Snacking is definitely one of the most common questions I get asked. People want a definitive answer of if they should snack or not and if I say yes, they want to know exactly what, how much and when to have it. Well I’m sorry to disappoint, but there is no definitive answer to this question. It really does depend on the individual.
Here’s some pro’s for snacking:
It provides more opportunity to get nutrients in.
It can help to balance blood sugar levels and control symptoms like irritability, headaches, fatigue, moodiness and the shakes which can come along with unstable blood sugar.
You get to eat food more regularly (for the food lovers like myself).
It can ensure you get maximum energy intake for your needs when having routine meal times may not always be possible (pregnancy, breastfeeding, shift work).
It can reduce overeating at meal time.
People who I do recommend snacking for:
endurance or high volume exercisers and athletes
Those seeking to gain weight
Those with poor blood sugar stability
Those who have a tendency to overeat at meal time
Anyone who feels they enjoy snacking
Cons of snacking:
A lot of snacking is unnecessary food intake as it is often related to boredom, emotional eating, lack of eating mindfully at main meals or other non hunger related triggers.
It may lead to sluggish digestive system and bacterial overgrowth in the small intestine. We have a system called the migrating motor complex which a mechanical and chemical and ‘‘cleansing’’ of the stomach and small intestine which happens after a meal has been digested. It supports the movement of digested food through to elimination and prevents bacterial overgrowth in the small intestine. Although we need more research into this process, we do know that feeding puts a halt to this process so the theory is that constant feeding (snacking) might hinder this process and that perhaps fasting between meals is better. You can read more about this here.
Many snack foods are calorie dense but not necessarily nutrient dense. With bliss balls, raw slices and healthy cookies all the rage at the moment, these are common snacks for people. The problem is they often still contain plenty of dates, maple syrup, honey or other more ‘natural’ sweeteners but at the end of the day are still sugar.
If people do snack they forget to take this into account for their overall food consumption and this is a very common way people find themselves putting on weight. If you want to include snacks it’s best to reduce the size of a main meal to account for that snack (this only applies to those who feel they are not achieving realistic weight loss goals).
So my advice is to give no snacking a go and see how it works for you. If you feel good, your energy levels are stable, you are not overeating at main meals and you’are achieving/maintaining your weight goals then great. If you feel tired, hangry, moody or irritable, are overeating at main meals or feel like you are depriving yourself of enjoying food then go back to adding in snacking and just be sure to account for it with your overall food consumption each day.
When you first try cutting out snacking you may find it difficult for the first week or two so here’s some tips to help you through.
Keep well hydrated!
Drink herbal tea instead so you can still have a ‘break’ in your routine but without the snack.
Eat your main meals mindfully. One study found that people who ate their main while watching TV would then snack more later in the day. Pay attention when eating your main meals so you feel more satisfied by each meal and reduce the chances of eating more later on.
If snacking is an emotional or stress response for you then find other vices to deal with that. Go for a walk, meditate, listen to music, call a friend, have a bath, colour in, do a puzzle or read a book.
For those who do want to snack but want to know what to have and when to have it try these tips:
Spread your snacks out between meals to keep your blood sugar stable.
For those who exercise at times of the day that don’t precede a main meal, have your snack after exercise as a way to refuel (high protein if after resistance or strength training). Or if you are someone that needs food before a workout, eat your snack then.
Always have snacks planned and prepared. Standing in front of the fridge or pantry fighting the want to eat anything that pops out to you doesn’t often lead to the healthiest choice - and is a waste of time!
Go for snacks that are full of nutrients and always aim to include vegetables whenever you can. Read my article here on my Top 20 Snacks To Say Goodbye To Sweetness. Snacks like bliss balls and raw treats can still be snacks but they should be less regular in your diet.
Eat snacks mindfully. It can be a slippery slope when you have one snack and then before you know it you have grazed on things all afternoon without realising. Eat without distraction and pay attention to what you are doing.
I hope this helps you understand where you might be at in terms of snacking and remember food is there to be enjoyed so if you want to snack then don’t feel guilty about it - have confidence in the fact that that is what works for your body and it helps you have a healthy relationship with food which is extremely important (that’s what I tell myself when I have my daily dark chocolate snack :P).