Four situations where eating between meals can work for you

By By Stacey Colino
May 15, 2006

1. If your energy levels are flagging...
Solution: Consuming caffeine- in the form of coffee or tea- can help boost energy and alertness. Adding a bit of sugar and low-fat milk- if you prefer- only adds about 50 calories. Eating foods that blend complex carbohydrates and lean protein can also provide energy. Complex carbohydrates provide readily available fuel for your body, while protein increases the brain's dopamine levels, thereby boosting alertness. Healthful choices include a small handful of dried fruit and nuts, whole-grain crackers with a slice of cheese or a hard-boiled egg, or yogurt topped with a tablespoon of granola.

2. If mealtime is several hours away, but you're hungry now...
Solution: For a snack with staying power, eat something that mixes fiber and protein. (This is also a good strategy to tide you over until morning if you become hungry before bedtime.) In a study at Wayne State University in Detroit, researchers found that when nighttime snackers developed the habit of eating cereal with milk 90 minutes after dinner, they reduced their total daily calorie intake and increased their chances of losing weight, compared to those who ate whatever they wanted. The cereal's fiber and protein combination kept them full- and prevented less mindful eating that can accompany evening routines. Other good hunger-curbing pairings include carrot sticks with hummus or black bean dip, or a slice of multigrain bread spread with a tablespoon of reduced-fat peanut butter.

3. If you need a pre- or post-workout pick-me-up...
Solution: Before a workout, consuming complex carbohydrates-
such as fruit or whole-grain cereal- will provide your body with energy for exercise. Afterward, eat high-quality protein, such as low-fat yogurt or whole-grain cereal- particularly if you performed resistance exercises. A weight workout will stimulate the growth of muscle cells, which depend on protein. And, as always, consume plenty of fluids before, during, and after exercising.

4. If a stressful situation makes you feel an irrepressible urge to munch...
Solution: In this instance, your desire for food may be hard-wired: Research from the University of California, San Francisco, found that consuming food- particularly items that contain sugar and fat- appears to calm the body's hormonal response to stress. But before you head to the vending machine, take a series of deep breaths; delay reaching for food for 15 minutes; drink a hot beverage such as tea, which can be soothing; and distract yourself by calling a friend or taking a walk. If you still feel like eating, then you're probably hungry. Eat a smart snack that fits your craving- a small piece of chocolate with a glass of skim milk, for example.