Snacking is generally defined as any food eaten between main meals, and most of us do so at least once a day.
There are an infinite number of reasons why we feel the urge to eat even when we are not hungry, but the main reasons are:
- A few hours after the last meal, when our stomach starts to “rumble” because the last meal was too small or the time between meals is too long, and we need to restore the energy we spent.
- At the last meal, one of the main food groups was missing (for example, vegetables, whole grain products, etc.), or it was not balanced.
- Emotional stress, such as anxiety or sadness.
- Hormonal imbalance.
- Medical problems such as diabetes.
- A habit or desire to taste a certain food.
Research shows that the most common snacks are fruit, cookies, chips, ice cream, candies, popcorn, soft drinks, crackers, cakes, milk, nuts and seeds, tea, and yoghurt.
And here we come to the most interesting.
Snacks can be a regular and essential part of a healthy diet.
Snacking can also cause various health problems.
Whether snacks are healthy or contribute to obesity and cause health problems is determined by your eating habits:
- What kind of snacks do you eat – fruits, vegetables, nuts … or chips, crackers, candies …?
- Why do you snack – to restore depleted energy or because of emotional stress, boredom, etc.?
- How often do you snack – two to three times a day, or do you eat almost continuously?
- How do snacks fit into your general eating plan – together with snacks, do you take exactly as many calories (and fat, sugar, salt, etc.) as your body needs, or does the number of calories you take in per day increase significantly due to snacks?
Every day we make more than 200 food-related decisions but are aware only of a small number of them.
- We are only aware of a small portion of the food-related decisions we make, and this can lead to unconscious eating, which can lead to overeating and weight gain.
- We either do not know how the environment around us affects these decisions, or we do not want to admit it.
Several studies have been conducted on this topic, for example:
- The visitors of the sports bar were provided with an unlimited number of grilled chicken wings during the sports broadcast. The chicken wing bones eaten by half of the bar patrons were regularly removed from the table, while for the other half of the patrons, bones remained on the table. People who had bones on their tables ate 34% fewer chicken wings than those whose tables were regularly cleaned of bones.
- The secretaries were given transparent containers with sweets, which were placed in three different places — on the desk, in the desk drawer and at 1.8 meters away from the desk. The study participants ate an average of 9 candies a day if the candy was on the table, 6 if the candy was in the drawer, and 4 if they had to get up and go for candy.
Pros and cons of snacking
Several studies have been conducted on the impact of snacks on nutrition and our health, but there is no clear answer yet.
Probably because there is a lack of a single definition of what exactly snacks are, and everyone understands this term a little differently.
But it is clear that:
- Snacks make up an average of 10% of the daily calorie intake, and their frequency is about two snacks a day.
- Snacks that are low in nutrients but high in saturated fat, sugar, and sodium (salt) do us more harm than good.
- Nutrient-rich snacks such as raw vegetables, fresh fruits, nuts, etc., are the healthiest.
Pros of snacking
- Snacks provide an energy boost when several hours pass between meals and blood glucose levels drop.
- Snacks help curb appetite (reduce the risk of overeating at the next meal);
- Provides additional nutrients (if fresh vegetables, fruits, nuts, etc. are chosen as a snack).
- It can help maintain an adequate diet for a person with a poor appetite or when a full meal is not possible due to illness or other reasons (for example, after gastric reduction surgery).
Cons of snacking
- Snacking can cause unwanted weight gain if:
- Portions are too big.
- Snacks are too frequent.
- Too many calories are taken in with snacks.
- Too frequent snacking can reduce hunger during meals and encourage skipping meals (nutrients needed for the body will not be absorbed).
- Unhealthy snacks can contribute to unhealthy eating habits and reduce diet quality (for example, increased consumption of highly palatable, ultra-processed foods that are low in nutrients but high in calories, added salt, sugar, and hydrogenated fat).
Meal planning also applies to snacks. As I already mentioned, snacks can be both a part of a healthy diet and help you stay in shape, but also the cause of weight gain and related health problems.
- WHEN? At what hours of the day (between meals) do you feel hungry? How often do you “just have a snack”?
- WHY? If “snacking” happens often – are you indeed hungry, or do you eat because of emotions (bored, stressed, tired, angry, etc.)?
