Is Snacking Good or Bad for you?
There has been a lot of talk and mixed opinions about snacking and whether or not it is healthy. But before we go into that, let’s talk about snacking.
Snacking is when you consume food or beverages between your regular main meals regardless of whether the food is healthy or not.
Many people snack at least once during the course of a day, and there are several reasons why. The most common scenario is that our stomachs start growling a few hours after our last meal. Another might be a dip in energy levels that a small bite can remedy. Or maybe we just look forward to the taste of certain snack foods.
The term “snack foods” is often used to refer to processed, high-calorie items like chips and cookies.
Snacks have been associated with both weight gain and maintaining weight, as well as with a lower or higher diet quality. Although snacks can be a regular and important part of a healthy diet, they can also lead to health problems. What differentiates the two scenarios is one’s snacking behaviour: what you snack on, why you snack, frequency of snacking, and how snacks fit into your overall eating plan.
Research has attempted to see if snacking has a positive or negative impact on nutrition and health outcomes, but without a clear answer. Studies find that snacking recommendations from public health organisations worldwide generally advise limiting snacks that offer little nutrition but are high in saturated fat, sugar, and sodium; they find that snacks provide at least 10% of daily calories, with a frequency of eating about two snacks per day. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2020–2025 includes recommendations for nutrient-dense snacks, such as raw vegetables, fresh fruit, nuts, and plain yoghurt.
Let’s talk about some pros and cons of snacking
- Snacking provides a boost of energy if several hours pass between meals and blood glucose levels drop.
- It also helps curb your appetite to prevent overeating at the next meal.
- Provides extra nutrients when choosing certain snacks like fresh fruit or nuts.
- Can help maintain adequate nutrition if one has a poor appetite but cannot eat full meals, such as due to an illness.
- Snacking can lead to unwanted weight gain if portions or frequency of snacking is too much, adding excess calories.
- Too much snacking can reduce hunger at meal times or cause one to skip a meal entirely, which increases the risk of losing out on important nutrients.
- Regular intake of ultra-processed hyperpalatable snacks that contain added salt, sugar, and fats but that are low in nutrients and high in calories can increase a preference for these types of foods, leading to a change in eating behaviours and diet quality.
So how do you know the best way to snack?
The concept of meal planning can be also applied to snacks. Take the time to incorporate snack planning to ensure that snacks work for you, not against you. Follow these simple steps and ask yourself
- WHEN: Reflect on a typical day: what hours of the day between meals might you feel hungry or tend to grab extra food?
- WHY: If snacking occurs frequently, determine if you are truly hungry or eating because of an emotion (bored, stressed, tired, angry, etc.). If you are hungry, go to the next step. If you realize you are eating from emotion, consider using mindfulness strategies before snacking.
- WHAT: Decide which snack choices will satisfy you. A satisfying snack will alleviate hunger, be enjoyable, and help you to forget about food until your next meal. Think about the last snack you ate, did you still feel hungry or want to keep eating shortly after finishing one portion of the snack? Studies show that snacking on whole foods containing protein, fiber, and whole grains (e.g., nuts, yogurt, popcorn) enhance satisfaction.
But it’s also important to pause before making a snack choice to consider what will truly satisfy: if you choose an apple when you really want salty popcorn or a creamy yogurt, you may feel unsatisfied and want more. If you do not have a specific craving but are trying to quiet hunger, choose a snack that is high in fiber and water that will fill your stomach quickly.
4. HOW MUCH: A snack portion should be enough to satisfy but not so much that it interferes with your appetite for a meal or adds too many calories. A general rule of thumb is to aim for about 150–250 calories per snack. This is equivalent to an apple with a tablespoon of peanut butter. If choosing a packaged snack such as chips, dried fruit, or nuts, read the Nutrition Facts panel to learn what is one serving, found at the top of the panel.
So what are some guilt free snacks to try
- Crunchy — raw vegetable sticks, nuts, seeds, whole grain crackers, apple
- Creamy — cottage cheese, yogurt, hummus, avocado
- Sweet — chopped fresh fruit, dark chocolate
- Savory/Salty — cube or slice of cheese, handful of nuts, nut butter, popcorn
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