Wednesday, May 29, 2024

Try adding these 10 healthiest snacks for weight loss into your daily food plan

Hers rounded up 10 healthy snacks that can help with weight loss goal, based on science.

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A flat lay photograph of a healthy breakfast concept including eggs, avocado and cup of coffee.

AnikonaAnn // Shutterstock

When it comes to weight loss, we live in an era that feels more influenced than investigated. We receive so much nutrition information from the loudest social media influencers rather than actual health experts.

While anecdotes aren't always false, the fact that so many people are desperately gagging down celery juice or doing a week-long potato diet to lose weight illustrates how powerful they can be.

Weight loss advice isn't something to be taken lightly. There are lots of mixed messages out there, like when it comes to healthy snacking. What are the best snacks for weight loss? Why should you choose certain types of snacks over others? Is it even okay to have snacks when you're trying to lose weight?

Hers rounded up 10 healthy snacks that have science-backed reasons for incorporating them into your weight loss plan.

10 Best Snacks for Weight Loss

Here are the 10 best snacks for weight loss:

  • Nuts and seeds
  • Avocado
  • Yogurt
  • Popcorn
  • Chickpeas
  • Hard-boiled eggs
  • Edamame
  • Oatmeal
  • Dried fruit
  • Kale chips

This story will dig into the science and nutritional benefits behind these picks in a minute. But first, let's talk about why healthy snacking is so important.

Scientific evidence concerning snacks and obesity has been mixed. Many studies haven't found a link between snack foods and increased weight. For people who want to lose weight, this reinforces the fact that restriction isn't necessarily the ticket to success.

You don't need to stop snacking to achieve your weight loss goals. However, research does indicate that it matters what types of snacks you're reaching for if weight loss is the goal. Studies generally say that minimally processed foods high in protein and fiber help increase satiety (the feeling of fullness) when eaten between meals. Furthermore, snacks that are processed to contain more protein, fiber or complex carbohydrates may have the same effect.

Don't run out and stock up on diet bars and "protein brownies" just yet. There are plenty of actually enjoyable, real foods that provide the nutritional balance you need to achieve your weight loss goals.

Nuts and Seeds

Some folks are hesitant to add nuts, seeds and nut butter to their weight loss diet because of the high fat and calorie content. Don't fear these nutrient-dense foods.

A daily handful of nuts and seeds provides protein, healthy fats, fiber, vitamins, minerals and plant compounds that support satiety and weight loss. Consuming nuts regularly may even help prevent gradual unwanted weight gain. 

One review found that eating flaxseeds can support long-term weight loss. Specifically, researchers saw a positive effect when people who were overweight ate three tablespoons of whole flaxseeds per day for at least 12 weeks.

Nuts and seeds might also help improve your health in other ways. In one study, 100 adults who were overweight or obese were randomly assigned either a standard calorie-reduced diet or a calorie-reduced diet that received 15 percent of its calories from walnuts.

Participants' body composition, physical activity, blood pressure and blood fat measurements were taken at baseline, three months and six months. While both groups experienced weight loss, only the walnut group had lower blood pressure and cholesterol at six months.

Consider a handful of these a day: 

  • Almonds
  • Walnuts
  • Cashews
  • Pistachios
  • Macadamia nuts
  • Chia seeds
  • Flaxseeds
  • Hemp seeds
  • Pumpkin seeds
  • Sunflower seeds

For the most wellness and weight loss benefits, choose raw nuts and seeds that haven't been roasted in oil or doused in added sugar or salt.

Eat them on their own, in homemade trail mix with dried fruit and dark chocolate, tossed into oatmeal or baked into muffins. Spread peanut butter or almond butter on a piece of whole wheat toast or serve it with sliced apples. 

Avocado

Avocados contain folate, potassium, B vitamins and fiber — and they're roughly 77 percent fat.

But before the anti-fat theory from the '90s rears its ugly head, let us say these are predominantly monounsaturated fats (MUFAs). When eaten in place of saturated fats, MUFAs are associated with better heart-health markers

Plus, eating avocados can improve your overall nutrient intake and diet quality while potentially lowering your risk for metabolic syndrome, a cluster of conditions that increase your risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease and stroke. 

Other studies have found that an avocado a day as part of a low-cholesterol, moderate-fat diet can support weight loss and heart health. Consistent evidence shows that eating more fruits and vegetables, like avocados, is a major contributor to weight loss in women.

