Is snacking healthy? This question has plagued many of us for decades. Certain diets say snacking can help boost your metabolism, while others swear you shouldn't snack past a certain time of day to avoid excess calories. So, who do you believe?
At Good Measure, we work closely with nutrition experts to find the answers to these and other important questions about how food impacts our bodies. Before we go further, let's first define what we mean by "snacking."
Note: in this article, we'll explore the benefits of snacking in terms of your nutritional intake vs. weight management.
Snacks are the foods we eat in-between meals (i.e., breakfast, lunch, and dinner). Sometimes, snacking occurs during the long span of time between dinner and the next morning's breakfast, too.
Next question: Why do we snack?
Just as every person is different, everyone will have a unique reason for snacking. Our top 5 reasons include:
- Hunger - depending on the time you spend waiting in-between meals, you might start feeling those hunger pains creep in an hour or so before your next mealtime.
- Low Energy - if you like to take walks, run, or engage in physical exercise each day—by the way, "good job!" if this describes you—your body might be telling you it needs a bite to eat to feel re-energized, so you can complete these activities—and recover afterward.
- Boredom - this happens to many of us. You're feeling tired or bored and find yourself looking through the pantry for a snack to distract you.
- Anxiety - stress eating is an all-too-real phenomenon. If you're feeling nervous or anxious, you might discover that you head toward the fridge for something to eat, even if you're not feeling hungry.
- Habit - if snacking was a part of your upbringing, then you might snack regularly just out of natural routine.
These aren't the only reasons why we snack, but they're a few of the most common. Next, let's explore a few pros and cons of snacking.
Pros of Snacking
According to Harvard School of Public Health, studies on snacking have suggested that this type of activity may provide our bodies with a boost of energy—especially if many hours pass between meals, and you experience a drop in blood glucose.
Harvard also affirms that snacking may help curb your appetite between meals. Think of it this way, if you're skipping snacks till you get to your next meal, you might "overindulge," by the time you arrive at your plate. This means you eat more calories than your body needs.
Ever hear the expression, "my eyes were bigger than my stomach"? When we release our hunger pains onto one big meal, it's not uncommon to overeat.
Our favorite reason for snacking: It helps provide your body with essential nutrients that it might be lacking. This, of course, only happens when you choose the right snack—one that's nutrient dense vs. calorie dense.
Cons of Snacking
The reasons why snacking becomes an issue depends on two factors:
- What you choose to snack on
- How often (and how much) you eat
Let's break these down even further.
American Snacking Trends
"Market research in the U.S. shows the most common snack choices are fruit, cookies, chips, ice cream, candy, popcorn, soft drinks, crackers, cake, milk, nuts and seeds, tea, and yogurt," (Harvard).
You might notice that a few items on this list include nutrient-dense options: nuts and seeds. However, the majority of these items lean toward the calorie-dense side of the food spectrum (e.g., cookies, chips, ice cream, etc.).
"Snacking may help control appetite, or it may contribute to recreational eating and excess calories. Research supports both opposing views." (Food & Nutrition).
One reason for this might be the types of snacks people are eating.
How to Make Better Snack Choices
If a person decides to snack on food products that contain a higher percentage of macronutrients (protein and fiber) and micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) vs. added sugars, saturated fats, and sodium, they may have a better chance of avoiding empty calories.
Empty calorie foods don't provide essential nutrients and typically end up making them hungry an hour or two later.
Some research has suggested that eating more protein can help a person feel less hungry…Eating some protein with each meal or snack, rather than all at once, may help keep appetite steady throughout the day. (Medical News Today)
What this all boils down to is choosing snacks that offer you more nutritional value. This way you can avoid the pitfalls of snacking, and instead, reap all its benefits!
Snacks may boost diet quality or lead to excess intakes of solid fats, added sugars and sodium. Although experts debate the health value of snacking, nearly all agree that the type of snack matters. (Food & Nutrition)
Even a good thing like protein and fiber requires moderation in order to enjoy its full nutritional benefits. According to Harvard School of Public Health, a "good rule of thumb is to aim for about 150-250 calories per snack."
This way your snack is enough to satisfy you without it interfering with your next meal or putting you at risk of consuming more than your recommended daily calorie count per serving.
What we hope you learned from this article is that it's okay to get your snack on, but you need to be mindful of what you're actually eating.
It starts with changing the way we think about snacking (that means knowing what's really "in" your food and how much of it you're consuming in-between meals).