“Eating regularly throughout the day (every three to four hours) prevents low blood sugar and hunger while helping to maintain energy levels, which is vital for mental and physical performance,” said Cheryl Williams, a registered dietitian at the Emory Heart and Vascular Center in Atlanta.
A mid-afternoon snack can tame the temptation to overeat later because you won’t feel famished by dinner time. However that doesn’t give you a free pass to snack constantly on the job.
Eating many times a day doesn’t automatically work for weight loss. It can contribute to weight gain if you are taking in excess calories via snacking and not compensating by eating less at mealtime, according to Timothy S. Harlan, M.D. , Medical Director of the Tulane University Medical Group and Assistant Professor of Clinical Medicine.
“However, when people consider their snacks as part of their total daily food intake, healthy snacking can work really well,” Dr. Harlan, the author of Just Tell Me What to Eat The Delicious 6-Week Weight Loss Plan for the Real World (Da Capo Lifelong Books), explains.
Avoid vending machine junk food: plan ahead
The key to sensible snacking at work? Planning in advance is to have healthy goodies with only 200 calories or less on hand when a snack attack strikes.
“It’s funny because when I ask patients what they are doing next week at 2:30 pm they take out their iPhone and tell me. When I ask them what they are having for snacks, they look at me like I grew a second head,” said Dr. Harlan. “It’s important for people to learn not to eat reactively. Plan proactively.”
Your strategy for on-the-job snacks should include what kind of munchies you prefer to eat and their nutritional value. You also need to think ahead so you’ll limit the amount of your snacks (individual packaged servings can solve that problem).
Dr. Harlan points out that most people tend to be either sweet snackers or salty snackers. “Recognizing this makes a big difference in how to choose what you snacks to have on hand at work,” he says.
“For instance, one study showed that those who were fruit lovers ate sweet snacks more often while those who expressed a preference for veggies were salty snack eaters. Interestingly, sweet snackers are just as satisfied eating apples as they are chocolate.”
A dozen healthy office-friendly (200 calories or less) snacks:
- Popcorn. Just make sure you look for the 100 calorie popcorn packs, advises Dr. Harlan. “There are 4 grams of fiber and less than 200 mg sodium in there, too.”
- Low-fat cottage cheese (¼ cup) mixed with ½ cup pineapple tidbits in juice.
- Nuts and/or seeds. “They are healthy but high calorie,” nutrition expert Cheryl Williams warns. “You can avoid over eating by portioning out your servings (1/4 cup) in mini zip lock bags. Make up enough bags to last you for the week.” Dr. Harlan points out that roasted pistachios in the shell are a good nut snack choice and slow down your eating a bit.
- 1 cup plain Greek yogurt plus half a banana.
- 1 oz. reduced fat cheese stick plus 1 cup of blueberries.
- Frozen fruit juice bars. Look for the all-natural variety in flavors like strawberry and grape. “The only have 90 calories and are made with (mostly) fruit and water with little added sugar. It’s a popsicle so you can feel like a kid but still know you are having something really healthy,” Dr. Harlan says.
- Baked whole grain tortilla chips (12) with ½ cup salsa.
- Brown rice cakes (3) served with a tablespoon of natural peanut butter.
- Fresh fruit. “Apples, oranges, and pears work great because they keep well,” notes Dr. Harlan. “Berries can work too and a little squirt of canned real whipped cream adds only 30 calories on top of 1/3 of a cup of delicious blueberries, strawberries, or blackberries.”
- Hummus (1/3 cup) with ½ bell pepper sliced into strips.
- Homemade trail mix. Cheryl Williams’ recipe: mix 2 cups of Cheerios with ½ cup dried cranberries, ¼ cup semi-sweet chocolate chips, and ¼ cup mixed nuts. Put ½ cup of the mixture into individual bags to limit portion size.
- Dark chocolate cocoa. “Chocolate contains great antioxidants. Shop around to find the highest cacao, content but keep an eye on the amount of sugar added,” said Dr. Harlan. “Look for servings in the 120 to 140 calorie range.”
Sherry Baker is a health and medical journalist whose work has appeared in Psychology Today, Newsweek, Discover and many other publications. She is also the former Director of Public Relations for the Emory Heart Center. Any opinions expressed within this document are solely the opinion of the individual author and may not reflect the opinions of Ebix or its personnel.
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