Mash avocado onto whole-grain toast or make guacamole. Slice your avocado in half, remove the pit and sprinkle it with salt and pepper to eat with a spoon. Or stuff half an avocado with black beans, bell peppers, salsa, corn and parsley. 

Yogurt

Yogurt is a fermented milk product known for its slightly sour flavor and probiotic benefits. It can be made from dairy or non-dairy milk. 

In some studies, regular yogurt consumption is associated with a lower body mass index and a smaller waist circumference. Others have observed that eating yogurt may be helpful for preventing obesity and weight gain.

One randomized controlled trial involving 44 individuals with metabolic syndrome found that eating yogurt daily for 10 weeks while on a calorie-restricted diet improved body composition and metabolic parameters.

Add Greek yogurt to smoothies or top it with berries and a handful of granola. If you don't like yogurt, try cottage cheese, which is also high in protein.

Popcorn

Whole grains are minimally processed and retain most of their original nutrients, including fiber. Refined grains, on the other hand, are heavily processed and low in fiber.

Whole grains like popcorn are recommended for weight loss because their high fiber content promotes satiety and prevents overeating. Some researchers think they also support weight loss through positive impacts on the gut microbiome.

When we refer to popcorn as a whole grain, we're not equating a greasy movie theater tub to quinoa. The best popcorn for weight loss is air-popped — not slathered in butter.

Popcorn is a low-calorie snack, but it's still filling. One study found that six cups of popcorn offered more satiety than one cup of potato chips and helped participants feel less hungry at their next meal.

Chickpeas

Most Westerners don't consume many legumes, which include beans, peas and lentils. Chickpeas (garbanzo beans) are legumes that offer tons of health benefits, thanks to their anti-inflammatory, heart-healthy and immune-supportive properties.They've also been studied in weight loss. Chickpeas are high in fiber, low in calories and moderate in protein, making them a great snack. 

National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) data show that people who eat chickpeas or hummus (a paste made from chickpeas, tahini, olive oil and lemon) are five percent less likely to have obesity and 51 percent less likely to have high blood sugar than those who don't eat them. Chickpea eaters are also more likely to have a lower body mass index and waist circumference than folks who don't eat legumes.

One way to eat chickpeas as a filling snack is to toss them lightly in olive oil and seasoning and roast them in the oven or air fryer until crispy.Alternatively, make (or buy) hummus to serve with celery sticks, cherry tomatoes and cucumber slices. If you dislike chickpeas, any bean or lentil is a good snack.

Hard-boiled Eggs

An egg provides six grams of protein, and it's low in calories. Eating protein-rich foods like eggs not only helps keep you satiated but may also elevate your metabolism

A faster metabolism helps your body burn more calories. A higher-protein diet can help boost metabolism by way of what's called the thermic effect of food (TEF). The TEF refers to the period following a meal or snack during which your body works to break down nutrients to use or store. One study found that protein can increase your metabolic rate by 15 percent to 30 percent — significantly more than fat or carbohydrates. 

Consider hard-boiled eggs as an easy snack idea. Pair one with a slice of cheese, a piece of fruit or a handful of nuts.

Edamame

Edamame are young soybeans harvested before they ripen. They're generally sold either shelled or still in their fuzzy pods, fresh or frozen.

Regularly eating plant-based proteins like edamame and other legumes can help support weight loss. One study examined how different food groups, nutrient intakes and diet quality influenced body weight, body composition and metabolic health markers.

In the study, 219 adults either adopted a low-fat vegan diet that included nutrition education or made no changes at all for 16 weeks. Researchers concluded that among those who changed their diet, legumes were the single best food group predictor of weight loss. They also determined that eating more low-fat plants and fewer high-fat animal products was associated with lower body weight.

In addition to fiber and protein, edamame is rich in vitamin K, folate and iron, plus small amounts of calcium and vitamin C. These legumes also contain omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants called isoflavones. Antioxidants help protect your cells from damage that may lead to inflammation and disease. 

Steam or boil edamame in their pods until they turn bright green. Sprinkle them with salt and use your teeth to remove them from the pods. You can also try cooked, mashed edamame on toast or blended into hummus.

Oatmeal

Who says oatmeal is just for breakfast? Goldilocks had it right — porridge can be a delicious, satisfying snack when made just right.

