Snacking has become a national pastime. In fact, 90% of adults eat one or more snacks over the course of a day. There’s nothing inherently wrong with snacking. Yet, there are potential pitfalls to being a frequent snacker or snacker who chooses the wrong snacks. Munching between meals is a way to keep your energy level up. However, it can also be your worst enemy and the thing that keeps you from staying at your ideal body weight. Here are five of the most common snacking mistakes people make.
Snacking Mistakes: Snacking Out of Boredom
Have you ever caught yourself mindlessly nibbling while you worked at the computer? Watch out for those crumbs that get underneath your keyboard! It’s so easy to turn snacking into a mindless activity you do when you’re bored, distracted, or stressed and it’s easier to do when snacks are readily available. Don’t make it easy to mindlessly snack. Keep unhealthy snack foods out of sight and out of easy reach.
Also, be aware that mindless snacking can be a sign that you’re stressed out and need to deal with that rather than nibbling to temporarily feel better. Know what foods you’re most likely to eat when you’re under stress and keep them out of your home and work quarters. If you don’t have unhealthy foods in front of you to tempt you, you’re less likely to munch. Mindless snacking is one of the biggest contributors to extraneous calorie intake.
Snacking Mistakes: Not Including Protein in Your Snacks
The difference between a good snack and a bad one often comes down to its protein content. Protein is the most satiating macronutrient. Munching on a high-protein snack helps keep appetite in check more than one high in carbohydrates. When you’re full, you’ll likely consume fewer calories over the course of a day. Calories aside, protein snacks have a more favorable impact on blood sugar than a high-carb option that causes a surge in blood sugar and insulin.
In one study, researchers gave women and men with type 2 diabetes a morning and afternoon snack. Each snack contained around 10 grams of protein. Over a four- week period, the participants lost almost 2.5 pounds without altering their normal calorie intake. That’s the power of protein! So, choose your snacks wisely and make sure what you select contains this important macronutrient. Good options are a cup of low-sugar yogurt, chunks of cheese, nuts, edamame, almond butter on a piece of fruit, boiled eggs, a handful of seeds, hummus, or a bowl of oatmeal. Skip the sugary and refined stuff.
It’s also important to stagger your protein intake across the day. Most people consume more protein later in the day, at dinner, than they do in the morning. Begin your day with a high-protein breakfast or snack, and you’ll feel less urge to mindlessly snack or eat the wrong kind of snacks.
Snacking Mistakes: Buying Packaged and Processed Snacks
Food manufacturers are constantly coming out with new and tantalizing snack options to tempt you. While more healthier options are available than before, you still need to be picky about what you choose. Stick to whole food snacks as much as possible. If you buy snacks in a package, scrutinize the label. Foods high in sugar, salt, and ones that contain processed vegetable oils, like soybean or corn oil, are a negative for your health and body composition.
The Western diet, rich in processed and packaged foods, is a driver of many of the chronic diseases we face today, including cancer, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes. Plus, sugary and processed foods are formulated to trigger the reward center in your brain. The result? You feel rewarded when you eat them and want more. Don’ tempt yourself by keeping these foods around. Do a cabinet and refrigerator purge and get rid of the unhealthy stuff.
Also, don’t get sucked in by advertising. The wording on a package of veggie chips makes it seem like you’re getting the benefits of eating a bowl of vegetables. However, many brands of veggie chips are mostly potato flour with a smattering of vegetables added for color. A better idea is to make your own veggie chips at home in the oven or by using a dehydrator.
Snacking Mistakes: Snacking Late at Night
One source of contention in the nutritional world is whether eating or snacking late at night contributes to weight gain. While studies are mixed, some studies suggest that time-restricted eating helps with weight loss. Time-restricted eating is when you consume food within a restricted time period, usually 12 hours. That could mean you eat an early dinner and don’t eat again until the morning, until after 12 hours have passed. Studies show that restricting snacks and meals to a 12-hour time period boosts fat-burning during sleep and helps with hunger control during the day. In mouse studies, time-restricted eating even reverses obesity. At the very least, restrict snacks higher in carbs to early in the day, rather than munching on them after dinner or just before bedtime.
Snacking Mistakes: Not Portioning Your Snacks
Even if you choose healthy, high-protein snacks, it doesn’t mean snacking should be open-ended. Access to unlimited quantities of any snack is dangerous, especially if you’re eating while you’re distracted. Then, there’s the problem of portion distortion. We have a skewed view of what a portion size should be, thanks to restaurants and fast food joints that serve double or triple portions and try to make you think they’re a single serving . Never eat out of a bag, container, or box. Dole out a serving and put the container away.
The Bottom Line
If you snack, choose your snacks carefully and don’t snack too often. One or two snacks a day that are small in size is fine, but constantly nibbling, especially on the wrong stuff can work against you. Finally, make sure you’re drinking enough water. If you’re dehydrated, the signal to drink can be misinterpreted as hunger. Keep a stainless-steel water bottle filled with water with you during the day and use it. One time that you should definitely refuel with a snack is after a workout. Again, make sure you include a source of protein to help your muscles recover.
Today’s Dietitian. Vol. 17 No. 6 P. 22. June 2015.
Science Daily. “Time-restricted feeding study shows promise in helping people shed body fat”
New York Times Well. “A 12-Hour Window for a Healthy Weight”
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