Attacking the snacks
From the Cheerio-toting toddler to the vending machine-loving employee, we're a nation obsessed with snacks. How obsessed? Most of us eat nearly 600 calories a day--that's roughly a third of our food--in snacks rather than meals, according to a 2010 study from the University of North Carolina.
That's a lot of snacking, something that can make or break your weight loss efforts. "There is a right way and a wrong way to snack," says Katie Ferraro, MPH, a San Diego-based registered dietitian at Ingrain Health . Done right, snacking can keep your appetite in check, fuel your workout, and give you valuable nutrients. Done wrong, and you're downing gut-busting snacks loaded with sugar and fat, says Ferraro.
And here's where it gets tricky--it's all too easy to be fooled into thinking seemingly healthy snacks are good for your waistline. Here are 15 weight loss-sabotaging snacks to avoid, and the tasty swaps to make instead.
Instead of: Strawberry yogurt
Reach for: Plain Greek yogurt with fresh strawberry slices
Some fruit-on-the-bottom varieties of yogurt contain 26 grams of sugar in a six-ounce container (that's the equivalent of three Oreo cookies). And while 12 grams of that comes from the milk itself, the rest is from the sugar-packed fruit flavoring. A recent study review published in the BMJ found that cutting back on sugar is associated with about a two-pound weight loss, while eating more results in a similar amount of weight gain. Stick to plain Greek yogurt for less sugar and a healthy dose of protein (just beware of these 6 gross Greek yogurt myths).
Instead of: ½ cup of trail mix with chocolate pieces
Reach for: A fruit-and-nut bar
The standard serving size of trail mix is a quarter cup, a measly amount that most of never come close to sticking to--especially when eating straight out of the bag (just two handfuls put you at 350 calories!). A fruit-and-nut bar, like KIND Dark Chocolate Nuts & Sea Salt or a LaraBar is great way to meet your craving for something nutty and slightly sweet, but in a single-serve package that you can't overdo.
Instead of: An ounce of pretzels
Reach for: An ounce of salted, shelled pistachios
Pretzels pack 450 mg of sodium--that's nearly 20% of what you need in an entire day. Salted nuts, on the other hand, contain just a quarter the sodium. And if you're worried about the fat in the nuts, don't be: While the pistachios do have 50 more calories per serving than the pretzels, they also contain twice the protein and three times the fiber to keep you fuller longer. Plus, people who added nuts to their diet lost more weight compared to those who snacked on pretzels, according to a recent UCLA study.
Instead of: ¼ cup of soy nuts
Reach for: ½ cup shelled, steamed edamame
While a quarter-cup of soy nuts is 130 calories, a single-serve packet of edamame (which can be steamed in the microwave and is available in the freezer section of your grocery store) is only 90 calories. Translation? You get twice the food for fewer calories.
Instead of: A can of diet soda
Reach for: 12 oz of unsweetened sparkling water with fruit slices
Many people drink zero calorie sodas when trying to stave off hunger between meals. However, the artificial sweetener you're knocking back along with the bubbles has been linked to an increased risk of weight gain--the sweeteners may negatively impact your metabolism, as well as throw off your brain's ability to regulate your appetite, finds a 2013 study in Trends in Endocrinology and Metabolism. If you're really just thirsty instead of hungry, opting for sparkling H20 provides that filling carbonation, while adding fruit (orange, lemon, strawberries) adds a hint of sweetness with a boost of nutrition. Still not convinced you need to give up your diet soda habit? You will be when you read the 7 Scary Side Effects of Diet Soda.
Instead of: Two rice cakes
Reach for: One cup of air-popped popcorn
Rice cakes have long been labeled a diet food because they're low in calories and fat free. But they're also sky high on the glycemic index, scoring 82 (pure sugar is 100). The glycemic index is a measure of how a food raises your blood sugar and insulin (the higher the score, the greater the increase). And according to Australian research, people who ate a diet lower on the glycemic index lost twice as much fat compared to those on higher glycemic diets.
One cup of air-popped popcorn is only 31 calories, has a lower glycemic index (55), and also counts as a serving of whole grains. Plus, you can jazz up plain popcorn with zero-calorie spices--like cinnamon, cumin, chili powder--to make it tastier. (Just be sure to avoid microwave popcorn, one of these 7 Foods You Should Never, Ever Eat.)
Instead of: A 16-ounce bottled smoothie
Reach for: A homemade smoothie
At first glance, the bottled smoothie might look like a good pick at only 150 calories. But look closer and you'll see that that one bottle contains two servings (or 300 total calories), and, let's be real, most of us aren't just going to drink half the bottle. A better bet? Make your own and control the calories yourself. These 25 delectable detox smoothies are a good place to start!
