Taste and smell. We could just be like plants and photosynthesize but instead we get to enjoy the experience of eating.
Variety and adaptability. We could just be like cows and just eat grass, or whales and just eat plankton. Our bodies are designed to be able to run on a wide variety of food sources. This not only means that we can enjoy a variety of foods, it means that a healthy diet can look different for different people and different cultures! There are so many delicious ways to be nourished!
I’m privileged to be able to access a really wide variety of healthy, safe, and fresh food.
I do not have any food allergies, sensitivities or medical conditions that keep me from eating certain foods. As much as I like to promote that all foods fit, I realize in some cases not all foods fit because they cause an allergic reaction or pain or dangerous medical consequences. I’m thankful that at this point in my life, I do not have to avoid any foods and can eat cheese without any problems.
This thin crust pizza recipe. (see below) We eat this pizza at least once a month, often when we don’t want to cook anything else and it is always a bright spot.
Pour 3/4 cup body temperature water into a medium-large bowl. Add 1 tsp yeast and let that sit for a little bit, until you can smell the yeast. Stir in 1 cup flour, then add 1 + 1/2 tsp salt. Then add 1 cup more flour and stir until you can’t stir anymore. Then either knead in the bowl or on a clean floured counter. (You can also use a stand mixer with a dough hook). Knead 8-10 minutes or until the dough springs back when pinched. I know that sounds like a lot of time, but I just turn on the Great British Baking Show and pretend I’m on the show with them.
Spray a little nonstick spray in the bottom of the bowl (or pour a teensy bit of oil) and roll the dough ball around in it – this is just so it doesn’t stick or dry out while it rises. Cover with a clean towel and let rise for about an hour.
(You can freeze it at this point to be able to treat your future self to homemade pizza)
Preheat the oven to 500 F. Roll out the dough on a silicon mat or parchment paper until it is 1/4 inch or less thick. Place the rolled out dough and the lining onto a cookie sheet (I like to use the back of a rimmed baking tray). Spread on your sauce and toppings of choice. Avoid topping very thickly or the crust will not get crisp. Bake for 8-15 minutes or until the bottom is crisp (check by lifting with a spatula).
You can use either white or whole wheat flour for this recipe. You can even make it without the rising time if you are in a hurry – just let it rest for a few minutes instead of an hour and roll it out right away. Enjoy!
What are you thankful for?
*Coffee is good for you just as much as any food that has shown to be good for you. Coffee in moderation, in general, is not harmful, and there are multiple studies showing health benefits in regular coffee drinkers. Obviously there are exceptions and nuances (like: drinking coffee won’t solve all your problems, and if you also drink it with a TON of sugar it is probably not as healthy) so speak with a doctor or dietitian if you have questions or concerns and don’t drink coffee if it makes you feel bad.
Today we’re talking canned pumpkin puree (and then pumpkin pie).
The type of pumpkin that is usually used to make pumpkin pie and other pumpkin goodies. (Note that this is about plain canned pumpkin, not canned pie filling. There’s nothing wrong with canned pie filling, it’s just not the same nutritionally as it already has sugars and spices mixed in)
First of all, pumpkin is a vegetable.
No one would argue about butternut squash being a vegetable, right? Pumpkin is very close nutritionally to butternut squash. It goes in the red-orange vegetable group with carrots, sweet potatoes, and tomatoes. You can totally count pumpkin as part of your vegetable intake for the day. Now, the general amount of vegetables that the USDA recommends eating per day is 2 1/2 cups, so unless you’re sitting down to eat a big can of pumpkin, it won’t take care of all of your veggie intake, but it can certainly be part of it.
Pumpkin provides some impressive nutrition
The way canned pumpkin is processed means that some of the water has been taken out (via cooking) so its nutrients are concentrated!
