Snacking: Could it Actually Be Good For You?

Offered By The Nutrition Activist

What is Snacking?

Before you read on, I’d like you to start by thinking about your definition of snacking is. If someone asked you to define the term snacking what would your answer be? Think about this for a moment. 

My definition of a snack would be “food I eat between meals if I’m hungry.”

Snacks for me are small, examples being, a piece of fruit with some nuts, some berries and yogurt, carrots and hummus, cake and occasionally biscuits although I definitely prefer cake and my children love baking so win-win!

A larger snack may happen if, for example, I’m travelling and don’t have time to have a meal and so I grab some ‘snacks’ whilst out and about. Often these options are processed and can be sandwiches, crisps, small salad bowls or, yes, the more energy-dense alternatives such as chocolate bars and sweets but I tend not to class these as snacks, these are sweets!

And, when it comes to sweets, I do also have a penchant for a few cubes of chocolate after my evening meal with a cup of mint tea, this is my habit and well, I’m not that keen to break it.

What is your definition of a snack?

The Problem With Snacking

The problem with snacking starts when we snack too much and especially when we snack too much on processed, convenience food. Over-consumption will lead to excess energy, which may in turn compromise our health. There are associations between snacking and insulin resistance, type II diabetes, bad oral health and other health markers such as blood lipid levels, which can be a marker of cardiovascular health. I’m not going to focus on weight gain in this article but this will likely occur too if you are over-consuming snacks, particularly processed snacks, that are high in sugar.

Snacking Behaviour

Snacking, like any dietary behaviour can be practised in a healthy or unhealthy way. There are times when we need energy between meals and we can make more, what I like to call ‘efficient’ choices when we snack. If you are snacking more than you feel you should then it is worth asking yourself some questions about your snacking behaviour. Examples of the types of questions I would ask would be:

  • Are you hungry? If the answer is yes, are you soon to eat a meal or is a meal more than an hour away? If it’s the latter then fuel your body because you are hungry for a reason. Eat that snack!
  • Are you looking for comfort? Get to the bottom of why you are feeling the way you are feeling and think about what could make you feel better besides food, could you have a warm bath, call a friend or do something that will make you feel better?
  • Are you bored? Could you go for a short walk, do a puzzle, listen to a podcast, again, talk to a friend? Why are you bored? Do you simply need a break?
  • Is this just a habit? Think about the habit cycle, this is one you may be familiar with: It’s 3pm, you are bored, you have a cup of tea, this triggers you to want a biscuit but you aren’t actually hungry, you eat a biscuit, you are less bored, you return to work. My example above is also a habit loop, it’s the evening, I have a cup of mint tea and a cube of chocolate. I’m not hungry, it’s a habit.

As well as asking these questions, it is also worth thinking about whether you are regularly hungry between meals. If you are finding that you are hungry often, it may be that you are under-fuelling yourself at meals. Perhaps you could add some protein or extra vegetables to your main meals. Are you making sure you have a serving of healthy fat with every meal? Fat and protein are slower to digest and will help to keep us feeling fuller for longer as well as levelling our blood sugar.

Often people who snack a lot are not giving their bodies enough energy at meals. I often find that clients are eating less than they need to throughout the day and are then hungry in the evenings and are tempted to snack on convenience foods. So, it is also worth looking at your daily intake and whether or not it is providing you with enough fuel/ energy.

slices of apple with peanut butter

Healthy Snacks

If you are hungry then snacking can be a useful way to fuel yourself and can add value to your daily nutritional intake. And, yes, you can snack healthily. It is important that we provide our bodies with sustenance and when we are hungry, we should eat and it won’t always be possible to prepare a meal at that time, so snacks are useful energy boosts. But what should you eat?

My recommendation is that you always have some fat or protein with your snack as this is slower to digest than carbohydrate (sugar) and will help to keep you feeling fuller for longer. Some examples include:

  • Fruit and nut butter
  • Fruit and cheese
  • Wholegrain crackers and cheese or hummus
  • Mini omelettes
  • Pancakes
  • Crudité and hummus
  • Kale chips
  • A handful of nuts
  • Cucumber and cheese
  • Olives

These are all great options and will satisfy you for longer than a chocolate bar or a packet of crisps. They also have a lot more nutritional value so you will be giving your cells much needed energy and nutrition.

Another tip is to always aim for 2 litres of water a day to make sure you are hydrated. Being hydrated will help you to have more energy, feel more alert and concentrate for longer, it will help you to avoid those afternoon dips.

My Caveat

The snack industry is hugely lucrative and Globally it is worth hundreds of billions of pounds a year. Manufacturers spend a huge amount of money engineering food that will appeal to the reward centre of your brain. Not only do they manipulate your taste buds but their marketing manipulates your wallet. In short, when you are finding it hard to resist that ‘x’ bar or ‘x’ packet of crisps please don’t beat yourself up. Billions of pounds have been spent to make this happen and your inability to resist is not simply will power it’s science!

In short, if on occasion you really want to have a chocolate bar, a piece of cake, a delicious biscuit or packet of crisps then do. I follow the 80/20 principle and it’s my guide for myself, it’s not a rule, I can’t break it but as a guide, if I eat 80% nutritious food and 20% food that simply serves the purpose of tasting delicious and giving me a reward centre boost then that’s fine. I have no guilt as I tuck into a freshly baked piece of lemon drizzle or banana cake (lockdown faves!) and I never will. It’s all about balance and fuelling yourself to make yourself feel good.

In short, snacking is not bad for you, it’s the type of snacks you eat and how often you eat them. If you are eating snacks for a reason, understand why and make sure that they are going to add to your life not take away.

My Snacking Guidelines:

In conclusion, I’d like to offer you my snacking guidelines, again, these aren’t rules, they are a guide for you to follow if you want to snack to make yourself feel good.

  • Opt for snacks that are going to fuel you efficiently (see the list above)
  • Avoid regularly eating high-sugar snacks, energy bars and energy drinks. These are short term fixes and have little to no nutritional value. Have something else!
  • Keep an eye on how much sugar you are eating, snacks which are mainly refined sugar are not efficient, they may taste nice but they will leave you low on energy quickly, they are energy dense, often bad for you teeth and quite frankly, not your best option (but as occasional choices, fine!)
  • Don’t fall for the ‘fad’ snacks. It’s very unlikely you need a chocolate bar with extra protein, that’s simply added processed ingredients, don’t fall for it!
  • Snack mindfully. Remember to take your time. If you are having a snack, sit down and enjoy it. Yes, we love convenience food but how often have you wolfed down a snack only to feel hungry moments later. If you eat it slowly, take your time, you will find that you pay more attention to the food you are eating, leaving you feeling more satisfied.

These are simple guidelines, if you have any questions or would like to work on habit change do get in touch. Habits take a while to change but you can, with practice and commitment change them, if you want to!

So, what will you snack on next?


Want to keep learning? Find more articles from Olivia Palmer - The Nutrition Activist:

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