Oats have been widely studied for their weight loss benefits. Research on oats and obesity has shown that oatmeal can suppress appetite, prevent overeating and help reduce overall weight and body fat. Eating oats can also help reduce abdominal fat. Furthermore, oats contain a fiber called beta-glucans, which can help improve cholesterol and blood sugar regulation. Other compounds in oats may support immunity and a healthy gut microbiome. 

Oatmeal can be enjoyed hot or cold. You can cook a batch in the crockpot or mix oats with milk and fruit and let it all meld together, then refrigerate in a mason jar overnight.

Dried Fruit 

You don't have to be an avid hiker to enjoy dried fruit in your trail mix. Look around any grocery store and you'll notice the variety of dried fruit has gone up exponentially in recent years. Not only can it satisfy a sweet tooth, but it's a great snack for healthy weight loss.

In fact, data from the NHANES show that dried fruit consumption is associated with better overall nutrient intake, as well as diet quality and lower body weight.

Consider these dried fruit snack options: 

  • Raisins
  • Dried cranberries
  • Dried apricots
  • Dried pears
  • Dried strawberries
  • Banana chips

For the most weight loss benefit, choose unsweetened dried fruit that isn't coated in yogurt. While delectable, this just adds extra calories without extra nutrition. 

Kale Chips

Kale tends to be filed in the "love it" or "hate it" category for most people. Like many leafy greens, it can take some adaptation if your palate isn't used to it. But ultimately, kale is a highly nutritious food that can be prepared in tasty ways.

Kale is very low in calories but provides bulk that can help you stay full between meals. It has a high water content and is a source of fiber that may help support healthy weight loss. When eaten as a snack, low-calorie foods like kale may help enhance satiety and prevent overeating at your next meal.

Kale chips are a great weight-loss snack. To make them, remove the stems and rip the leaves into chip-size pieces. Toss them lightly with olive and a pinch of salt. Roast them on a cooking sheet at 225 degrees for 15 to 20 minutes, shaking gently every few minutes. Watch them closely so they don't burn toward the end.

Other dried and roasted veggies, like seaweed, mushrooms, lentils and pea snaps, also make healthy snacks.

How to Enjoy Healthy Snacks and Lose Weight

When your goal is weight loss, it can be easy to fall into a pattern of restriction or overthinking everything that goes into your mouth. Let's be honest: That's exhausting. It's also unnecessary.

Research shows that snacking between meals doesn't make you gain weight or prevent weight loss. In fact, choosing nutrient-dense snacks can help keep your appetite in check and your blood sugar stable, preventing the overeating that often makes it hard to lose weight.

Here are some tips:

  • Consume a high-protein diet for satiety. This may help you reduce your body weight and decrease fat mass while preserving muscle. 
  • Don't replace meals with snacks. While a calorie deficit is the most important factor in weight loss, this doesn't mean you should stop eating (definitely don't do that). Not only can this set you up for nutrition deficiencies, but it could promote a weight loss plateau or even trigger a dangerous binge-restriction cycle.
  • Enjoy your food. Your mental health is crucial in losing excess weight and keeping it off for the long haul. Chewing on a miserably dry "chocolate" diet bar isn't going to cut it, so find healthy foods you enjoy eating.
  • Exercise regularly. Combine a healthy diet pattern with regular exercise for the best results. Being physically active helps boost your metabolism and burn more calories.

Weight Loss Snacks: Takeaways

Weight loss is a tricky subject because everyone approaches it differently. There's no single best strategy for weight management. Rather than trying not to do something "wrong," focus on figuring out what works best with your lifestyle.

When it comes to the best snacks for weight loss, any fresh fruit or vegetable will fit the bill. These foods are high in nutrients, low in calories and help keep you satisfied. Pair them with lean proteins, healthy fats and complex carbs for the most health benefits.

When snacking to lose weight:

  • Eat more plants. Plant foods are high in nutrients and generally low in calories. Create snacks out of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds and legumes.
  • Combine nutrients. Include a balance of protein, fiber from complex carbs and healthy unsaturated fats in your snacks. 
  • Be patient. Weight loss doesn't happen overnight. Your weight loss journey also doesn't depend on the morning snack you had yesterday. Focus on your goals, stay consistent, enjoy your food and be kind to yourself in the process.

Finally, remember you don't have to tackle weight loss alone. For individualized weight loss tips and more snack ideas, consult a registered dietitian or look into weight loss treatments online.