1/2 cup of cooked pumpkin has:
3.5g of fiber (10% of the recommended daily amount for men and nearly 15% of the daily recommendation for women) – helps manage cholesterol and blood sugar, feeds good bacteria in our intestines, promotes regular bowel movements, helps us feel full
nearly 10% of the daily recommended amount of iron – vital for oxygenation of the blood
25% of the recommended amount of vitamin K – important for blood clotting
over 350% recommended daily amount of vitamin A (no, that is not a typo, it is super high in vitamin A) – acts as an antioxidant, important for skin and immune health, important for healthy vision
Most of us probably will not just sit down and eat 1/2 cup of plain canned pumpkin by itself. So how much of that good nutrition will you get in a slice of pumpkin pie? Well, of course it depends on the the recipe and the size of the slice.
Let’s take Libby’s recipe for example (that’s the recipe on the back of the Libby’s pumpkin can). And we’ll say that we cut the pie into 8 slices because that’s easy math. In each slice, there will be about 1/4 cup of canned pumpkin (half the amount we calculated before), so it will have:
1.8g fiber (about 5% of the recommended daily amount for men and 7% for women)
Nearly 5% of the daily recommended amount of iron
Over 10% of the daily recommended amount of vitamin K
and 190% of the daily recommended amount of vitamin A
Some of those amounts might seem small, but realistically, this is the way most people get nutrients from food. Small amounts from different foods that add up during the day. For comparison’s sake, one serving of Benefiber Original has 3 g of fiber, which is about 8% of the recommended daily value for men and 12% of the recommended daily value for women.
And it certainly has more vitamin A, iron, and fiber than many other desserts, like angel food cake or brownies.
Now of course, we must acknowledge that eating a slice of pumpkin pie (with ice cream or whipped cream perhaps too) also comes with more sugar, salt, and fats than just plain pumpkin, so if these are nutrients that you need to limit for a health condition, take those into account.
(and regardless, probably don’t make pumpkin pie the only way you eat vegetables)
However, a pumpkin pie having fats, sugar, and salt, doesn’t mean that you won’t get benefit from the fiber, iron, vitamin K, or massive amounts of vitamin A. You may also get extra calcium if the pie is made with evaporated milk, and extra fiber and/or B-vitamins if the crust is made with whole wheat flour
The bottom line: If you like pumpkin pie, enjoy it! (And know you’re getting a decent amount of fiber, iron, vitamin K, and a super amount of vitamin A!)
Imagine having your children by your side in the kitchen. You read the recipe out loud and they find the ingredients in the pantry. You show them how to carefully measure out ingredients. They stir the ingredients together, remarking about how good it will taste. Then you put it in the oven and you both excitedly clean up the kitchen waiting for it to be done. Then you laugh together as you eat. A picture-perfect scene.
It can happen. But let’s be real, sometimes it looks like this:
. . . like your toddler pulling snacks out of the pantry while you try to get them to stop so you can just get the ingredients you need. It looks like them dumping the ingredients into the bowl so enthusiastically that half of it lands on the table. It looks like your two kids fighting over whose turn it is to stir. It looks like you’re stressed because you’re trying to make this a positive experience, but your kid just licked their finger to taste the batter and then started stirring the sauce with their hand and the other kid keeps trying to touch the stove. Sometimes it looks like your kids not being at all interested in helping cook. It’s not always the warm happy Pillsbury crescent commercial. That’s for sure.
It’s often more work to have your kids “help” in the kitchen.
So why is it worth it? And how can you make it easier?
Why it’s worth it:
Kids who help with food preparation are more likely to try new foodsand eat more vegetables Research shows that helping to prepare a meal makes kids more likely to try new foods (1), more positive about unfamiliar foods (1), more likely to eat more vegetables (2), and more likely to eat more of the meal in general (2).
If kids are involved in the making process, they feel ownership and pride over the meal, so of course they want to try it and are biased toward liking it. Plus, they get to experience the food in an environment where there is no pressure to eat it. This can make new or disliked foods less intimidating. This does not mean they will magically like everything, but it will probably surprise you how much more likely they are to try something that they helped prepare.
If you have particular or picky eaters, this can be one way to help them be more comfortable in exploring new foods. If you’re worried that your kids don’t like “healthy” foods and only like beige and white foods, this is normal, BUT involving them in cooking can help expand their palate.
