What you eat between meals matters more than you think. Health.com explains how these choices can boost metabolism and help you lose weight fast.
SNACKS VERSUS WEIGHT LOSS
Americans love to snack almost as much as we want to lose weight. But according to recent research by the USDA, our snacking habits are adding too many calories and too few nutrients to our diets. It doesn't have to be this way, says Susan Bowerman, RD, assistant director of the UCLA Center for Human Nutrition. "When done right, [snacking] keeps your energy levels up and gives you more opportunities to get in all your nutritional needs."
WHAT SNACKS BURN FAT?
Eating snacks with the right ratio of nutrients, with the right calories, will help keep your body energized and help you lose weight. Protein (plus exercise) fuels the growth of lean muscle mass, which boosts metabolic rate and increases calorie burn. Fiber, meanwhile, helps improve digestion and keeps you from binging on fats and sugars. So while there's no food that will literally "burn fat" while you eat it, smart choices with these ingredients will help your body operate at maximum efficiency. Bowerman suggests snacks under 200 calories, with 10 grams of protein and close to 5 grams of fiber. Here are 20 of our favorite fat-burning snacks.
An apple and skim milk
"Almost any fruit is going to make a great snack, but you usually want to pair it with a bit of protein to make it more satisfying," says Bowerman; "unlike carbohydrates, which get used up relatively quickly, protein will help sustain your energy and hunger levels for a couple of hours." This duo will give you 10 grams of protein and 5 grams of fiber for just over 200 calories.
Lentil salad with tomatoes and watercress
Salads aren't just for mealtime—when they're about 200 calories, they make a great afternoon snack, as well. This one has 11 grams of protein and 8 grams of fiber, thanks to superfood lentils and plenty of veggies. (The recipe makes six servings, so hold off on adding the vinaigrette if you're not eating the whole thing at once.)
Here's another fruit and dairy combo, this one for when you're craving something rich, creamy, and a bit savory. Remove the pit from one half of an avocado and fill the space with 2 ounces of 1% cottage cheese. For 200 calories, you'll get 9 grams of protein and 7 grams of fiber—and no dirty dishes!
Sunflower lentil spread with pita bread
Lentils are a good source of iron, a metabolism-boosting nutrient that 20% of us don't get enough of. This savory recipe makes four 180-calorie servings, with 10 grams each of protein and fiber.
Canned tuna on whole-wheat crackers
If you don't want to incorporate dairy into every snack, a can of tuna (packed in water) is another great source of lean protein plus healthy omega-3s. For about 200 calories, you can enjoy 3 ounces of light tuna and 6 whole-wheat crackers—complete with 3 grams of fiber and 20 grams of protein.
Warm pear with cinnamon ricotta
Ricotta cheese is rich in protein, and pears are a good source of fiber. Together with a teaspoon of cinnamon, they make a delicious snack for any time of day. Each serving contains 8 grams of protein, 5 grams of fiber, and 170 calories.
You may not think of shellfish as a grab-and-go snack food, but you can put this tasty treat together in a flash if you keep pre-cooked shrimp on hand. With Greek yogurt and avocado, it's a protein powerhouse with 9 grams per serving (and 4 g fiber), for only 129 calories.
This recipe is touted as a main course, but it's so light on calories (only 164) that it can stand in as a midday snack as well. It also packs plenty of protein (12 grams) thanks to the tofu, as well as 3 grams of fiber.
Chicken pita sandwich (half)
There's no reason you can't have smaller portions of "real" food as snacks, says Bowerman. "Oftentimes, the healthiest and most balanced snacks are the ones that start as full meals—like a half a sandwich, or a plate of leftovers put together from dinner the night before," she adds.
Whip up this chicken and veggie pita in the morning, and split it in half for two snacks throughout the day. Each half contains 200 calories, 3 grams of fiber, and more than 20 grams of protein.
Cauliflower with white bean dip
Make a batch of white bean and roasted garlic dip at the beginning of the week to spread on crackers and eat with veggies when hunger strikes. Pair a quarter-cup serving with 2 cups of raw, chopped cauliflower, for example, for a total of 11 grams protein, 8 grams fiber, and 199 calories.
Power berry smoothie
This recipe, which calls for soy protein powder and low-fat plain yogurt, contains 9 grams of protein; swap in Greek yogurt to add even more. Frozen berries add fiber (4 grams total), and honey provides sweetness. All this for only 139 calories!
Toast with walnut & pear breakfast spread
Split this breakfast recipe in half to make a healthy midday snack with 200 calories, 11 grams protein, and 3.5 grams fiber. Not only will it help prep your body for fat burn, but it may also boost your energy levels (so you're more likely to get to the gym, perhaps?). Walnuts are rich in serotonin, a hormone that produces feel-good chemicals in the brain.
One cup of edamame, or boiled soybeans, contains 17 grams of protein, 8 grams of fiber, and 189 calories. A perfect snack all by itself! Serve hot or cold, season with salt, and enjoy.
Roast garlic and edamame dip
Edamame is a great snack by itself, but it also makes a great ingredient in this creamy dip for raw veggies or whole-wheat pita bread. You can enjoy up to three servings in one snack session, for a total of 162 calories, 9 grams protein, and 6 grams fiber.
Asparagus and hard-boiled egg
It's no wonder this classic combo goes so well together: Fiber-rich asparagus balances out eggs' natural protein. (Plus, asparagus is known as an aphrodisiac, thanks to its folate and vitamins B6 and E levels. Talk about fun ways to burn fat!)
Pair 15 asparagus spears (cooked or raw) with one hard-boiled egg for a 126-calorie snack, complete with 11 grams of protein and 5 grams of fiber.
In the mood for Mexican? You can't go wrong with black beans and veggies: These tostatas cook up quickly and easily for a fast and healthy mini-meal between lunch and dinner. At just over 200 calories, you get 13 grams of protein and 10.5 grams of fiber. Top with tomato salsa for added flavor without fat.
Minty iced green tea
A calorie-free beverage doesn't qualify as a real snack, but if you find yourself scouting the kitchen just because you're bored, rather than hungry, this tasty drink may just hit the spot. Plus, green tea has been shown to help dieters lose more weight, according to a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, thanks to its metabolism-boosting antioxidant compound called EGCG.
Bowerman says that most research on green tea for weight loss has been inconclusive, but that either way it's a healthy, tasty way to stay hydrated throughout the day. "Drinking water and tea is a good way to keep all of your body's processes, including your metabolism, running smoothly and efficiently," she adds.
Spiced green tea smoothie
Here's another way to sip healthy green tea: as a smoothie! Pair this sweet and spicy drink with a few ounces of lean protein—some sliced turkey, for example—for a complete afternoon snack.
One serving will get you 3 grams of fiber (thanks to its secret ingredient, pear!). Plus, it contains cayenne pepper, which may help curb appetite and give your metabolism a boost.