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Smart Snacking

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Between school, homework, sports, your after-school job, and hanging out with friends, it may feel like there's no time for healthy eating. And when you do stop to eat, it's probably tempting to go the quick and easy route by grabbing a burger and fries, potato chips, or candy.

How would you grade your parents on keeping healthy snack choices at home?

But it is possible to treat yourself to a healthy snack. In fact, if you have a hectic schedule, it's even more important to eat healthy foods that give you the fuel you need to keep going.

Even if you take time to eat three meals a day, you may still feel hungry at times. What's the answer? Healthy snacks. Snacking on nutritious food can keep your energy level high and your mind alert without taking up a lot of your time.

Why Healthy Snacking Is Good for You

You may have noticed that you feel hungry a lot. This is natural — during adolescence, the body needs more nutrients to grow as it should. Snacks are a terrific way to satisfy that hunger and get all the vitamins and nutrients your body needs.

But you need to pay attention to what you eat. Stuffing your face with a large order of fries after class may give you a temporary boost, but a snack this high in fat and calories will only slow you down in the long run.

To keep energy levels going — and avoid weight gain — steer clear of foods with lots of added sugars like candy bars or soda. Look for foods that contain fiber like whole-grain breads, cereals, fruit, and vegetables and combine them with protein-rich snacks such as peanut butter or low-fat yogurt or cheese.

Judging Whether Snacks Are Healthy

Choosing healthy snacks means shopping smart. Be cautious of the health claims on food packages. Here are some things to watch out for:

Whatever claims a food's manufacturer writes on the front of the package, you can judge whether a food is healthy for you by reading the ingredients and the nutrition information on the food label.

Smart Snacking Strategies

Here are some ways to make healthy snacking part of your everyday routine:

Don't slip up after dinner. Evenings can be a tempting time to indulge in sugary, fatty snacks. If you're really feeling hungry, don't ignore it. Instead, pick the right snacks to fill the hunger gap. Whole-wheat fig bars, rice cakes, or air-popped popcorn can do the trick, as can fruit paired with cheese or yogurt.

Treats to Try

Here are a few healthy snacking ideas:

As with everything, moderation is the key to smart snacking. People who eat regular meals and healthy snacks are less likely to overeat and gain weight than people who skip meals or go for long periods without eating and then scarf down a large order of fries.

It's natural to feel hungrier at certain times — like between a long afternoon of classes and your swim meet. Knowing how much food your body needs to satisfy this hunger is critical. A handful of walnuts is great brain food before sitting down to do that math homework. But a whole bag won't help you add anything — except pounds!

Reviewed by: Mary L. Gavin, MD
Date reviewed: July 2012

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Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.
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