Kids who practice cooking are more confident in their cooking skills and are more likely to make healthy choices(3) The more kids cook, the more kids handle food, the more kids practice good food hygiene, the more comfortable and confident they are in their ability, and the more positive they feel around food(3). This seems pretty obvious. However, having confidence around food and cooking is a huge advantage toward choosing and eating healthy foods. It removes the barrier of not knowing how to prepare a food. And even if they don’t know how to prepare a specific food, they are more likely to feel confident that they can learn how. People who know how to cook and feel confident in this are more likely to choose and prepare healthy foods (3).
Practicing cooking and food skills doesn’t need to be learning how to julienne vegetables, sautee meat, or make a roux. It includes things like picking out foods at the store, washing vegetables, following a recipe, loading a dishwasher, measuring ingredients, learning what a spatula is, and using a microwave. It can of course include fancier skills as well, but you don’t have to and shouldn’t start there.
By helping your kids have food literacy, you are equipping them with vital tools they can use to be healthy which leads to the next point:
Cooking helps improve self-confidence and independence. Do you remember the first time you made a recipe all by yourself? My first memory of this is making the Kraft boxed mac and cheese. I was so proud! A kid helping with dinner feels like they are a contributing part of the family. As they get more comfortable with a skill and learn new skills, they gain confidence and independence.
This helps them grow in confidence while they still live with you, and equips them for when they are on their own as adults. Interestingly kids in a focus group about cooking at home counted learning cooking skills as a valuable part of helping in the kitchen, because they knew would need to be able to cook later in life (4). Future cooking skills is one thing at least on some kids’ minds.
Also, with enough practice, kids will eventually be actually helpful in the kitchen! It’s a long term investment – but it can pay off.
So, why is it worth it? Because even though it will be slow and difficult and stressful at times, you’re equipping them with really valuable life skills: not just cooking, but exploring new and different foods, the ability to choose and prepare healthy foods, and the confidence builder of mastering new things.
So, how can I make it easier? (and not want to shut everyone out of the kitchen forever)
I could talk forever about this because introducing kids to the kitchen is what I loooove to do. But here are a few ideas to start out:
Choose the right time. Don’t try this at a time when everyone is cranky and hungry and/or rushed. Choose a time when you can give your full attention and have no time pressure.
Make breakfast on a quiet weekend, do some prep work with them when they come to you bored (read the recipe and collect the non-refrigerated ingredients, wash and tear up lettuce leaves, mix spices, bake some rolls or biscuits), choose one afternoon a week when one kid goes down for a nap or is at school so you can focus on one child at a time, etc.
Start with hand washing This should always be the start of any cooking session. It teaches food safety and hygiene right from the start and can make them feel like they are really cooking (because everyone, even a chef, needs to wash hands before cooking). Be sure to model this behavior as well as speaking about it 🙂
Use an easy recipe you are really comfortable with. Don’t make it harder on yourself by trying to involve kids with a new or tricky recipe that requires brain space. This might mean that they help you make box macaroni and cheese – this is perfectly fine! After washing hands, and before you start, read the recipe out loud together. This is a good cooking practice to establish and it makes sure you know what you’re doing, and depending on the age of the kids, helps them get a big picture as well.
Start small. It may be overwhelming and taxing for you and your kids to expect them to help you with a whole recipe or a whole meal, especially if they are small. Involving them in meal preparation can start with as little as having them put silverware on the table, having them help you wash vegetables, helping you get out ingredients, or having them shuck an ear of corn.
In the mac and cheese example, this could be that they get to use a measuring cup to help fill up the water to boil or dump in the cheese packet. Keeping it short at first makes it a positive experience even with a short attention span. Obviously if they want to keep helping, that’s great, but if not you can build up little by little.
Repeat Kids thrive on routine. If you have a weekly repeating meal (Taco Tuesday, Pizza Friday, etc.) this is a great time to involve them because you and they know what to expect and you will both get lots of practice making it together. Kids can get familiar with the steps and gradually grow in their abilities.
