"I eat healthy, and I don't snack between meals; why can't I lose any weight?"
A colleague—I'll call her Mary—was in my office recently, complaining about her body with just those words. I listened, nodding sympathetically, because I couldn't speak—I had a mouth full of almonds and was washing them down with chocolate milk. Mary stared at me as though I'd just backed over her dachshund. "You eat all the time, and you never gain weight!" she exclaimed. "What, is there a picture in your attic that gets fatter while you stay thin?"
"I never gain weight because I eat all the time," I explained, reaching for a napkin. "Not snacking is exactly the wrong thing to do!"
Our bodies evolved to graze; when food gets scarce, we start to retain fat as a way of protecting ourselves from famine. "That's exactly what happens when you don't snack between meals," I told her. "Your body doesn't know where its next meal is coming from, so it's afraid to shed the extra pounds." Worse, you wind up eating more than you need at every meal.
That's why snacking is so important: In fact, when Penn State researchers fed subjects just one humble apple before mealtime, the subjects consumed nearly 190 fewer calories. That's part of the reason why, when laying out the eating strategy for the new Eat This, Not That No-Diet Diet!, I included two snacks per day, every day.
Think of it this way: The more you eat, the more you lose. Sounds great, right? But you need to snack smartly, and stock your kitchen with the nibbles on this list.
1. BEST YOGURT
Fage Total 2% Plain Greek Yogurt (7 oz container)
4 g fat (3 g saturated)
17 g protein
8 g sugars
Yogurt is teeming with calcium, which promotes muscle growth; and probiotic bacteria, which bolsters your immune system. What's more, study participants who ate yogurt daily lost 81 percent more belly fat than those who didn't, according to a study published in the International Journal of Obesity. So why Greek? Because the Greek stuff has more than double the protein of standard American-style yogurt-and far less sugar. Want to make it even healthier? Add a few berries along with some nuts or seeds.
Dannon Fruit on the Bottom Strawberry (6 oz container)
1.5 g fat (1 g saturated)
6 g protein
26 g sugars
DID YOU KNOW? Sleepy women eat an extra 328 calories per day, according a new study from the New York Obesity Research Center. Discover more shocking health, nutrition, and weight loss secrets like this by following me on Twitter right here (where I'm giving a FREE iPad2 to a lucky follower) or by signing up for our FREE Eat This, Not That! newsletter.
2. BEST FINGER FOOD
Almonds (1 oz)
14 g fat (1 g saturated)
6 g protein
3.5 g fiber
Almonds are an excellent source of heart-healthy monosaturated fats, and, pound for pound, a better source of protein than eggs. That's part of the reason why research published in the journal Obesity demonstrated that people who frequently eat nuts are less likely to gain weight. Just be sure to eat them whole: A study from the Journal of Nutrition found that the flavonoids in the skin combine with the vitamin E in the nut to double the antioxidant dose.
Original M&Ms (1 serving, 1.7 oz)
10 g fat (6 g saturated)
31 g sugars
2 g protein
1 g fiber
Bonus Tip: The right breakfast will jumpstart your metabolism and have you burning more calories throughout the day. The wrong one will fill you up with empty calories and an entire day’s worth of fat, sugar, and salt. Make sure you consult this shocking list of the 20 Worst Breakfasts in America.
3. BEST CEREAL
Kashi GoLean Original (1 cup with 1/2 cup of 1% milk)
2.5 g fat (.5 g saturated)
12 g sugars
17 g protein
10 g fiber
You know how you're not supposed to judge a book by its cover? Well the same rule applies to cereal. Some cereals, like the granola below, look healthy but actually have as much sugar as a candy bar. Kashi's GoLean lives up to its healthy moniker. This bowl has twice as much fiber as an apple, three times as much protein as a large egg, and even with milk it manages to keep the calorie load below 200 per bowl.
Kashi Summer Berry Granola (3/4 cup with 1/2 cup 1% milk)
10.5 g fat (2 g saturated)
19.5 g sugars
DID YOU KNOW? Studies show that people underestimate how many calories are in restaurant meals by nearly 100 percent! Think you know healthy foods when you see them? Then I'll bet you'll be shocked by these 25 New Healthy Foods That Aren’t.
4. BEST DIP SNACK
Sabra Roasted Red Pepper Hummus (2 Tbsp with 10 baby carrots)
6 g fat (1 g saturated)
200 mg sodium
2.5 g protein
4 g fiber
Hummus is composed primarily of chickpeas, which have been shown to help regulate blood sugar—probably due to their salutary balance of protein and fiber. Most of that fiber is insoluble, so it promotes colon health. One study even found that people who added chickpeas to their diet ended up taking in fewer total calories. Add to that a few baby carrots and you get the added benefit of vision-preserving, skin-soothing beta-carotene.
Lay’s Smooth Ranch Dip (2 tbsp) with Ruffles Loaded Chili & Cheese Potato Chips (1 oz)
15 g fat (1 g saturated)
390 mg sodium
Eat This, Not That! secret: You can lose 10, 20, 30 or more pounds while still eating your favorite foods, and without dieting, if you make smart swaps throughout your day. Feast on this delicious list of 15 Desserts That Burn Fat!
5. BEST DRINK
Lowfat chocolate milk (1 cup)
2.5 g fat (1.5 g saturated)
25 g sugars
8 g protein
You probably know that dairy products are an ideal source of calcium, but did you know that calcium actually interferes with your body's ability to absorb fat? To enjoy that effect, though, you need the vitamin D, so thankfully dairy producers add it to milk. Regular, non-chocolate milk offers this benefit, but research shows that chocolate milk might have an edge on the white stuff. A study published in the International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism showed that participants who drank chocolate milk before mounting stationary bikes were able to ride 49 percent longer than those given a generic carbohydrate-replacement beverage. Keep that in mind next time you're about to head out for an afternoon gym session.
Arizona Sports Lemon-Lime (1 bottle)
0 g fat
52 g sugars
0 g protein
6. BEST CRUNCHY SNACK
Newman’s Own Organics Spelt Pretzels (20 pretzels)
1 g fat (0 g saturated)
240 mg sodium
4 g protein
4 g fiber
Spelt is a grain related to wheat that packs more fiber and protein—and at 6 calories per pretzel, the dietary bang for your buck is undeniable. Over-saltiness is always a concern with pretzels, but the sodium level in this snack is mild. Combine that with Newman's Own's longstanding support for charitable causes—and, in Nell Newman's Organics company, a robust commitment to sustainable, organic farming—and you've got a product you'll proudly pluck from the shelf. Pair these with a hunk of cheddar to rope even more protein into your snack break.
Newman’s Own Organics Salted Rounds Pretzels (16 pretzels)
2 g fat (0 g saturated)
800 mg sodium
4 g protein
0 g fiber
ALWAYS REMEMBER: The key is finding snacks that are low in sugar and high in protein and fiber. Check out the Eat This, Not That! series, and try any of our 50 Best Snack Foods in America. They’ll help push the junk out of your diet—and the fat out of your body—by helping to keep you lean and full all day long!