erythorbate (Made From Sugar), Garlic Powder, Sodium Diacetate, Sodium Nitrite, Flavor.

What exactly is “flavor”? I’ll let you ponder that one.

These meats are pumped full of starch, sugar, salt, preservatives and other random ingredients. Given the quality of the meat they use (“mechanically separated turkey”?) it’s not hard to understand why. All that added “flavor” is needed to make these products taste like juicy meat again.

The low fat versions are even worse, containing higher amounts sugar and salt to make up for the lack of natural fat flavor.

Why is this bad?

The extra starch and sugar are not good since they are, after all, the processed carbohydrates we want to avoid. However these are still a relatively small contribution to total calories. The bigger issues with processed meats are the added sodium and preservatives.

Processed meats have been associated with increased risk of several cancers, particularly those of the digestive system. It has been suggested that the presence of nitrates and nitrates used in the preservation methods are a potential cause, however the data remains inconclusive. Confusing the matter further is that vegetables are the primary source of nitrates in the human diet and some have suggested that in this context they may be a beneficial nutrient.

Heart disease has also been clearly associated with consumption of processed meat, though the reason for the connection is still unknown.

Then there’s the issue of quality. There are a lot of questionable ingredients in highly-processed deli meats like these from Louis Rich. It is unclear if the health risks are the same whether the meats are cured and preserved with high-quality ingredients (charcuterie vs. standard deli meat) or when the meat is preserved without the use of nitrates and nitrites.

What to do

Though it is difficult to point to the exact reason processed meats are dangerous, there is enough evidence associating them with serious health problems to warrant limiting them in your diet. Most of the studies that found associations with processed meats and cancer considered 5 or more servings a week to be a high dose.

To be on the safe side I recommend limiting your intake of processed meats to less than 4 servings per week.

For alternative snack ideas check out Healthy Snacking 101.

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Summer Tomato Live – Episode #2 – Darya’s Healthstyle

by | Mar 10, 2011

Thanks to all of you who participated in the latest episode of Summer Tomato Live, your questions were great and I had a blast.

The recording of the show is above, and you’ll notice quickly that I had to re-record the audio since I had some trouble during the recording. Sorry about that, I’ll get this technical stuff right eventually.

We still have samples of Zürsun cranberry beans as well as a free Foodzie Tasting Boxes ($20 value) for the first 150 people that sign up for Tomato Slice by March 15. For more info about the show and newsletter read this. US shipments only.

Subscribe to Summer Tomato Live ($3.99/mo)

The next live show is scheduled for Wednesday, March 16, at 6:30pm PST, and the topic is Habit forming and habit breaking. The following episode will be about healthy vegetarian and vegan diets, which I’ll try to make interesting for omnivores as well.

The episode will also be available soon on iTunes.

Today’s show notes:

Sponsors:

My go-to recipes:

My tricks for cooking without pasta:

Time saving tricks:

Exercise tips & alternatives:

How to:

Recommended healthstyle gear:

Let me know if there are any other links you’d like me to include.

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