My earliest memories of cooking are making pancakes or waffles on Saturday mornings with my dad. I grew from helping him mix to proudly learning how to flip pancakes (this was over a matter of years, I was not a preschool pancake flipping prodigy)
Narrate If they’re with you in the kitchen (even if they’re not actively helping), just talk about what you’re doing like you’re on a cooking show. If they ask questions, answer them. Offer to let them help with a specific task or to let them taste or smell an ingredient. You can also talk about where the recipe is from or tell a story related to the recipe.
Let them help you pick what to make This is especially good if you need help getting your kids interested in the first place. With your guidance, kids (especially older kids), can help choose foods to make. Use cookbooks, or magazines, Yummly, or Pinterest to find a recipe that looks interesting to them. Sources with pictures are really great, because we eat with our eyes, and for a kid not familiar with many foods or cooking techniques, it may be hard to image what a food would be like from just a text recipe. Start with a category that you choose (soup, breakfast, broccoli, chicken, etc.) to narrow down options and make sure you aren’t always making desserts or pizza rolls.
Have them help with clean up It is good for them to learn to clean as they go and really good for you to have them clean as they go. You can start small with this too. Kids can help put wrappers or food scraps in the trash (you can also use a garbage bowl on the table to reduce trips to the trash can), they can put dirty dishes in the sink or dishwasher, help put ingredients away, and wipe off a table when they are done.
This obviously isn’t comprehensive. How you involve your kids in cooking will depend on them and you and that’s fine! But I hope these ideas provide some comfortable ways to get started and some encouragement to keep going if you already have.
If you are you reading this and going, wait, I don’t even feel comfortable in the kitchen myself. How can I teach my kids? I don’t feel confident in my ability to prepare balanced and meals, but I want to, and want my kids to have that ability. I wish I just had somebody who would just walk me through the process, make it a little less overwhelming, who could be my coach and cheerleader
That’s me! I can do that! I would love to work with you at your current level of cooking/food comfort to develop a tool kit of meals, skills, recipes, so you can feel confident in the kitchen and pass that along to your kids. If this sounds like something you want, learn more here
Who loves apple crisp? The cinnamony-syrup covered apples, topped with bites of buttery, crunchy oats. Mmmm. I have been known to eat apple crisp for breakfast or dinner as well as dessert. And after this post, you might consider an apple crisp breakfast too!
Here’s some good nutrition news about apple crisp:
Apple crisp can totally count as a serving of fruit
Right off the bat, if you’re eating an apple crisp (or any type of fruit crisp) you’re eating some fruit! Recommendations for daily fruit intake vary from 1 cup to 2 1/2 cups. Even a small serving of crisp will probably have at least 1/2 cup of fruit, which will give you a good portion of your recommended fruit intake regardless of whether you’re aiming for 1 cup or 2 and a half!
Apple crisp can be a source of whole grains
Most apple crisp recipes I am familiar with include oats (quick or rolled) as part of the delicious crumbly topping. Both of those forms of oats are whole grains, which compared to refined grains, have higher fiber and more protein. The USDA recommends at least 1/2 of your daily grains be whole grains. So there you go, by eating apple crisp, you’re moving toward that goal!
Now that you’ve got fruit and whole grains, all you need to make a meal is some protein, maybe some vegetables or calcium
For breakfast, serve with some scrambled eggs or a scoop of yogurt for protein
Apple crisp + slice of sharp cheddar cheese is a classic combination that provides protein + calcium and you should try it if you haven’t
For a vegetarian/vegan breakfast option, serve alongside a handful of nuts and a calcium-fortified beverage
Serve the above options in the evening for a breakfast-for-dinner option
Pork + apples is a winning combination. Some pork chops + steamed or roasted vegetables + this crisp …*chef’s kiss*
Serve alongside your favorite sausage and a green salad
Ways to make your apple crisp even more nutritious:
Use whole wheat flour as the flour portion in the recipe for even more whole grains
Don’t peel your apples. A large part of the fiber in an apple is in the skin. (Plus, this way you don’t have to spend all that time peeling apples)
If you want to replace some of the saturated fat with unsaturated fats, replace the butter with a plant-based substitute like Smart Balance which has more unsaturated fats and omega-3 fatty acids
Now, I just want to say that apple crisp is a magical food that will solve all of your problems or that you can eat as much as you want because it can do no wrong. Like any food, balance is key.
