You’re so busy with your patients and caring for others that you may not always have time to take care of yourself, which means that you may be relying on processed carbs for quick energy when you’re hungry.
Before you down one more buttered bagel or hit the vending machine for a bag of chips, consider some delicious easy-to-prep foods that won’t pack on the pounds.
“Food is meant to nourish us and to have a function, not just take up space on the plate,” said Sharon Zarabi, RD, CDN, CPT, bariatric program director, Lenox Hill Hospital, New York City, NY, and fitness trainer. “We want color, we want texture, and we want balance on our plate.”
So, what to eat? “Foods that are mostly based on water contain very minimal calories and they don’t spike your blood sugar levels,” Zarabi explained.
But you may not feel like eating a plateful of celery and cucumbers when you’re hungry! So what else can you snack on?
Several foods are linked to weight loss, “in large measure due to their ability to provide satiation and deter people from snacking on foods that contribute to weight gain,” said Lise Alschuler, ND, FABNO, professor, Clinical Medicine, University of Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine, Tucson, AZ.
In one study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, participants either gained or lost weight depending on their intake of certain foods during each 4-year period assessed. (Not surprisingly, those who ate potato chips and drank sugar-sweetened beverages gained weight!) But among the participants who lost weight, yogurt was one of the foods they consumed (along with nuts, whole grains, fruits, and vegetables).
Next time you want a quick snack, reach for yogurt. “Ideally it should be unsweetened, Greek-style yogurt,” Dr. Alschuler noted. “Try Greek-style yogurt with added seeds, berries and nuts, or unsalted trail mix.”
In the same study, participants who ate vegetables were among those who lost weight. But don’t think that means you are looking forward to a dull diet of rabbit food. Dr. Alschuler recommends sprinkling parmesan cheese on steamed broccoli, spreading a nut butter (like almond, cashew, or hazelnut) onto carrot or celery sticks, adding seeds and/or raw nuts to salads, and blending vegetables into a smoothie with yogurt, berries, or apple.
Or throw a batch of vegetables, like string beans, into a steamer until tender, then drizzle with some coconut or sesame oil. “Season with a low-salt seasoning, plus herbs and spices,” Zarabi said.
“In the context of a plant-based diet that has no- to minimal-processed foods and refined carbohydrates, hummus can essentially be eaten at will,” Dr. Alschuler explained. “If, however, someone regularly consumes high-calorie meals, snacks on chips, and drinks sugar-sweetened beverages and meats, then adding hummus will be unlikely to contribute to weight loss. Hummus and other higher calorie, healthier foods should replace the more weight-causing foods.” Serve hummus with raw carrot and celery sticks, raw zucchini spears, or cucumber sticks.
No one should sit down to snack on six eggs—but eggs are an excellent source of protein and can curb hunger, Dr. Alschuler noted. For on-the-go snacking, she recommends boiling the eggs ahead of time and then eating with light salt-and-pepper seasoning. A favorite breakfast of hers is “sunshine in the meadow.” This includes dark leafy greens—like kale or spinach—sautéed over medium heat in some coconut oil, with fried eggs made in the same pan. Before you serve, add hot sauce, pepper, or other seasonings for extra flavor, she recommended.
Some fruits are so low in calories that they may be eaten in fairly large quantities if a person wants to, Dr. Alschuler said. “These include berries—any and all—along with peaches, melons (cantaloupe, honeydew), papaya, grapefruit, and apples,” she added.
It’s not a food, but it’s crucial that you drink enough water throughout the day. “Maintaining adequate hydration is key to a healthy weight,” Dr. Alschuler explained. “Water intake before meals helps to limit portions.” It is also associated with more energy and with less weight gain over time.
Keep a water bottle handy and sip throughout the day. If it will tempt you into drinking more water, flavor it with lemon or lime slices, or float a couple of cucumber slices on top.
Snacks to eat and to avoid
Snacking can be helpful in weight management because it curbs hunger, according to Dr. Alschuler. “This, in turn, helps people to control their portions during mealtimes, which is a key component of successful weight loss,” she said. “Snacks should be satisfying and healthy. The worst snacks are chips, sugar-sweetened beverages, and sweets.”
If you are a person who loves to snack and to munch constantly, Dr. Alschuler recommends, in addition to Greek-style yogurt, trying raw vegetables, fresh fruit, pumpkin seeds, snap peas, and cheese sticks.
Avoid snacks sweetened with sugar alcohols. “There is a large market for these sugar-free products where the sugar is replaced with sugar alcohols,” Zarabi noted. “But not only do they still have calories, they can have negative, laxative effects.”
Don’t eat from habit. If you associate passing a particular bakery with snacking, it’s time to break that habit. “You may want to have a bagel with butter when you pass a bagel shop, but a bagel has no nutritional value at all. You want fiber and protein in your snacks since these take longer to be digested and keep us satisfied,” Zarabi explained.
She added: “Learn to respect your hunger and your fullness, which a lot of us don’t do anymore. In our society, it is always time to eat and food is readily available.”