Whatever your reasoning may be—maybe it’s to decrease disease risk, maybe it’s to feel better and move easier throughout the day—losing weight has always come with this stigma of restriction. In order to lose weight, you have to eat less. Sure, while the science is there that calorie deficit is a key part of weight loss, the quality of your food is also a big deal when it comes to staying full, healthy and nourished. And in many cases, adding snacks into your day (yes, snacks) can be the key to helping you reach your weight loss goals.
It may seem a bit counterintuitive to eat more meals when you’re trying to lose weight, yet many health professionals are quick to back up the claim. Stocking up on the best kind of snacks will help you with that feeling of restriction (which we all know never actually works when it comes to losing weight) and leave you feeling satisfied as you work toward having a healthier body for the long haul.
So, how exactly does one incorporate snacking into your daily routine if you’re trying to lose weight? And what kinds of snacks are recommended? We asked registered dietitians to share their tips, tricks and tasty snacks to help you stay on track with your goals.
Should You Eat Snacks If You’re Trying to Lose Weight?
Lauren Harris-Pincus, M.S., RDN, says that not only is snacking possible when trying to lose weight, but it’s actually advisable. “Snacks allow you to spread your energy intake throughout the day and prevent extreme hunger that can lead to excess intake at the next meal,” she explains.
Eating more meals to lose weight…really? Yes, really. Research, such as a small 2019 study published in the Spanish journal Nutricion Hospitalaria, proves the number of meals doesn’t actually affect body weight or body composition. As long as the meals are nutritious and keep energy intake in mind, then incorporating snacking into one’s life can still be a part of healthy weight management.
So what does a nutritious snack actually look like, and how can one incorporate it into their daily life—especially if snacking always felt like off limits?
Strategies for Effective Snacking for Weight Loss
When it comes to choosing the right snacks for weight loss, dietitians agree that it’s all about snacking on something that will make you feel full—which goes back to looking for the right nutrients.
Caroline Margolis, RD, points out research from 2016 in Advances in Nutrition that noted that snacks containing a healthy mix of protein, healthy fats and complex carbs between meals help promote satiety, decrease eating too much between meals, and reduce the risk of obesity. “The reduced hunger and better blood sugar control makes one less likely to overeat at their next meal,” she explains.
In particular, fruits and vegetables provide a variety of vitamins and minerals (plus fiber!) that help keep your body healthy and satiated. “Only 1 in 10 Americans consumes the recommended amount of fruits and veggies,” explains Harris-Pincus. “Including them in snacks is an easy way to increase the overall quality of the diet.”
Once you finally have your chosen snack ready to go, Andrea Mathis, RD, LDN, says portion control is a helpful practice for ensuring you can enjoy the snacks you love without eating too much to stay on track for your weight management goals. “Pre-portioning snacks or choosing individually packaged options can help with portion control.”
Mathis also recommends mindful eating when snacking to avoid excessive calorie intake. “Eat with awareness, savoring each bite,” she explains. “Avoid distractions like watching TV or working while snacking to prevent overeating and mindfully enjoy your food.”
What to Look for in a Healthy Snack for Weight Loss
For a high-quality healthy snack for weight loss, focus on three key nutrients: protein, healthy fats and fiber. According to Huma Chaudhry RD, LDN, snacks containing these elements can support metabolic health, control your appetite, and keep you full for longer.
When choosing a snack, Chaudhry says to look for snacks containing at least 10 grams of protein and 5 grams of fiber while keeping it in the 200-250 calorie range. “This can be enough to curb hunger between meals and provide the right nutrients to support weight loss,” she explains. That said, the calorie content of your snacks might seem different since each person has individual needs. Working with a registered dietitian can help you identify what’s right for you.
Healthy Snacks for Weight Loss
To make sure you’re getting high-quality sources of protein and fiber to keep you healthy, full, and energized for hours, Amy Goodson, M.S., RD, LD, CSSD, says to reach for these specific snack combinations, such as:
- Strawberry & Yogurt Parfait: Yogurt parfaits aren’t just for breakfast; they make a great snack! Greek yogurt is packed with protein, which not only helps with maintaining muscle mass but also keeps you satisfied until your next meal. The strawberries in the parfait add extra fiber, helping with that fullness and even improving your gut health.
- Double-Tahini Hummus with Vegetables: Hummus is made from chickpeas, which provide protein and fiber for the ultimate satisfying snack. Pair with your favorite cut-up vegetables (think carrots, cucumbers or bell peppers) for even more fiber and vitamins.
- Hard-Boiled Egg & Almonds: Eggs and nuts are both great sources of high-quality protein. One large egg contains 6 grams of protein, so if you pair two hard-boiled eggs with a ¼ cup of salted almonds, your snack will contain 19 grams of filling protein and some healthy fats.
- Edamame with Ginger Salt: If you’re looking for a plant-based protein snack that still packs a punch, one cup of edamame (young soybeans) provides 17 grams of protein, along with 8 grams of satiating fiber.
- Lime & Parmesan Popcorn: Looking for something crunchy and salty that isn’t a bag of chips? “Popcorn is a whole grain that is high in fiber and low in calories when air-popped,” says Mathis. This salty popcorn packs in the flavor punch, giving your snack a little extra oomph while still keeping things light.
- Berry-Kefir Smoothie: “Fermented foods such as kefir give snacks an extra edge because, in addition to vitamins, minerals, protein, and fat, they also contain probiotics,” says Margolis. “The probiotics, and postbiotics in kefir in particular, may also promote satiety by increasing absorption of nutrients and help better control blood sugar.”
The Bottom Line
While it may seem contradictory to plan out more meals when you’re trying to lose or manage your weight, experts say that eating small snacks that keep you full and satisfied will actually help with eating too much and excessive calorie intake. Choosing snacks rich in protein, fiber and healthy fats will help you feel full and nourished. Planning and portioning your snacks can be an easy way to ensure that you’re staying on track with your goals while still being able to enjoy your favorite tasty snacks.
As always, seek guidance from a healthcare professional when making decisions about your health and weight management, such as a registered dietitian who can guide you on the best healthy snacks for your specific goals and tastes.