The main thing I want you to take away is that this cozy dessert has plenty to be happy about. So next time you’re enjoying some cinnamonny, crumbly, apple-y goodness, rejoice in the ways it is nourishing you!
I get asked this question as a dietitian often enough that I figured I would write out the answer. But I want to start out by saying that as real humans, we have different bodies, needs, preferences, beliefs and values about food. So consider this more of a post to satisfy curiosity than any recommendation.
And not to sound like a broken record (but this is important) this is not a prescription or a recommendation. This is a description. This is just what I eat.
The good news of nutrition is there are lots of ways to eat healthy. So while this is how I eat, (and I consider it healthy) it will not be the right solution for everyone. You might have different dietary needs due to a medical condition, or a family member’s medical condition. You might have different dietary preferences – or a different lifestyle that make these choices impractical. That’s ok.
That’s the beauty of Nutrition for Real Humans, and that’s why I work with each client to design a plan that will make healthy eating work for them.
Now, onto what you clicked on this title for: What does a dietitian eat? (Or more accurately, what does this dietitian eat?)
I thought about it and wrote down some patterns that I tend to follow when I’m deciding what to eat. I don’t really have strict rules; in the words of Captain Barbosa:
A fruit or vegetable with each meal.
At least one, sometimes more. This could look like a banana with breakfast, eating a carrot alongside my sandwich, or adding a bunch of vegetables to the soup I’ve made for dinner.
Benefits of fruits and vegetables
High water content (good for hydration)
Generally high in fiber
Source of a wide variety of vitamins and minerals, including vitamin C
Source of phytonutrients and antioxidants that we don’t even fully comprehend the benefits of yet
Often add beautiful color, flavor, and texture to the meal!
Most grains whole grains.
I try to make whole grains the default grain that I eat. If I make rice, it’s brown rice. When I make bread or muffins or waffles, I make sure at least half the flour I use (if not more) is whole wheat flour. When I buy grain products (tortillas, cereals, pasta), I usually choose products where the first ingredient listed is whole grain or whole wheat.
Benefits of whole grains
Higher fiber content (more filling, digest more slowly)
Slightly higher protein content
Naturally contain more vitamins and minerals than refined grains (although most products made with refined grains have vitamins and minerals added back to make up for this loss)
This doesn’t mean I don’t eat refined grains. When I bake, usually at least part of the recipe is made with white flour because the texture is better, and if I’m making a dessert, I just use white flour.
It’s hard to pass up a good sourdough if it’s white bread, and our favorite instant mac and cheese is made with white pasta.
Lara Bars (snack bar made with dried fruit and nuts)
Sugar snap peas
I don’t always have all of these around, but these are examples of what might be laying around our house.
Use healthy fats when cooking
I embrace fats in general when cooking, especially olive oil, avocado, nuts, seeds, to help make a meal more satisfying and tasty. I also really like dairy fats: cheese, butter, full fat yogurt. There is evidence showing that intake of fats from dairy, especially from yogurt and cheese is not associated with increased heart disease or diabetes risk or death. We also personally don’t have any health conditions that would make it especially risky for us to eat saturated fat.
Benefits of fats
Take longer to digest, and help promote satiety (satisfaction)
Help your body absorb certain vitamins
Important carriers of flavor
Drink mostly water, milk, coffee and tea (unsweetened or lightly sweetened)
These are the drinks I have at home. It doesn’t mean we never have soda or juice or alcohol, but we mostly only buy these if we are hosting guests, or if we are out to dinner or as a special treat
(No pictures because I don’t often take pictures of just glasses of water or milk haha).
Mostly cook and eat at home
This is mainly because of how I grew up and how I ate when I was first on my own and didn’t have lots of money. But it also lets me be in charge of what’s in my food.
Probably more sweets than you expect
We both have sweet tooths (sweet teeth?). We probably have dessert at least half of the nights of the week (more if I’ve baked something). This could be ice cream, a handful of chocolate chips, kettlecorn, or a microwave brownie.
