There are thousands of different diets out there and just as many different rules about snacking. This is a testament to the power of snacking: it can either help people achieve their health goals or it can throw them wildly off course. If you’re wondering whether your snack habits are helping you to reach your goals or sabotaging your progress, ask yourself the following questions.
Do you tend to skip meals? You may not feel hunger when you are busy, but when you finally have time to rest you may experience overwhelming hunger. This can often lead you to reach for unhealthy foods for quick energy, or cause you to overeat later. If this sounds familiar, having a snack or meal every three to five hours can help you stay focused and energized to meet your goals.
Do you have to wait a long time between meals? Some people may have schedules that force them to wait seven to eight hours between meals. Some foods last longer than others, but after about four hours the energy and the sense of fullness that most foods provide will start to fade. It is normal to get hungry when you wait long stretches without meals and this is an appropriate reason to snack.
Do you feel hungry between meals? If you have been more active recently or you had just a small meal you may feel hungry between meals. If your stomach is feeling empty, hollow or growling you may need a snack to keep you energized until your next meal.
Snacking can be very useful, but it can also become a problem for your health if you are often eating for reasons other than hunger. Having your favorite dessert on a special occasion or trying a new recipe at a party is well within moderation and is not going to have a lasting impact. But eating for reasons other than hunger on a regular basis can have negative impacts on your health.
One example of this is the common habit of always having a snack when watching TV. Other examples are eating out of boredom, to cope with stress or to help forget sadness. If you are snacking for these reasons rather than being physically hungry on a regular basis you may need to find a distraction or a different way to cope.
Choosing the right snack can also be challenging. For many people the word snack may be synonymous with chips or cookies, but snacks are not necessarily treats. Snacks can help you add essential nutrients to you diet.
For a filling and energizing snack choose combine foods that have fiber and protein. Foods that contain fiber are fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts and legumes. Foods that contain significant amounts of protein are meat, cheese, milk, nuts and legumes. If you only have an hour to wait until your next meal choose one to two food groups. For example, an apple or an apple with a tablespoon of peanut butter. If you have to wait three hours you will likely need a snack with three to four food groups such as an apple with a tablespoon of peanut butter and a glass of milk.
Everyone’s lifestyle, health, schedule and taste is different so there is not a one-size-fits-all approach to snacking. It may take some trial and error to determine when you need a snack and what foods will work best for you. A registered dietitian can help you determine how snacking might fit into your lifestyle.
Peanut Butter Bites
Makes 14 servings
1½ cups old fashioned oats
½ cup peanut butter
⅓ cup semi-sweet dark chocolate chips
¼ cup honey
In a medium bowl, mix all ingredients until well combined. Place in the refrigerator for 30 minutes. Take mixture out of the refrigerator and roll into golf ball sized bites.
Nutrition analysis per serving: 125 calories, 6.5 g fat, 3.5 g protein, 15 g carbohydrate, 1.5 g fiber, 45 mg sodium
Cottage Cheese and Blackberry Parfait
Makes 1 serving
½ cup 1 percent cottage cheese
¼ cup fresh blackberries
1 lime, zested
Add ½ cup cottage cheese to parfait dish, top with fresh blackberries and zest of 1 lime — about 1 teaspoon. Serve cold.
Nutrition analysis per serving: 120 calories, 1.5 g fat, 15 g protein, 14 g carbohydrate, 4 g fiber, 460 mg sodium