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Yes, you heard that right. Snacks can help you reach your weight goals. While it may sound strange to hear that snacking can help you lose weight, it can actually be a powerful tool to have in your weight-loss toolbox.
When done correctly, snacking can keep you full and satisfied throughout the day, helping you to maintain the calorie deficit you need to lose weight.
How can healthy snacks support weight loss?
Believe it or not, there’s no one diet or a set number of meals or snacks per day that’s best for weight loss (Kulovitz, 2014). Some studies show that eating only one or two meals per day is linked to a lower body mass index (BMI), whereas other studies suggest that many smaller meals throughout the day reduce the risk of gaining weight (Paoli, 2019).
Weight loss is most dependent on creating a calorie deficit or burning more calories than you take in (Kim, 2021). Hunger levels can influence the success of a weight-loss plan, and how much weight you may gain after that diet (Sayer, 2018; Sutin, 2018).
Snacks may help you lose weight if they fit into your calorie deficit and keep you full.
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What are the components of healthy snacks?
The four main components of healthy snacks are fiber, protein, healthy fats, and color.
Dietary fibers are nondigestible carbohydrates, meaning they remain basically intact through the digestive system and don’t contribute calories to food. Eating more dietary fiber promotes weight loss for people eating a diet that restricts calories (Miketinas, 2019).
There are two types of fiber: soluble and insoluble. Soluble fiber (found in high amounts in oats and beans) can slow digestion, increase feelings of fullness, and regulate appetite (Salleh, 2019). Fiber also supports good gut health. Fruits, vegetables, and whole grains are great sources of fiber.
Many weight-loss plans have a slightly higher protein intake compared to the general recommendation of 0.36 g of protein per pound of body weight—and for good reasons. Protein makes you feel fuller to a greater extent compared to carbohydrates or fat and even increases the number of calories you burn in comparison to a low protein diet (Paddon-Jones, 2008).
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A common concern with weight loss is the loss of muscle, or lean body mass, instead of the more desired loss of fat mass. A diet higher in protein can help maintain that lean muscle mass in the presence of weight loss, which is beneficial since protein is more metabolically active than fat, meaning you naturally burn more calories during the day (Moon, 2020).
Don’t fear fat! Eating fat doesn’t translate to gaining fat. But for years, leading health organizations emphasized messaging that cutting fat from the diet helps balance energy intake (Liu, 2017). Now, there’s a better understanding that quality and type play a much more important role in health than once believed (Liu, 2017).
Since fat is more calorically dense than carbohydrates or protein—contributing nine calories per gram instead of four—if you want to lose weight, you need to be mindful about portion sizes and the types of fat that you’re consuming.
Unsaturated fats like those primarily found in plant foods and fish oils are the most beneficial for health (Liu, 2017).
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Your snacks should also include color. Fruits and vegetables get their vibrant colors from beneficial plant compounds called phytonutrients. Polyphenols are a class of phytonutrients and they are the most abundant class of antioxidants in plants (Guo, 2017). Antioxidants combat oxidative stress and have anti-inflammatory properties (Hussain, 2016).
Fruits and vegetables also contribute essential vitamins and minerals like potassium, magnesium, and vitamin C to the diet, as well as fiber.
Tips for healthy snacking
Now that you understand the science behind why snacking can be a helpful addition to a weight loss plan, let’s go over a few healthy snacking tips:
Avoid eating calorie-dense foods that don’t fill you up
In the United States, the most common snack foods are salty snacks, desserts, candy, and sugar-sweetened drinks (Hess, 2016). These foods are full of sugar and are lacking the nutrients that help with satiety (fullness): fiber and protein.
Snack only when you’re hungry
Satisfying hunger is a strong reason to include snacks in your day. If you’re not hungry, you don’t need snacks, although they sure can be enticing. Snacking when you’re hungry usually involves eating more healthful foods, whereas snacking when you’re not hungry may lead to eating salty, sugary, and processed foods (Hess, 2016).
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Portion out your snacks
Have you unintentionally eaten a whole bag of chips in front of the TV before? Distracted eating and lack of awareness of what you’re eating can cause you to end up eating a lot more than you would otherwise (Robinson, 2013).
A way to bring awareness to what you’re eating and to ensure you don’t accidentally overeat is to portion out your snacks ahead of time. If you buy almonds for a snack in bulk, measure out ¼ cup serving sizes into baggies to have them ready to go when you need them.
Make the healthy choice the convenient one
Typical snack foods are usually really convenient. Just grab a bag of chips or crackers on the way out the door. But more nutritious foods can be convenient, too. They may just require a little more prep. Portioning out the almonds like that also helps make that a convenient option for you to snack on. Try slicing up some fruits and vegetables at the beginning of each week, so they’re easy to grab from the refrigerator as a quick snack.
The best savory snacks for weight loss
Have a craving for something savory? There are a lot of good, healthy, savory snacks that fit the bill.
Hard-boiled egg with red bell pepper
Eggs pack in 6 g of protein for only around 70 calories, and yes, that includes the yolk. Don’t think you need to skip out on the yolk to save a few calories because egg yolks contain some of the protein, fat, and essential vitamins like A, D, E K, and all of the B vitamins. The yolk is also a good source of the mineral choline, which plays a role in cellular health and bone integrity (Réhault-Godbert, 2019).
Red bell peppers add a pop of color to this snack along with several antioxidants like beta-carotene, vitamin C, and quercetin (Chávez-Mendoza, 2015).