This is one thing that I am tempted to feel guilty about. But most of the time I don’t, and my husband really helps me be a balanced, reasonable human here. Dessert is something we both enjoy (and often a way to share celebration or just spend time with other people), and the way we eat it does not cause us health problems.
Often a way to spend time with people
I like baking
Sometimes an opportunity to get extra nutrients in: dark chocolate contains iron, kettlecorn is a whole grain, milk-based desserts contain calcium, fruit-based desserts provide extra fruit! Don’t think something is immediately of no value just because it has sugar!
Just in cased you missed that excellent GIF in the beginning, these are general descriptions of what I eat. I don’t follow them like strict rules. Sometimes I just don’t have a vegetable or fruit with a meal, or don’t have a protein with a meal. And again, this is not THE RIGHT way to eat. There is no one right way.
If you really want to know what I eat, just follow @nutritionforrealhumans on Instagram, or Facebook. That’s where all of these pictures are from 🙂
If you feel you must take a recommendation away from this post:
Make most of your guidelines and nutrition goals positive or additive
Notice, that most of these guidelines are things I DO, not things I don’t.
There is some evidence that adding foods, or having positive goals (vs. don’t eat that or eat less this) are easier to maintain. Positive goals are awesome. You get to feel accomplished when you do them!
One of the most useful and effective tools that I used while providing outpatient nutrition counseling is called motivational interviewing. It’s based on asking questions to find out what motivates the client/patient and working from that motivation to decide what changes to make alongside the client. Not just telling the client what changes to make.
This is also what nutrition for real humans is all about. You are a real human with a real unique life. You are the expert in what’s going on in your life. You know what’s important to you. Your snacks should reflect that. So…
What do you want your snacks to do for you? What are you looking for from your snack?
This can change from day to day or from snack to snack. There’s no one right answer, and it might be more than one answer. Knowing what you want can make sure you choose the snack that will fulfill that purpose. The right tool for the job.
Here are some things you might want a snack to help you accomplish:
Have more energy
Get more protein
Eat more fruits
Not be bored
Satisfy a craving
Have more stable blood sugar
Avoid being so hungry that you buy the entire snack aisle at the grocery store
Avoid being so hungry that you can’t make a decision about dinner so you end up putting it off until you have a headache so you just eat a bowl of ice cream and go to bed
Eat more whole grains
Eat more fiber
Eat more vegetables
Drink more water
Try new foods
Waste less food
Feel better about a bad experience
Have enough energy and brain power for world domination
When you know what you want your snack to do for you, you can choose a snack that will be a good tool for the job
Having more than one thing that you want your snack to do can help you narrow down your options even more!
Let’s take an example: you are craving something salty and also want to increase your fiber intake. How about some salted nuts? Or some whole grain crackers? Veggies and ranch to dip? Or maybe you actually really want chips. So you have a little chips to satisfy the craving and you also eat an orange to get the fiber.
Another example: You want to be more hydrated and eat more vegetables. These go really easily together because vegetables have a high water content. Sliced cucumbers, carrot sticks, snap peas, sliced bell peppers, salad, any of these would satisfy both goals.
You want to eat more fruit and have more energy at work, so you plan ahead by buying some portable and tasty dried mango to take with you
Sometimes you may need to prioritize one goal.
For example, you are really craving a donut, but you also have the goal of eating more fruits and you haven’t eaten any fruits yet today, so you prioritize the fruit goal and eat some grapes. Or you decide to prioritize the donut craving and eat some fruit later.
Or you need to eat something so that you don’t have a panic attack at work, but none of the vending machine snacks meet your avoiding sugar goal. But you REALLY don’t need to be having a panic attack at work, so you make the lowest sugar choice from the vending machine. (And maybe you buy a stash of snacks that DO meet your goal to keep in your locker for next time)
Or you’d love to eat an organic snack that doesn’t leave packaging waste but what you can afford is not either of those things, and you need to eat at regular intervals to manage your blood sugar and stay alive. Staying alive takes priority here.
Sometimes what’s available doesn’t meet all our snack needs, so we need to prioritize. But knowing what those goals are can help us choose the best snack from what’s there.
