How to Avoid the “Empty” Calorie Snack Trap

Bag Clip

by Elizabeth Patton MS, RD, LD, CDE

The snack attack. It might hit you mid-morning, mid-afternoon or after dinner. It might be a growling in your belly or a craving for something in particular – either way, it usually doesn’t go away until it’s satisfied! At the same time, you don’t want to blow your diet. What are we to do? Can you have the best of both worlds? I say sure. It just takes some forethought.

According to new research from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service, snacking provides one-third of all “empty” calories for both men and women. “Empty” calories are those with little other nutritional value, such as calories from solid (saturated) fats and added sugars. The analysis of 5,000 adults’ snacking habits showed that an alarming 30 percent of participants’ entire day’s calories come from “empty” calories! Snacking is an area we should focus on in order to reduce “empty” calories because many snack foods easily fit into this category. Foods that contain higher amounts of “empty” calories might include: candy bars, snack cakes, snack chips and other packaged snacks, convenience foods and sugar-sweetened beverages.

So how do you beat the snack-attack? Prepare your offense.

Before you give in, ask yourself some questions to determine the source of your hunger:

Am I really hungry? Why or why not? Did I not enough at my last meal? Was my meal balanced? 

…this might truly be hunger and you might need to work on more effective meal-planning.

Am I bored? Stressed? Sad? Do I want a certain food (and only that food) right now? 

…this might be a craving or a yearn to eat in reaction to stress. Try to involve yourself in something else to take your mind off of food.

Next, turn the tables on snacking! Snacks can be part of a healthy diet and a way to increase your intake of healthy foods. If it is more than 4-5 hours between your meals, your tummy might be asking you for a snack because your body needs some energy to keep going! Plan for a snack if this is the case or you find that you always get hungry at  a certain time. You know it’s coming, so have some healthy options available to choose from. Get rid of the things that are tempting you, especially if you feel you can’t control your portion. Try these healthy snack options:

  • Seasonal, fresh fruit with nuts or peanut butter
  • Yogurt
  • Low-fat pudding
  • Baked pita chips with fruit salsa
  • Hummus and pita wedges or veggies
  • Baked tortilla chips with salsa
  • Half a peanut butter sandwich
  • Vanilla wafers with Nutella®
  • Cottage cheese with tomatoes
  • Edamame
  • Small salad with vinaigrette dressing
Remember this too: occasionally it might be better to give into the crave. Just make sure that you have a small, controlled portion.
How do you avoid the “empty calorie” snack trap?
Elizabeth Patton MS, RD, LD, CDE is the chief blogger behind Good Food Tastes Gooda blog where Liz shares her passion for healthy eating and expertise on the matter regularly. Follow Good Food Tastes Good on Facebook


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