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Edamame with “everything bagel” seasoning
Just over a cup of edamame in the pods or ½ cup of shelled edamame is just under 100 calories and offers 8 g of protein, 4 g of fat, and 4 g of fiber. Cook and top with everything bagel seasoning for flavor, or sprinkle on a little sea salt. Buy frozen edamame to always have a healthy snack on hand to heat up.
Guacamole with carrots
Avocados aren’t your typical fruit. They are rich in healthy monounsaturated fats and low in carbohydrates. A standard serving size is ⅓ of a medium avocado and provides 80 calories, 5 g monounsaturated fat, 3 g of fiber, no sugar, and 1 g of protein.
One study found that people who ate avocados gained significantly less weight over 11 years than non-avocado consumers (Heskey, 2019). Of course, there are a lot of factors that go into potential weight changes over 11 years, but avocados can be a healthy snack choice for weight loss or weight maintenance—just be mindful of the portion size.
Dipping carrots in guacamole provides a crisp crunch (somewhat) similar to a chip, but with fewer calories and more of those phytonutrients.
Cucumbers with canned salmon
Canned fish for a snack may seem a little out there until you try it. For a 3 oz serving of salmon, you get 18 g of protein, vitamin D, and omega-3 fatty acids—which are anti-inflammatory and heart-healthy—for only 100–130 calories (Gammone, 2018). Depending on how hungry you are, a 1–2 oz serving may be better suited for a snack.
Open and drain a can of salmon and use a fork to finely flake the fish you want for the snack. Top on sliced cucumbers and squeeze some lemon juice on top for a zing. Cucumbers add a great crunch, and since they’re mainly water, they can help you stay hydrated.
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Air-popped popcorn with sea salt
Popcorn is a whole grain, and it’s a perfect choice if you want a higher volume snack. One cup of air-popped popcorn is only 30 calories! Two to three cups make for a nice snack and provide around 3–4 g of fiber (USDA, n.d.).
One study found that eating popcorn promoted stronger feelings of fullness compared to potato chips and those who ate the popcorn ate fewer calories in the following meal (Nguyen, 2012).
Buy pre-packaged air-popped popcorn from the store or make it on the stovetop, in the microwave, or in a special air popper. Sprinkle it with a bit of sea salt for an enhanced flavor. Just remember, this snack is for air-popped popcorn—butter-smothered movie theater popcorn has a much different nutritional profile.
The best sweet snacks for weight loss
When you’re dieting, and a sweet tooth hits, give these nutrition-packed sweet snacks a try.
Grapefruit with a dollop of Greek yogurt
Grapefruits are rich in vitamin C and potassium, and half a grapefruit is only 65 calories. Half of a grapefruit won’t keep you full for long, so adding a dollop (¼-½ cup) of Greek yogurt also adds 10 g of protein, vitamin D, and calcium (USDA, n.d.). Sprinkle some cinnamon on top to help cut through the tartness, and even consider drizzling a teaspoon of honey on top.
If you’re feeling fancy, try grilling or broiling the grapefruit brushed with a little honey to get a caramelized top and an elevated flavor profile.
Cinnamon sugar roasted chickpeas
Chickpeas make for an underrated dessert or sweet snack. At 120 calories, 5 g of fiber, 6 g of protein, and no sugar, a half cup of these legumes can keep you satisfied between meals. (USDA, n.d.).
To make chickpeas cinnamon-sugar roasted, drain, preheat the oven to 435 degrees Fahrenheit. Rinse and dry a 15 oz can of chickpeas and spread them out on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Roast for 15 minutes. Whisk 1 tbsp olive oil, 1 tbsp brown sugar, and 1 tsp ground cinnamon together. Drizzle mixture over cooked chickpeas and toss. Roast the chickpeas for another 15 minutes. Let them cool before digging in for a more pronounced crunch.
Avocado calories, nutrition facts, and health benefits
Apple and nut or seed butter
This snack is a classic for a reason. A small apple is only 70 calories and provides 3 g of fiber. Nut or seed butter makes a perfect pairing because it adds the missing protein and fat from this snack. A tablespoon of nut or seed butter is about 95 calories and 4 g of protein. Each nut or seed will vary slightly in the vitamins and minerals it offers (almonds have more calcium than peanuts) but opt for one with no added sugar.
Dark chocolate almonds
A 1 oz serving of dark chocolate dipped almonds (around 16 almonds) is 140 calories and offers 7 g of healthy monounsaturated fats, 2 g of fiber, and 5 g of protein. Dark chocolate is still sweetened, so there will be a little bit of added sugar in this snack, but it also contains some antioxidants. The darker the chocolate you use, the less added sugar and the higher the concentration of those antioxidants it will have (Katz, 2011).
If you buy dark chocolate almonds in bulk, portioning them into individual servings can help you stick to that 16 almond serving size.
Plain Greek yogurt + unsweetened cocoa powder + raspberries
For this snack, you’ll need one container of plain Greek yogurt (or ¾ cup), 1 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder, and ½ raspberries or berries of choice (and maybe a splash of vanilla extract). Mix and enjoy! Eating yogurt is associated with favorable weight measures, like a lower BMI, and can also promote heart health (Eales, 2016; Timon, 2021)
What to keep in mind when snacking for weight loss
Snacking can be part of a weight loss plan. It can support weight loss by satisfying your hunger. But calorie-dense snacks like potato chips can hinder your weight loss by contributing excess calories. To avoid falling into that pitfall, make sure you have healthy snack choices on hand that you can easily grab before the hanger sets in. And if you choose to snack, make sure your plate has fiber, protein, healthy fats, and some color.
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Felix Gussone is a physician, health journalist and a Manager, Medical Content & Education at Ro.