- If you are hungry, go to the next step.
- If you realize you are an emotional eater, try to find other ways to reduce stress. What helps me to stop is the realization that losing weight is much more difficult than gaining it by overeating.
- WHAT? Consider the alternatives:
- Which snacks will satisfy your hunger and help you forget about food until the next meal?
- What will the specific snack give you (energy, temporary well-being and comfort, additional artificial food additives)?
Remember your last snacking – did you feel full after it? Or maybe hunger returned quickly, and you allowed yourself one extra portion? And after a while – another one?
Research shows that raw fruits, vegetables, nuts, and whole grain products provide a longer feeling of satiety compared to chips, cookies, and candies …
If you want to satisfy your hunger – choose a snack that contains a lot of fiber and/or protein and water, for example:
- If you want something crunchy – choose raw vegetables, nuts, seeds, whole grain crackers, apples …
- If you want something creamy – choose cottage cheese, yoghurt, hummus, avocado …
- If you want something sweet – choose fresh fruit, a protein bar, dark chocolate without sugar …
- If you long for something salty – a slice of lean cheese, roasted chickpeas, a handful of nuts …
- HOW MUCH? A snack should satisfy hunger until the next meal and contain not too many calories. My recommendation would be about 100-250 calories per snack.
Here are some snack ideas (around 100 calories each):
- 100 g of cottage cheese with cucumbers. 100 g of low-fat cottage cheese contains about 80 calories and 100 g of fresh cucumbers – about 16 calories. Cottage cheese is a good source of protein, and cucumbers are high in water. Both these products together will give a good feeling of satiety.
- A small latte with skimmed milk (no sugar or syrups). Hot drinks are filling, and lattes are mostly milk, which is a good source of protein and calcium.
- Raw vegetables and 2 tablespoons low-fat dressing. 100 g of broccoli – about 34 calories, 100 g of celery – about 14 calories and 100 g of fresh green pepper – about 18 calories. A simple and crunchy snack and vegetables are a great source of fiber (helps keep you full longer).
- 3 cups of popcorn (no oil, salt, or sugar – just air-popped corn kernels). Only about 31 calories in one glass (100 g about 385 calories). About 3.6 g of fiber per 3 cups – an ideal product for reducing hunger.
- 100 g of Edamame (soybeans) – only about 140 calories and a lot of protein, fiber and a little saturated fat.
- Berry smoothie. Smoothies are an easy way to get plenty of vitamins and minerals. 100 g of frozen blueberries – about 51 calories plus 1 glass of unsweetened almond milk – about 15 calories.
- A handful of almonds. A handful of almonds contains about 170 calories (in 100 g – about 607 calories). It is important not to “get carried away” here because, as you can see, 100 grams of almonds contain as many calories as one full meal. Almonds are an excellent source of vegetable protein that will help you feel full, and vitamin E has antioxidant properties that will support your overall health.
More healthy snack recipes are HERE
When the next hunger pang hits, choose fresh products instead of ultra-processed foods – this will benefit your health, as well as keep the feeling of satiety longer.
Fruits, vegetables, nuts, whole grain products, and dairy products are the best choice because they contain fewer calories and contain the nutrients your body needs.
As you can see, there are many options 😊.
It is ideal if snacks and meals are planned – it helps not to overeat (take in too many calories) and take in all the necessary nutrients.
There are many reasons for wanting to eat even when you are not hungry, including boredom, strong emotions, and eating too quickly.
If you want to eat even if you are not hungry – it is not a bad thing, but:
- Choose a small, balanced, and healthy snack.
- Try to understand why this desire arises because it is much easier to fight with the cause that you are aware of 😊.
Eat delicious and balanced, but snack in moderation!
The benefits of defining “snacks”
Snack Food, Satiety, and Weight
Snacking for a Cause: Nutritional Insufficiencies and Excesses of U.S. Children, a Critical Review of Food Consumption Patterns and Macronutrient and Micronutrient Intake of U.S. Children
Snacking Recommendations Worldwide
What Is a Snack, Why Do We Snack, and How Can We Choose Better Snacks? A Review of the Definitions of Snacking, Motivations to Snack, Contributions to Dietary Intake, and Recommendations for Improvement
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