To snack, or not to snack? Let’s do away with the confusion and outside rules, and start listening to what your body needs.
BY: MANDI KNOWLES, RDN, LDN
If you’re like most people, you’ve struggled with snacking at some point in your life. And you’re probably confused by the conflicting advice you’ve received about “healthy eating.”
As with all things in the nutrition world, there are some polarizing perspectives about whether or not you should snack. One day you will be told that it’s most important to have three square meals a day, while the next day you’ll be told that you’re better off snacking throughout the day.
But let’s be real, it’s not all black and white.
So why do people snack in the first place? According to a recent consumer research study, about 45% of people chose hunger as the main motivator that drives snacking. Not surprising!
But if you’re not eating well-rounded meals throughout the day – you may not be nourishing your body with what it needs, and it may feel hungry later in the day. This is because your body will crave the nutrients you’re leaving off of your plate.
In that same study, close to 50% of people chose a craving for sweet or salty foods as the reason they snack out of boredom, habit, social cues, availability of food, and time-of-day. In other cases, people may snack simply because they think that they have to eat every 2-3 hours.
So what exactly is going on in your body when you snack?
It’s often believed that your metabolism slows down between meals and snacking regularly will “boost” your metabolism. However, there isn’t much science to actually back this up.
Research shows that the amount of energy you provide your body each day through food has more of an impact on your metabolism than how frequently you eat.
This is because of the thermic effect of food, or the energy required for digesting, absorbing, and disposing of nutrients. It is determined by the quantity of food you ate, not when you ate it. At the end of the day, if you’re eating the same amount of food, your metabolism will stay the same whether you ate 3x/day or 7x/day.
It’s also believed that snacking is essential to managing your blood sugar levels, but that’s not necessarily the case. By incorporating a balance of protein, healthy fats, and/or fiber into your meals, most people won’t have any problems maintaining healthy blood sugar levels throughout the day.
In other words, it ultimately comes down to constructing balanced meals throughout the day.
If you’re taking the time to truly nourish your body at mealtime and honoring your hunger-fullness cues, you are likely doing just fine. Enforcing a rule of eating every 2-3 hours for the sake of following a set of rules, however, may not honor what your body needs.
Rather, focus on creating a general balance of your major macronutrients at each meal with:
- Carbohydrates are broken down and turned into glucose – the body’s preferred source of energy.
- Proteins are often considered the “building blocks” of the body and are involved in nearly every bodily function. Protein also helps keep you feeling satiated!
- Fats, especially polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats, offer health benefits as well as keep you feeling fuller longer.
By taking the time to really think about what you’re eating at breakfast, lunch, and dinner – you may find yourself not needing a snack later in the middle of the afternoon.
But what happens when life gets hectic, and it becomes difficult to squeeze in those well-thought-out, balanced meals? That’s when quality snacks can come in handy!
This means making sure that there’s a source of complex carbohydrates (fiber) and a source of protein and/or fat. The fiber will help keep your blood sugar from taking a dive, and the protein and/or fat will help keep you feeling full. A few examples include:
- A piece of fruit + a handful of nuts
- A piece of whole-grain toast + ½ an avocado
- A container of low sugar or plain Greek yogurt + a piece of fruit
- A handful of whole-grain crackers + a few slices of cheese
- A sliced apple + peanut butter
Ultimately, there are no hard rules other than eating when you’re hungry and stopping when you’re full. Your best bet is always about tuning in and focusing on a nourished body.