Mayo Clinic Health Library

Snacks: How they fit into your weight-loss plan

Updated: 05-25-2012

Your stomach is growling, but lunch is hours away. You could indulge yourself with a snack, but you think it's best to grit your teeth and wait for lunch. Not so, if weight loss is your goal.

Although you may feel guilty about snacking, snacks aren't necessarily bad. In fact, well-planned weight-loss diets, such as the Mayo Clinic Diet, allow for snacks to help manage hunger and reduce bingeing. Eating a healthy snack of a piece of fruit or some raw veggies can tame your hunger without ruining your appetite for your next meal.

The key to incorporating snacks into your weight-loss plan is to keep moderation and balance in mind.

Choose healthy snacks

Select foods that satisfy your hunger, supply your body with energy and provide important nutrients. Opt for snacks of 100 calories or less to stay within your daily calorie goal.

So what are some smart choices? Here are several suggestions for 100-calorie snacks:

  • 1 cup sliced bananas and fresh raspberries (or any fruit)
  • 2 cups of baby carrots
  • 3 1/2 cups air-popped popcorn
  • 5 Melba toast crackers, rye or pumpernickel
  • 2 tablespoons of peanuts
  • 2 domino-sized slices of low-fat colby or cheddar cheese

Know which foods to reach for

You can eat more of foods with high water or fiber content and few calories, such as carrots, grapes and air-popped popcorn, for your 100 calories. Choose snacks from these food groups:

  • Fruits and vegetables. Eating fruits and vegetables provides a feeling of fullness and only a small number of calories. Fruits and vegetables also provide vitamins, minerals, fiber and other nutrients.
  • Whole grains. Whole-grain snacks are rich in fiber and complex carbohydrates, which give you energy with staying power. Look for items such as low-fat whole-grain crackers, whole-grain pretzels and whole-grain crispbreads.
  • Nuts and seeds. Nuts and seeds provide protein, so you will feel fuller longer. They are high in fat, but it's mostly monounsaturated, a healthy kind of fat. Nuts and seeds are high in calories, however, so don't eat them in large quantities.
  • Low-fat dairy products. Cheese, yogurt and other dairy products are good sources of calcium and protein, plus many other vitamins and minerals. Choose the low-fat versions. Some yogurts have extra added sugar, so look for plain, low-calorie or "light" varieties.

Plan ahead to make better choices

With planning and a little preparation, you can have healthy foods on hand so that you're ready when temptation strikes:

  • Prepare and pack healthy meals at home for children and/or adults to eat at school or work.
  • Have healthy snacks available at home and bring nutrient-dense snacks to eat when on the go.
  • Before attending parties, eat a small, healthy snack at home. Then at the party take small portions and focus on healthy options.

When a snack fills in for a meal

With today's busy world, healthy meals often lose out to busy schedules. A grab-and-go snack could be the difference between some nourishment and none at all. Try these ideas for healthy snacks that minimize calories and maximize whole grains, fruits and vegetables. They're all around 200 calories.

  • Toast one-half of a whole-wheat English muffin. Top with one slice Canadian bacon, a tomato slice and one slice low-fat American cheese. Microwave until the cheese melts.
  • Spread 1 tablespoon part-skim ricotta cheese over one-half of a small cinnamon-raisin bagel. Sprinkle with cinnamon if desired and top with a thinly sliced apple.
  • Layer a 6-inch soft corn or flour tortilla with 2 tablespoons shredded low-fat cheddar or Monterey Jack cheese. Microwave until the cheese melts. Slice into bite-sized pie shapes. Dip into some salsa if desired.

Heed your hunger pangs, but forget the guilt. And remember it's easier to choose good-for-you snacks if your refrigerator and shelves are stocked with healthy options.