Instead of: One ounce of banana chips
Reach for: A banana
Banana chips appear to be a sound choice because they're made from bananas-how bad could they be, right? Bad. They're usually fried, meaning they contain eight grams of saturated fat (40% of your daily value) and 145 calories. A diet high in saturated fat has been found to disrupt the production of key hormones that regulate your appetite, which could make you feel hungry when you're not, finds a study in the British Journal of Nutrition. Opt for a large banana, which offers only 121 calories and zero grams of saturated fat.
Instead of: A grande 2% pumpkin spice latte
Reach for: A grande non-fat latte
While a pumpkin latte feels like the perfect fall snack, it's not exactly bursting with pumpkin. Rather, it's bursting with sugar, clocking in at 47 grams of sugar and 310 calories--and that's without the whipped cream. To put that in perspective, an unsweetened latte contains 18 grams of sugar (from the milk). That means, the pumpkin drink packs 29 added grams of sugar, or more than seven teaspoons of sugar. Women are only advised to get six added teaspoons of the sweet stuff a day to prevent weight gain, according to the American Heart Association. Go for a skim latte instead, which contains no added sugar and only 130 calories.
Instead of: A chocolate pudding cup
Reach for: One ounce of dark chocolate
When you're craving something chocolate-y a pudding cup gets a good rep as a diet-friendly treat. But you'll satisfy your craving more if you go for the real deal, an ounce of 70% (or higher) dark chocolate. It contains 168 calories (just a few more calories than the average pudding cup, which ranges from 120 to 150 calories), plus less sugar and carbs, and more satiating fiber. The chocolate also has antioxidant-packed cocoa, which, per a study in the Archives of Internal Medicine, may be the reason people who eat it a few times a week are thinner than those who don't. If portioning is an issue for you, Endangered Species Organic Dark Chocolate Chimp Mints ($50, pack of 64; amazon.com ) come in .35 oz each (so you can have 3!), or try 1-oz Scharffen Berger 70% Cacao Bittersweet Chocolate bars ($4; amazon.com).
Instead of: A handful of baby carrots
Reach for: A handful of baby carrots dipped in 2 Tbsp hummus
Sure, your mouth will be busy chewing like a rabbit, but once you stop munching, you're still going to be hungry. Carrots alone likely don't have enough calories to keep you full for very long--so as good as your intentions are, your hunger may drive you to dip into the office candy stash soon after. Instead, pair them with a protein source like hummus, which will help slow digestion and keep afternoon cravings at bay.
Instead of: ½ cup of canned pears
Reach for: 4 dried plums
Even though it's fruit, the canned pears are swimming in sweetened syrup, and they're also low in fiber, with only one gram per serving. Eating four dried plums--aka prunes--provides a few less calories (91 in the dried plums versus 100 in canned pears) and ups your intake of fiber to three grams. Women should aim to get 25 grams of fiber per day--but most only eat half that--and increasing your intake by 10 grams a day is associated with a smaller waist circumference and weight, according to a study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
Instead of: One serving of cheese crackers (27 crackers)
Reach for: A half of a turkey sandwich on whole wheat with a slice of avocado
Twenty-seven cheese crackers in a serving sounds like a sweet deal, but like all bargains, if it sounds too good to be true...well, you know how it goes. The crackers are high in simple carbohydrates like enriched flours, which spike blood sugar and create cravings (for more crackers). You can decrease that response and slow digestion with 100% whole grain bread, a source of protein, and healthy fats. Upping the intake of whole grains helped female dieters lose nearly two pounds more and decrease their body fat by one additional percentage point than a group that ate refined grains, according to a study in the Journal of Nutrition.
More from Prevention: 20 Perfect Workout Snacks
Instead of: ½ cup granola with one-cup skim milk
Reach for: One packet of instant oats
If you get hungry before lunch, you might want a second breakfast--and that's okay! But granola is little more than sugar and fat, which is why this healthy-sounding snack can run upward of 360 calories. And people tend to eat bigger portions when the food is labeled healthy (like granola), according to a recent French study. The instant oats, on the other hand, contain about 150 calories and can be easily whipped up in a cup with hot water. Oats also offer a surprisingly good amount of protein, plus slow-digesting fiber from whole grains.
Instead of: 100-calorie pack of cookies
Reach for: One-third cup of roasted pumpkin seeds
Smaller packages actually backfire, according to a study from Arizona State University, which found that people tend to eat more 100-calorie packs because they appear to be diet food. Besides, cookies--even diet versions--are almost always devoid of nutrients. Pumpkin seeds contain good fats and protein and can be pre-portioned out into individual bags to take to work. A one-third cup serving of roasted seeds is just 94 calories.
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