Last updated: Dec 22, 2008

One of the greatest ironies of a successful diet: You should eat more often. Experts recommend snacking every two to three hours as part of a regular, low-calorie eating plan because it fires up metabolism and promotes fat-burning. A good nibble also keeps you from reaching for junk food when your belly is growling or your energy level hits a wall. So you need to know when and why youre hungry, what your body really needs, and the best diet snacks for each situation. Here we had dietitians break down the five most common snack attacks.


Snack Attack #1: You skipped breakfast—and youre starving.
Ideally, youd eat about one-third of your daily calories at breakfast. If you skipped it, though, dont go crazy with a midmorning “make-up” meal, says University of Illinois sports dietitian Susan Kundrat, MS, RD. Loading up around 10 a.m. could sap your energy. Choose a 300-calorie nibble that combines protein, carbs, and fat to keep you satisfied until lunch. “This combo gives you long-lasting energy and helps you stay focused without filling up too much,” Kundrat says.

Good: 1 (11-ounce) bottle Milk Chocolate Carnation Instant Breakfast
Better: One (5.3-ounce) container Fage Total Classic Greek-Style Yogurt With Honey
Best: 1⁄2 cup Bear Naked Appalachian Trail Mix


Snack attack #2: Youre in a major afternoon slump.
Bad snacks happen—especially when you feel drained and are desperate for a quick boost. As soon as the sugar rush is over from M&Ms or a candy bar, youll feel wilted again. Another crash culprit? “Most people dont drink enough liquids after lunch. Youll feel sluggish if youre dehydrated,” Susan Kundrat, RD, says.

In either case, youre not genuinely starved for calories, so aim for a superlight, low-calorie rehydrating snack with a nutrient like vitamin C that will give you some pep. The fluid and caffeine in green tea make it a good choice, too. Researchers have found that caffeine may help your body burn more calories, and it could act as an appetite suppressant.

Good: 1 (8-ounce) glass Ito En Teas Tea
Better: 1 (2.5-ounce) Julies Organic Blackberry Sorbet Bar
Best: 1 (7-ounce) Dannon Light & Fit Smoothie


Snack Attack #3: Dinner is hours away
“This is when the vending machine beckons with foods that are high in fat, sugar, and calories, so its important to keep better snack options on hand,” says Jenna A. Bell-Wilson, PhD, RD, an Arlington, Massachusetts–based nutrition consultant.

Keep the snack around 150 to 200 calories, and make fiber the top priority—at least 2 to 5 grams per serving. “Its good for your digestive system and your heart. But, more important, fiber makes you feel full longer. Itll tide you over until dinner,” she says. If a high-fiber option isnt available, calcium- and protein-rich cheese has a high satiety level, so youll feel like youre getting a heartier bite.

Good: 2 sticks Polly-O String Cheese
Better: 3 (2.4-ounce) packs Wild Garden Hummus To Go and 10 Stacys Multigrain Pita Chips
Best: 1⁄3 cup Seapoint Farms Dry Roasted Edamame, Goji Blend


Snack Attack #4: You need a preworkout nibble.
Carbs are the best source of fuel for working muscles because they give you a quick hit of energy to help you power through a workout, says Pamela M. Nisevich, MS, RD, LD, a Dayton, Ohio–based nutrition consultant. A 100- to 250-calorie snack should do the trick, depending on how hungry you are and how intense your workout will be. The obvious choice is an energy bar.

“Its cliche, but they are designed to fuel workouts, and they wont weigh you down,” Nisevich says. Pretzels and peanut butter might be more satisfying if youve had a light lunch, and a cup of applesauce gives you two servings of fruit for the day.

Good: 10 Rold Gold Braided Twists pretzels with 1 (100-calorie) pack Justins Honey Peanut Butter
Better: 1 cup Motts Classic Apple Sauce
Best: 1 PowerBar Energize Fruit Smoothie bar


Snack attack #5: You worked through dinner, but its too late for a full meal.

Your hunger pangs may send you straight for the bag of savory crackers, pretzels, or chips, but these quick carbs dont provide the nutrients you need when youre on a diet. A better choice is a fiber-rich, 200- to 300-calorie snack that has a good protein-and-carb punch.

“Dieters think eating late is a bad idea. Yes, your body is slowing down at night, but you still need energy,” registered dietitian Susan Kundrat says. “If you go to bed satisfied, youll sleep better.” If you skipped dinner, you may also be dehydrated, which can spur overeating; drink a big glass of water with your snack.

Good: 1 Amys Bean & Cheese Burrito
Better: 1 (14-ounce) microwavable container Healthy Choice Minestrone soup
Best: 1 cup Fiber One Honey Clusters with 1⁄2 cup skim milk