Parkridge Medical Group January 19, 2015

Are mid-afternoon cravings for sweet and salty snacks interfering with your New Year’s resolution to eat better? Fight back with healthy snacks packed with protein, fiber and other key nutrients.

When 3 p.m. arrives, many people find themselves scrounging for change to buy chips, candy, soda and other high-calorie pick-me-ups. While enjoying these treats is fine in moderation, bad afternoon snacking habits can quickly pack on pounds and ruin your best healthy-eating intentions. Satisfy your hunger and watch your waistline by keeping healthier alternatives on hand.

Stash This, Avoid That

A healthy afternoon snack should generally be limited to 200 calories. While cravings for sweet, salty and high-calorie snacks can strike at any time, your mood and energy levels often play a large role in the types of foods you choose. Learn more about two common scenarios that contribute to unhealthy afternoon snacking, along with ways you can plan ahead to make better choices.

Scenario 1: After staying up late last night to finish a presentation, you need an afternoon energy fix. You may be tempted to reach for an energy drink, soda or another cup of coffee, but the extra caffeine may interfere with your ability to sleep tonight. For times like these, store a package of almonds or walnuts in your desk—the combination of protein and magnesium found in them will help you power through those last few working hours. Just be aware of portion sizes, as nuts are high in fat and calories.

If you don’t like walnuts or almonds, try peanut-butter crackers, protein-packed yogurt with a piece of fruit, or veggies and hummus, all of which are good alternatives. In addition, drink plenty of water throughout the day, as dehydration contributes to fatigue.

Scenario 2: Mounting deadlines and projects contribute to rising stress levels. When you’re feeling stressed, you may reach for comfort foods like carb-filled cookies. Such sugar- and simple carbohydrate-filled snacks may give your mood a lift—but the high doesn’t last. All too soon, your blood sugar will crash, which can leave you feeling even worse than before.

Instead of traditional comfort foods, choose bananas or fruits containing high levels of vitamin C, such as strawberries or oranges. The high potassium content in bananas helps lower your blood pressure, while vitamin C’s antioxidant qualities may ease your body’s response to stress. Complex carbohydrates—think a bowl of instant oatmeal or a handful of multigrain crackers—and dark chocolate have also been linked to lower stress levels. Enjoy a square of chocolate containing at least 70 percent cocoa. For optimal mind-and-body benefits, pair the stress-busting food of your choice with a mug of calming, decaffeinated green tea.