Is snacking bad for you? Or is eating more often actually good for you? Which strategy is best? The articles in mainstream media are really confusing on this topic. Like a lot of issues when it comes to nutrition, the answer is “It depends”.
The biggest issue with snacking is the type of foods people are reaching for. Packaged snacks, a muffin from the local coffee shop, or something from the vending machine is obviously not going to help you realize your health goals. We have access to cheap, convenient snack food everywhere, from the office to the gas station, and it’s designed to be addictive and keep you coming back for more. However snacking itself isn’t necessarily bad. In fact, if you have a long time between meals due to your schedule, work out intensely, are trying to gain weight, or are still growing (like kids and adolescents), a snack or two between meals can be beneficial.
Tips For Making Snacking Work For You:
- Eat balanced snacks. Every time you eat, you should be combining more than one macronutrient – protein, fat and carbs – for optimum nutrition. This helps balance blood sugar, and keep you fuller longer. Reaching for a simple carb like a muffin, some crackers or even a piece of fruit will cause a quick surge in energy, followed by a crash as blood sugar levels plummet. Look for snacks that are high in protein and/or fat, and always eat least two macronutrients (protein, fat and carbs) at each snack. This will keep you fuller longer, and prevent an energy crash a little while later. Try an apple with nuts or nut butter, hummus with veggies, a hard boiled egg with cheese, or unsweetened greek yogurt with nuts and seeds.
- Make sure you are genuinely hungry. Are you conditioned to eat at a certain time, because that’s when it’s coffee break time? Are you reaching for a bowl of ice cream after dinner just because your spouse is? Are you thirsty, lonely or bored? The more aware of your body and emotions you are, the better choices you will make.
- If you’re not particularly active and find yourself consistently hungry between meals, you may want to do a food journal for a few days to ensure you are eating appropriate sized, balanced meals. Your meals should contain a balance of protein, fat and carbs to keep blood sugar balanced, slow digestion and keep you feeling full and satisfied for more than an hour or two. This is particularly important at breakfast, where I often see people choosing simple carbs like toast or cereal and skimping on the protein. Are you one of those people who says they seem hungrier when they eat breakfast than when they skip it? Chances are you’re not eating a balanced meal, causing your blood sugar to quickly go back up and then down. Adding protein and fat helps slow down digestion and keep you full longer. Try it!
It’s important to note that snacking constantly is relatively new culturally speaking; in the past eating “three square meals” a day was the norm, and other countries around the world don’t snack the way we do in North America. If you’re eating three good sized, balanced meals a day and feel satisfied, that is great. You don’t need to change a thing! Contrary to popular belief, eating frequently does not “stoke your metabolism” or cause you to burn more calories. Eating frequency is not directly related to weight loss, although eating an appropriate amount during the course of the day – snacks can help with that – helps to prevent late night bingeing.
Eating frequency, like many things, is highly individual and can even change from day to day in the same person. You may require a snack on days you go to the gym, but not on your rest days. Or maybe you eat dinner late during the week due to a long commute, but eat earlier on the weekend. It’s all part of a bigger picture and it may take some trial and error to find what works best for you, depending on your personal needs and your goals. Remember that every time you eat, you have the opportunity to provide your body with the nutrients it needs for optimum health, so choose good quality food as often as you can!
10 Healthy Snack Ideas:
- Apple with nuts or nut butter (such as almond butter)
- A hard boiled egg and cheese
- Full fat greek yogurt with nuts and/or berries
- Hummus with vegetables or homemade vegetable chips
- A grain free muffin with butter or nut butter
- Guacamole and vegetables
- Guacamole devilled eggs
- Fruit and nut bars or balls (homemade or store bought with natural ingredients)
- Avocado based chocolate pudding
- Olives, vegetable sticks and grain free crackers
Looking for more snack ideas, but have food restrictions? Check out these 50+ Paleo Autoimmune Protocol (AIP) friendly snack ideas.