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We are a nation of snackers.

According to a recent report from market research company Ipsos, on any given day about two thirds of the time Canadians spend eating and drinking happens outside of breakfast, lunch, and dinner. That is considered snacking.

For some people, this means junk food (and empty calories), but, in fact, snacks can be part of a healthy diet.

“Think of a snack as something that offers you some nutrition and gives you an energy boost. This is different than a treat, such as cookies, chips, and chocolate,” says registered dietitian Stephanie Boutette. Choosing healthy snacks can help you to meet nutrient recommendations—and feel full between meals. According to research, this feeling may reduce the temptation to overeat, and thus the overall number of calories consumed in a day. Snacking during the day may also help to regulate cholesterol and insulin levels.

But knowing the difference between healthy snacking and indulging is key—and, fortunately, Canada’s new Food Guide offers some helpful strategies. For starters, aim for nutrient-rich foods that are either minimally processed or unprocessed. The Food Guide also recommends eating snacks mindfully, meaning that you take the time to think about whether you are actually hungry or are simply eating for emotional reasons, and that you avoid distractions from things like watching TV or looking at your phone while enjoying your snack. Lastly, plan ahead so that when hunger hits, you have healthy options on hand.

For people with diabetes, Boutette also recommends talking to a registered dietitian. While snacks can help some people prevent low blood sugar, they do not need to be included in all meal plans. “A dietitian can help determine what would work for [the individual] in terms of meal spacing and controlling blood sugar levels, while also preventing overeating and weight gain,” she says.

What makes a healthy snack?

In Canada, where chips are the most popular snack food and where we face lots of advertising and choices, how can you pick healthier options? Start by skipping the snacks aisles. “Several foods advertised as snacks are not always the best selections,” says Boutette. “They [may be] high in sugar, saturated fat, and/or salt, and with little fibre and nutrients.”

If convenience is important to you, look for items that can be eaten on the go with very little advance preparation, or that are sold in portions. Recommendations from Canada’s Food Guide include:

• Apples

• Nut butter (peanut, almond, cashew)

• Plain popcorn

• Whole-grain crackers

• Nuts

• Pumpkin or sunflower seeds

Other good choices? Whole or cut-up fruits and vegetables; hummus or guacamole; individual containers of yogurt (compare labels to find ones that are lower in fat and sugar); and low-fat cheeses. Adds Boutette, “Keep in mind [that] the portion size of the snack is also important.”

There is no need to fear a snack attack. Instead, think of snack time as an opportunity for nourishment and adding important nutrients to your diet—and choose wisely

Did you know?

Choosing lower glycemic index foods can help you control your blood sugar. Find out more at the Glycemic Index Food Guide.

This updated article originally appeared in Diabetes Dialogue.

Author: Alyssa Schwartz

Category Tags: Healthy Living;

Region: National

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