Sometimes the right snack is not a snack.
Sometimes when you determine why you want a snack you can decide that a snack isn’t actually what you were looking for. You needed a break from work or some comfort after a stressful phone call. Sometimes a snack can provide those things, but you may, once you know that’s what you’re looking for, decide you have a better solution.
This is for you if you don’t like snacks:
Maybe you don’t want snacks to do anything for you. Maybe you don’t like snacks or don’t like to eat between meals. That’s totally fine. Snacks are not required. You do you.
Principle 3 of snacking for real humans:
Know what you want a snack to do for you, then choose the right tool for the job.
If that’s world domination, then you’re going to need some nourishing snacks.
What do you want your snacks to do for you?
As are all of the posts in this blog, none of this is intended as medical or nutrition advice and is for educational purposes only. Speak with a registered dietitian-nutritionist or your primary care provider if you have questions about your specific nutrition needs.
Also this post contains brief discussion of calories so if reading about that will be a struggle, maybe skip this post 🙂
Snacking is totally valid and anyone who says otherwise can go eat a snack*.
Have you ever felt that snacking between meals was a weakness? Something you give into because you aren’t strong enough to wait until the next meal? Or something you eat because you didn’t have time to make lunch or were super busy and didn’t feel like eating earlier and now you are starving? Something that messes up your healthy meal plan?
Do you feel guilty about eating snacks?
And even if you don’t, I have good news:
Snacks can make you healthier
This study, done in 19,427 adults, found that more frequent eating (higher number of meals/snacks per day) was associated with a higher score on the Healthy Eating Index 2010. The Healthy Eating Index is a tool that measures how close to the USDA healthy eating guidelines someone’s eating is – things like servings of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fish, etc.
The TLDR: people who eat snacks generally meet more of their nutrient goals!
That study was done in adults, but there was also one done in children that showed similar results. And actually, dietitians recommend feeding small children multiple snacks a day because they need so many nutrients to fuel their growth and activity that they can’t fit it into 3 meals!
Count your snacks
A different study of data from 14,263 adults, and found that on average, 18-24% of calories eaten in a day came from snacks. (That’s about 1 in 5 in case you prefer ratios to percentages). That is a pretty big portion of daily energy intake! If you eat snacks every day, they are a big part of your nutrition – so you should count them, and make them count!
Now listen before I go any further, this is not to say that we should be eating fewer calories from snacks. (Or that everyone should be counting calories.) I only bring up the 18-24% to show that snacks can be a big portion of what we eat!
TLDR: On average, about 1/5 of our dietary intake comes from snacks
Now, you can take this one way and be like, oh no, I must only eat carrots and hummus for my snacks because I have to count those calories. NO. I mean, if you’re counting calories then, yes, you have to count those calories. But thinking you should only eat low-calorie snacks is making snacks seem like a bad thing that you are trying to minimize.
You need calories. Calories are just a measurement of energy we get from the food we eat – something that we all need to be living, functioning humans.
Snacks are one of the ways we can get energy (calories) from food. You should count them as part of your daily energy intake. And you should think of them as ways to get the nutrients you need.
Make snacks count: Are there nutrition goals you are overwhelmed by?
5-9 fruits and vegetables a day
3 servings calcium-rich food
8 glasses of water/day
25-35 grams fiber a day
x grams of protein per day
more antioxidants, more iron, etc.
Take into account your snacks when thinking about those goals. You might find you are closer to meeting them than you thought.
Sometimes because a snack is not a meal, it doesn’t fit into the “what I ate today” box. It gets forgotten or just doesn’t get taken into account. If you count the trail mix that you snack on when you’re hungry in the car, you might find you are eating more fiber than you thought. If you count your night cheese, you might find you are closer to your calcium goals than you thought.
This can go both ways of course, a few of those studies did note that most sweets and sweetened beverages were eaten as snacks, so maybe you’ll find that you are eating more sodium or sugar than you thought and need to adjust a little so you can meet your goals
If there’s a goal you aren’t quite meeting, think of how you can leverage a snack to get there. Can you add a glass of milk or a cheese stick to get more calcium? Can you choose a whole grain granola bar or a handful of nuts to get to your fiber goal?
