5 Reasons Why Snacking Can Be Healthy
Snacking—good or bad? Find out once and for all. A healthy snacking habit can help you manage your weight and balance your diet.
There seems to be a big divide between those who think snacking is a good thing and those who think snacking is bad—which baffles me a little bit. I’ve always been solidly in the pro-snacking camp (for reasons I’ll get to in a minute), and I just assumed that most people felt the same way about healthy snacking. But some of my clients seem almost offended if I suggest that they snack—“Me, snack? Never!” For a long time I couldn’t make sense of this, and then one day it struck me. To some, snacking means eating when you’re not hungry—which, of course, is bad. To others, the question “Do you eat snacks?” is heard as “Do you eat snack foods?”—which may explain why they get defensive. It sounds as if I’m accusing them of loading up on unhealthy snack foods like chips, cookies and candy.
So, here’s my take on snacking: when it’s done right, snacking can be a healthy habit that may help you manage your weight and balance your diet.
Five Reasons Why Snacking Can Be a Healthy Habit
- 1. Smart snacking may prevent you from overeating at meal time. Most of us get hungry about every 3-4 hours. So, if there’s a long stretch between meals, you’re likely to get hungry—which is why a snack would be appropriate. Without a healthy snack, there’s a good chance you’ll just make up for it by overeating at your next meal.
2. Smart snacking can help you reduce your overall calorie intake for the day. Sometimes people figure that they’re just going to add snacks (and their calories) right on top of everything they’re already eating. But if a well-planned, healthy snack helps you eat less at mealtimes, then you’ll cut your daily calories overall.
3. Smart snacking can help you to work more healthy foods into your day. This is usually my strongest argument for those who resist snacking (or who skip meals altogether). The more often you eat, the easier it will be to work in your daily servings of healthy foods like vegetables, fruits, and calcium-rich dairy products.
4. Snacks can help you maintain your physical and mental energy. When you eat regular meals and snacks, it can help keep your blood sugar more stable throughout the day. That’s a good defense against between-meal dips in blood sugar that can sap your mental and physical energy.
5. A substantial afternoon snack can help control portions at dinner. Lots of people manage to control their eating pretty well during the day, but really cut loose at night and eat a huge dinner. For those folks, a larger afternoon snack—almost a small second lunch—makes it much easier to cut back at the evening meal.
When Is the Snacking Habit Not Healthy?
You might want to take a closer look at your snacking habits if…
- You’re eating unhealthy, high calorie foods like sweets, chips, and sodas. Not only can these high calorie snack foods contribute to weight gain, they offer little, if any, nutritional value.
- You’re eating for reasons other than hunger. Snacking wisely means that you choose healthy foods to eat between meals to help control your appetite and meet your nutritional needs. But if you tend to snack when you’re not hungry (maybe you’re bored, stressed, angry or tired), it’s a habit you might want to think about breaking.
What Makes a Snack Healthy?
One reason snacking has gotten such a bad rap is because so many common ‘snack foods’ are high in fat, sugar, salt and calories. You’ll want to steer clear of those, and instead put together a snack that will provide a mix of low-fat protein and healthy carbohydrate. The carbs will get digested first and satisfy your hunger right away, and the protein will give your snack a bit more staying power.
Healthy Snack Ideas
The protein-carb combo can be put together in almost endless ways. Here are a few snack suggestions:
- Protein shake made with nonfat or low-fat milk, protein powder and fruit.
- Protein snack bars – great to carry with you so you always have a healthy snack on hand
- Plain nonfat yogurt, sweetened with a little maple syrup and cinnamon, topped with fruit.
- Raw veggies – carrots, cherry tomatoes, peppers dipped in hummus
- Nonfat latte made with milk or soy milk
- Nonfat cottage cheese topped with diced veggies or fresh fruit
- Small handful of nuts – almonds, walnuts, pistachios, pecans or soy nuts
- Sliced hard-boiled egg on tomato slices with a twist of fresh ground pepper
- Edamame soybeans – heated up, drizzle with a little low-sodium soy sauce
- Canned tuna mashed with avocado and spread on a few whole grain crackers
- Few slices of turkey or smoked salmon wrapped around cucumber sticks