Your Snacks: Chance or Choice?
Frequently asked questions about snacking to the experts. Let’s look at what they said, with healthy snack suggestions to follow.
Why Snack At All?
- Avoid Hangry Attacks
You know that cranky feeling you get when you realize you haven’t eaten in a while. The stomach empties itself about three or four hours after a balanced meal. A person’s blood sugar level (energy) then drops. This accounts for the midmorning or midafternoon “let down.” A small, appropriate snack can avoid a Hangry attack.
- Give You Energy to Stay Focused
Despite what generations have grown up hearing, eating candy and other sugar-laden foods doesn’t actually give you a jolt of energy to power through an activity. According to dietitian Samantha Cassetty, co-author of Sugar Shock, “Studies show the opposite: People experience more fatigue and less focus when they eat sugary foods.”
What you need for sustained energy is a combination of complex carbohydrates and protein or healthy fat. Complex carbs (whole grains, high fiber fruits and veggies) are digested more slowly than simple carbs (sugary foods), which helps prevent blood sugar drops. Protein (meat, dairy, nuts) slows the rate at which carbs break down, also helping to extend desirable blood sugar and energy levels.
- Helps Stop Overeating
When you skip a meal or go a long time without eating, your body responds with hunger cues such as growling stomach, headache, and mood changes. Thus, when you do eat your next meal, you may be tempted to overeat beyond fullness.
- An Opportunity For More Nutrition
A snack doesn’t merely satisfy a craving, it’s also a way to get needed nutrients from fruits, vegetables, or whole grains that may be obtained from your other meals.
“The real problem isn’t when you snack. It’s what you eat when you do snack.” – U.S. Department of Agriculture
Should I Feel Guilty For Eating Snacks Often?
There is no reason to feel guilty about eating snacks if they are planned to complement regular meals and do not cause you to exceed your total daily calorie needs.
The three most important factors to consider when selecting snacks are:
- Do they primarily contribute empty calories (lack of nutrients)
- Do they cause you to exceed your daily caloric needs (weight gain potential)
- Do they have a sticky texture that may enhance dental decay potential
Look for snacks that are nutrient-plus, calorie-minus and free of sticky texture.
Generally, foods that are watery crisp tend to have fewer calories than those which are rich or greasy crisp. Another plus of hard, firm, and crisp foods (apples, salads, raw vegetables) is they help clear food debris from between your teeth with their abrasive action.
When sticky, sweet food remains around the teeth, it can be fermented by bacteria to form acid. This acid in turn dissolves tooth enamel, which allows for tooth decay and cavities.
How Do Sweets, Chips and Desserts Fit In With Snacking?
These foods are ‘sometimes’ foods – not every day. Since these types of foods tend to be high calorie, less nutritious sticky foods, try to plan for them (if possible), use portion control, and avoid grazing upon them throughout the day. That way, you can enjoy them when you do eat them.
Is Eating A Snack Before Bedtime OK?
A small snack 1-2 hours before bedtime (to allow for digestion) is fine.
What Makes the Best Snacks?
Focus on avoiding highly processed foods high in salt, sugar and calories. Fill up on fruits, vegetables, whole grains and protein. As a rule of thumb, the more natural color in your snacks, the more vitamins and minerals you are getting.
Remember: The recommended calorie allotment for a snack is 200 calories or less with no more than 6 grams of fat.
Some Snack Suggestions
Fruits: apples, bananas, peaches, grapes, oranges, kiwi, pears, plums
Vegetables: carrots, celery, broccoli, grape tomatoes, bok choy, cauliflower, zucchini, peppers, cucumbers
Grains: low sugar cereal, granola bar, pretzels, popcorn, whole grain crackers
Protein: hard-boiled egg, almonds/nuts, low sugar yogurt, string cheese,
Fruit smoothie, milk, trail mix, oatmeal raisin cookie
Misc: low calorie popsicles, sherbet, flavored water, latte with a dash of unsweetened cocoa/cinnamon
Cereal with milk/ fruit
Sandwiches: tuna/egg/ham salad, peanut butter/jam
Fruit and nuts
Apple slices with nut butter
Small muffin with milk
Veggies with low calorie dressing
Salad with veggies, bit of meat, favorite dressing
There are endless possibilities. Have fun experimenting. Nutritious snacks require a little time for pre-planning to be sure they’re available when needed, but the benefits are great!
Your Snacks: Chance or Choice – The Choice is Yours!
Author: Michelle Hanson
Michelle Hanson, MA, RD, LD is Fresh & Natural Food’s Registered Dietitian. She received a Bachelor of Science degree in Nutrition and Clinical Dietetics with a minor in Community Health from the University of Minnesota – Twin Cities. She is a registered dietitian and current member of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Michelle has been a nutrition consultant for numerous years as well as a nutrition research director at the University of Minnesota – Twin Cities.
Michelle is passionate about food and nutrition and believes in helping people find simple, realistic ways to make healthy eating a part of their everyday lifestyle.
If you are interested in meeting Michelle or have questions for her, you can email her at: firstname.lastname@example.org. She will look forward to meeting you!