Anyway, remember this 2nd part of snacking for real humans:
Snacks are not a weakness. They are just a part of your nourishment and can make you healthier! Own those snacks!
*If you don’t like to eat snacks and are happy with just eating meals, and you’re meeting your nutrition goals, no worries. It’s not required to eat snacks. Unless your dietitian or doctor tells you otherwise. This whole blog post is not medical or nutrition advice for you and is for informational purposes only. If you have questions, speak with a registered dietitian or doctor.
In other words, a snack is any food you eat that you don’t consider a meal.
Cubed watermelon on a hot afternoon? A refreshing snack
Those chocolate-chip granola bars you keep in your car? Snack
Your post-workout protein shake? Snack
An evening bag of popcorn? A delicious snack
A little bit of salad leftover from lunch? Also a snack
An apple with peanut butter? Snack
Bag of chips from the vending machine at work? That is a snack
Leftover rotisserie chicken you eat cold right out of the refrigerator because you needed a little something? Definitely a snack
Cup of milky tea and a muffin in the afternoon? One of my favorite snacks
What should you eat for a snack? That depends on what you have available, why you’re eating a snack, what sounds good, so many different factors. We can talk about that more later. But don’t worry about if foods fall into the “snack” category.
Snacking for real humans part 1:
Any food can be a snack
Don’t overthink it 🙂 What do you like to snack on?
When we eat foods with protein, our bodies take apart the protein into the amino acids it’s made from (like you might take apart a LEGO structure) and use those amino acids to build new proteins in our bodies that become hair, skin, muscle, hormones, mitochondria, etc.
Our bodies use 20 different amino acids to build the proteins it needs. Nine of these amino acids we must get from the food we eat. The other eleven our bodies can manufacture, but we can also get them from food.
That’s why its so important to eat enough foods with protein in them, so our body has all the materials it needs to grow, maintain bones and muscles, make hormones and neurotransmitters, and heal itself, among many many other things.
Our bodies can also burn protein for energy. If we have enough protein for our building needs, our bodies take the extra protein and either burn it for energy or, if it already has enough energy, will store it as fat for future energy.
On the other hand, if we are not eating enough to meet our energy needs, (and especially if we are also not eating enough protein) our bodies will begin to break down the protein in our muscles to use for energy. Of course, it will also begin to break down stored fat, but most weight loss involves some muscle loss.
Now you know what protein is, but how should you eat it? How much should you eat? What are “lean” proteins? What are plant-based proteins?
Check back next week for the answers! Do you have other questions about protein? Leave it in the comments and I’ll try and incorporate it into next week’s post.
(Sorry, this wasn’t an intentional cliff hanger, it just seemed better to break it up rather than doing a super long post!)
If you want to see a list of foods that have protein, click here.
This post is a list of foods that provide protein. This list is for you if:
you’re not sure which foods have protein,
you are tired of the protein foods you are eating and want to find different ones,
you’re looking to add more protein to your diet and need ideas
Keep reading to find some new protein foods to try!
Chopped or shredded chicken
Turkey, white and dark meat
Shredded or chopped turkey
Sliced deli turkey
Liver and organ meats (pretty much any kind)
Eggs and Dairy
Cheese (pretty much any kind except cream cheese)
Various Plant Proteins
Quinoa (at least 1 cup)
Meat substitutes like veggie burgers or vegetarian sausage (always check the label for protein content)
Green peas (1 cup)
Grilled Portobello mushroom (1 cup)
A word about protein powders: Many people find protein powders helpful, however I haven’t included them separately because most of them are made from one of the foods listed above like milk, eggs, soy, or peas.
These foods, in a typical serving size, provide at least 10% of the recommended daily amount of protein (%DV). Note that many of them provide much more than 10% and that the the %DV is based on a very general figure. This post does not give serving sizes or recommend amounts of protein to eat. Protein needs vary widely, and there is a wide amount of protein intake that can be healthy! If you have questions about how much protein you need, speak with a registered dietitian or your doctor!