Everyone, at some point or other, will get the munchies. Not a full meal, just a little something to tide them over. The issue for many is that snacking too much and on the wrong things at the wrong time of day can contribute to a litany of health issues, from obesity to diabetes, blood pressure to heart disease.
Are snacks really necessary?
Any parent who has ever been in charge of snack for their child’s soccer team gets this one: running around on the field for forty minutes doesn’t necessarily mean that the children need a hearty snack before they head off home for dinner.
Snacking has become a national habit, for kids in particular. The problem is that kids don’t typically adjust their meals or meal times to compensate for the snack, so they are often taking on more daily calories than they require, and often in the form of fat, sugar or sodium.
A study out of the University of North Carolina indicated that:
- Children in the US are averaging 3 snacks a day;
- They are getting 27% of their daily calories from snacks;
- Most snack calories are not coming from healthy options, but rather from dessert, drinks and salty snacks, like chips.
Adults are just as guilty of mindless snacking: eating out of boredom or in front of the television.
All that being said, a ‘hangry’ person—child or adult—can be difficult to deal with, so sometimes a well-timed snack can stave off a lot of trouble! And for people who struggle with issues like low blood sugar or low iron levels, a snack can help prevent them from feeling nauseated or dizzy.
Top snack habits to avoid
- Mindless snacking — while watching a movie, that bag of chips can easily dwindle down to crumbs without your even noticing! Be mindful and serve yourself a small portion and put the rest away.
- Eating your emotions — sure, we’ve all had a bad day when all we wanted was to eat a pint of ice cream but doing this regularly is a fast track to obesity and other health issues.
- Night snacking — eating at night, after you’ve gone to bed, is typically unnecessary and can disturb your sleep, as your stomach processes the new food ingested.
- Snacks instead of meals — while not everyone is cut out to consume three square meals a day with nothing in between, the other extreme of all-day grazing isn’t necessarily better. It’s not the small, more frequent meals that are the issue but rather because these snacks aren’t balanced and typically are focused in sweet, salty or high fat packaged foods.
- Skipping meals — often, snacking is the result of a meal skipped. You feel so hungry, or even ill, simply because you skipped a meal. Your body is craving nutrition and, sadly, that often results in poorer food choices, eating whatever is handy or convenient.
When should you snack?
If you decide that a small snack is essential for your wellbeing and mood, do as the English do: have afternoon tea! You don’t have to drink tea, but the timing of the snack, around 4 p.m., makes sense. It won’t impact your dinner plans but will sustain you happily so that you don’t overeat later.
It’s also okay to add a snack to your day if you know that you will not be able to have a meal when your body is typically expecting one. For example, you’re scheduled for an 11:30 a.m. meeting that is bound to run long and into lunch time. Make sure you have a healthy snack beforehand so that you can get through the meeting without your stomach growling!
Don’t snack just because it’s what you always do: routine is not a good idea in this area! Instead, snack if you are hungry.
The exception? If you exercise a lot, snacks can be more important. Having something to eat an hour before you work out can help to ensure that you don’t lose all your energy during your workout. A healthy snack afterward can also prevent you from eating the entire contents of your refrigerator, later on, and replenish the energy stores your body needs to function well.
What should you snack on?
Focusing on protein and fiber-rich healthy foods is the best way to add to your daily diet without compromise. Making sure that your choices also have plenty of vitamins and minerals can go a long way to helping you with your body’s daily requirements, particularly for iron, vitamin B, D, and calcium.
If you’re not at home, bring portable snacks that are healthy and satisfying:
-A handful of mixed nuts have protein and healthy fats to sustain you.
-Cheese or low-fat yogurt, with fruit mixed in.
-Veggies and hummus or other heart-healthy dip.
-Fruit that is easy to eat – grapes, berries, and bananas are perfect.
-Whole grain crackers or pretzels are a great way to mix it up.
Other great snack options:
-Smoothies, with yogurt and fruit.
–Homemade trail mix.
If you treat each snack as a tiny meal, you can really bring some thought into what you’re eating, not just that you’re eating.