This Miracle Snack Will Actually Trick Your Brain Into Eating Better

The facts are clear: When it comes to your health, what you eat matters more than anything else. Choosing the right foods can fend off diseases, give you great skin and hair, and even help you live longer. An overwhelming amount of evidence even suggests that your daily diet can help you curb unhealthy cravings.

We all get cravings, many of which are far from nutritious. In fact, we’re hardwired to crave sugar and fat. But something as simple as choosing the right snack can help you make better food choices consistently.

Cravings are complex

Healthy eating and food preparation at home.

There are always healthy alternatives to your junk food cravings. | Demaerre/iStock/Getty Images

We crave foods for many reasons. Sometimes our bodies are deficient in certain nutrients, sometimes we’re stressed and sleep-deprived, and sometimes we’re more dehydrated than we realize. Experts attribute cravings to evolution, stress and unhappiness, and a legitimate need for certain foods.

And while getting plenty of sleep, drinking water and keeping your stress levels as low as possible are all important, when it comes to cravings, eating enough protein is essential.

The miracle snack

Walnuts and their shelves on a green table.

Add a bag of walnuts to your shopping list. | Seb_ra/iStock/Getty Images

Nuts are packed with protein, and they’ve long been hailed by nutritionists as a great snack. But according to a recent brain imaging study, walnuts in particular are perfect for curbing hunger and cravings.

Researchers at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center found that participants who sipped smoothies blended with walnuts felt less hungry throughout the day than the group who sipped their smoothies without walnuts. And when the participants were tested using a MRI machine and shown images of common comfort foods, like hamburgers and dessert, the walnut smoothie group had a less desirable reaction than the non-walnut eaters.

Researchers realized that when the study participants ate walnuts, the part of the brain that helped them control cravings lit up.

The power of protein in your diet

White meat grilled chicken and veggies on a table.

For a quick protein-packed dinner, roast up some chicken and veggies. | AVNphotolab/iStock/Getty Images

There’s a reason high-protein diets tend to be an effective weight loss method — when you’re satiated, you think more clearly, and therefore you don’t make as many impulse decisions. The protein found in food is used by every part of your body to grow and function properly.

Protein is found in such a wide variety of foods, both animal and plant-based, that you should be able to get plenty no matter what kind of diet you’re following. And the amount of protein we need daily varies, too.

So how exactly does protein combat cravings?

mexican tortilla wrap with chicken breast and vegetables

You can make a grilled chicken wrap in just minutes. | Olga Miltsova/iStock/Getty Images

It’s simple, really: When you feel fuller longer, you’re much less likely to make bad decisions when it comes to your diet. A big slice of pizza or chocolate cake looks much more tempting when you feel hungry.

Two other ways protein helps keep cravings at bay: It stabilizes blood sugar levels and improves your mood. The amino acids found in protein are necessary for balancing hormones naturally, which stabilizes your mood and acts as a natural anxiety remedy. When you’re calm, balanced and stable, it’s much easier to make healthier choices.

The world’s healthiest nut

Walnuts, cashews and almonds in three bowls.

There are so many ways to enjoy walnuts. | Margouillatphotos/iStock/Getty Images

Walnuts to much more than combat cravings. In fact, they’ve been listed as one of the world’s healthiest nuts.

They’re full of a particularly beneficial form of vitamin E, omega-3 fats, and numerous other nutrients. Eating walnuts has known benefits for the heart and circulatory system, and they may even have anti-cancer benefits. Their ability to trick the brain into craving healthier foods is an added bonus.

Ways to enjoy walnuts

Walnuts and apples on a salad.

You’ll love the crunch walnuts will add to your salad. | Bhofack2/iStock/Getty Images

Walnuts may be a smart snack, but to reap the benefits, you should do more than add them to your next batch of brownies. Instead, try sprinkling them on your salad, topping your yogurt with them or adding some to a morning smoothie. You can even make your own walnut butter.

And for a delicious dinner that’s packed with protein and Omega 3s, whip up this walnut-crusted salmon with crispy broccoli.

Don’t skip snacking to lose weight

sandwich of wholemeal bread

Snack on the right stuff. | Yulia Davidovich/iStock/Getty Images

One thing you should never do to curb cravings: Skip snacks entirely. You may think that eating between meals is counterintuitive to losing or maintaining your weight, but it seems that healthy snacking might be the best way to do just that. When you avoid being “hangry” it increases your odds of choosing healthy foods instead of grabbing whatever you can get your hands on. Smart snacking won’t be detrimental to your diet.