This week we will be discussing snacks, if snacking is a problem, and how to improve your snacking habits. The question of snacking is often frequently raised by clients in our clinic. At Caroline Hill Nutrition, we are big believers that snacking isn’t necessarily unhealthy when the decision is conscious and intentional.
What are snacks?
A snack is defined as any small amount of food eaten between main meals. However, this definition varies as it can be hard to distinguish a snack from a meal, especially if you don’t follow a regular meal pattern .
When can snacking be a problem?
Snacking has been associated with both lower and higher fat mass. However, this has been found to be largely dependent on snack-type, with the intake of “unhealthy” snacks such as crisps, sweets and chocolates being associated with individuals with a BMI ≥25kg/m² (overweight). Those with normal BMIs had higher intakes of “healthy” snacks such as yoghurt and nuts .
Some factors affecting snacking include:
- Hunger – snacking when hungry is associated with intake of health-promoting foods. Snacking when not hungry can lead to intake of unhealthy, high-energy foods.
- Location – eating at home or work is associated with intake of healthier snacks, compared to other locations such as at a restaurant or when traveling.
- Social environment – portion size chosen can relate to those you are with, this is called ‘social modelling’. You are likely to eat more if those around you do too.
- Distracted eating – watching TV whilst eating is related to number of snacks eaten per day. If snacking when multi-tasking, individuals may eat more of a snack or at their next meal.
- Hedonic eating – attaching food to emotions and using it as a reward was found to be related to increased snacking and a higher BMI .
To improve your snacking habits, you may want to give intentional snacking a go, this involves asking yourself ‘when?’, ‘why?’ ‘what?’ and ‘how much?’.
For ‘when’, think about when you usually feel hungry throughout the day. When may you need to snack?
For ‘why’, determine if you are actually hungry or if you are eating for another reason, such as due to boredom, stress, happiness, or other emotions. If you are eating out of emotions, consider trying mindful eating (new blog post to follow). If you are hungry, move on to ‘What?’.
For ‘what’, consider what snack choice you would like. It is important that you choose something that will satisfy to prevent overeating. Foods containing protein and fibre can increase satiety. Additionally, consider what type of food you are craving. Some healthier snack examples include:
- Creamy – yoghurt, hummus, avocado, cottage cheese
- Crunchy – vegetable sticks, nuts, seeds, apple, wholegrain breadsticks/crackers
- Sweet – dark chocolate, fruit
- Salty/savoury – cheese, roast chickpeas, nuts, nut butter
Finally, for ‘how much’, this looks at your portion size. Portion sizes should be big enough to satisfy you but ensure that your appetite isn’t ruined for your next meal. Have a look at the portion size recommendation for your snack if it comes in a packet to guide you with this .
- Yoghurt and berries
- Roasted chickpeas
- Vegetable sticks and hummus
- Mixed nuts and dried fruit
- Apple slices and nut butter
- Cottage cheese, crackers, and tomato
- A few squares of dark chocolate
- A match-box sized piece of cheese
In summary, snacking is not always bad. Making healthier choices and practising intentional snacking can be a good way to reduce fat mass and will help to keep you satisfied between meals. Remember to ask yourself ‘when’, ‘why’, ‘what’, and ‘how much’, when craving a snack. If you find you do need to snack through the day, make sure you plan these into your meal planning and food shop.
Caroline Hill is a specialist menopause dietitian supporting women making dietary change. Caroline uses her extensive knowledge, skills and expertise of food and nutrition to help women manage their symptoms and weight during menopause. Caroline believes in providing sustainable, individualised, evidence-based advice to women making dietary change.