Protein, like carbohydrate and fat, is a macronutrient that our bodies need to provide energy to our cells and muscles. It has a series of functions in our bodies that include cell repair and maintenance. It also has a stabilizing effect on blood sugar, unlike simple carbohydrates that send your blood sugar soaring. When your body senses a high blood sugar, it releases insulin, which then sends your blood sugar spiraling downwards prompting you to feed it some quick acting carbohydrate, and the seesaw cycle of high and low blood sugars starts all over again.
Snacks are important as they help to refuel the body. Snacking on vending machine selections can add calories in the form of fats and sugar, and provide little nutrients in the diet. Because protein has a balancing effect on blood sugars, it’s a good choice for a snack. Taken with a complex carbohydrate, like fresh fruit, cut-up vegetables, or 100% whole grain crackers, it can stave off hunger pains, keep you energized, and keep you from eating sweets.
Protein is found in both animal and vegetable foods. Animal foods can also provide fat calories so it is best to select leaner cuts of meats or low-fat dairy choices. Below are some examples of low-fat, high protein snacks and are divided into their sources. They can be eaten alone or combined with complex carbohydrates to provide sustained energy.
- 8oz soy milk
- 1oz soy cheese
- 2T hummus
- 1oz unsalted nuts (22 almonds or 10 walnuts)
- 2T all natural peanut or almond butter. Be careful because the nut spreads can lend a lot of calories in fat. A healthier product would be to purchase a non-hydrogenated nut spread where the oil is separated and sitting at the top of the jar.
- ½ c legumes (chickpeas, kidney, cannelloni, etc)
- 8 oz non-fat or 1% low-fat milk
- 1 oz low-fat cheeses (less that 5 grams of fat per ounce) such as part-skim milk
- mozzarella (string cheese), Laughing Cow cheese, fat-free American, soy cheese, Jarlsberg Lite cheese , 50% reduced cheddar cheese.
- ½ c nonfat or 1% cottage cheese
- 2T nonfat cream cheese
- One container of low-fat or nonfat yogurt
- One egg or ½ c egg whites
- 1-2 oz of sliced deli meats like turkey, chicken, ham, and lean roast beef
- Whey protein powder (available in health food stores in health specialty stores)
Another quick option is to eat a sports bar for a snack. Check the food panel to make sure it contains a significant amount of protein and is high in fiber.
Remember, it’s important to eat three balanced meals a day, along with the two to three snack choices from the lists above. The key to a healthy diet is to make sure that you are getting an appropriate amount of calories a day as well as to ensure the proper distribution of these calories between the three major macronutrients, protein, carbohydrate and fat. A registered dietitian can assist you in setting up a personalized menu plan to ensure nutritional adequacy.