Should you be snacking?

Should you be snacking? 

Is it better or healthier to snack or not to snack? This is a common question asked, but snacking needs to be personalized to suit your lifestyle and goals. Are you an athlete, active, aiming for blood sugar control, focused on body weight control or performance? Let’s look at when to snack or not to snack:

We never used to snack. Snacking became more common as countries became more developed. A few years ago, we focused on having three main meals per day with an occasional snack and before that we only had one big meal per day in between hunting and gathering. Now we have easy access to food all day every day.

If you are prone to overeating at meals, then it would be a good idea for you to snack in between meals or break up your eating into smaller meals spread throughout the day, ideally 2-3 hours apart. This will prevent you from overeating at your regular meals as you are controlling your blood sugar levels and appetite better and allowing yourself small healthy snacks in between your meals would not make you feel deprived of food.

If you experience reduced feelings of satiety and you have an increased tendency to snack more often then it would be good for you to include healthy snacks into your routine. Here snack choice is important, and you should choose snacks that would keep you full.

You should not snack in between meals when you enjoy large main meals and unhealthy snacks (chips, sweets, pastries, chocolates, etc) as this might lead to overconsumption and weight gain. Focus instead on eating healthy, filling main meals. When you feel the need to snack, ask yourself first, am I hungry, am I thirsty or am I bored, stressed or tired?

Our brains need fuel to focus, concentrate, think and to maximize energy levels. It is usually during the afternoon when we find our energy levels start dropping and willpower start lacking. This would be a good time to have a healthy afternoon snack to fuel your body and keep you satisfied. A healthy afternoon snack can also prevent you from over eating at dinner time.

You should not snack if you cannot control your snack portion. For example, you keep a big bag of nuts in your office drawer with the intention on snacking on a handful per day but find yourself not being able to stop. Rather practice the habit of out of sight out of mind and not surround yourself with snack foods.

If your goals involve gaining weight, especially lean muscle mass then it would be a good idea for you to have frequent meals and snacks to make it easier for you to reach your target nutrient intake, especially to meet your protein requirements, instead of having three large meals. It would also be a good idea for you to include a healthy after-dinner snack.

Smart snacking is a great way to help you work in more healthier foods into your day.

Snacking before and/ or during training also depends on your training schedule and goals.

What is considered a healthy snack option? A healthy snack should contain a healthy lean protein or fat combined with a healthy carbohydrate. The carbohydrates will be digested first and satisfy your hunger, and the protein or fat will keep you fuller for longer. Here’s a few 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
  • Fruit and a handful of lean biltong slices or sticks
  • Plain nonfat yogurt, sweetened with a little honey, stevia or xylitol and cinnamon or cocoa, topped with fruit.
  • Fruit and sugar free salt free nut butter
  • Home-made fruit and granola bars
  • Raw veggies – carrots, cherry tomatoes, peppers dipped in hummus
  • Low-fat cottage cheese topped with diced veggies or fresh fruit
  • Small handful of nuts – almonds, walnuts, pistachios, pecans or hazel nuts
  • Sliced hard-boiled egg on tomato slices with a twist of fresh ground pepper
  • Roasted chickpeas –drizzled with a little low-sodium soy sauce
  • Matchbox size of white cheese, e.g. mozzarella cheese with a few gherkins/ baby tomatoes
  • Canned tuna mashed with avocado and spread on a few whole grain crackers
  • Few slices of chicken, turkey or smoked salmon wrapped around cucumber sticks

Snacking should be personalized according to your goals and should be done smartly, let me assist in helping you to reach your goals.

Written by Esmé Maré (Registered Dietitian & Exercise Specialist)